Monday, March 23, 2009

Copywork for High School

One day, when I was a senior in high school, my father read something I was writing for history class, and was surprised: His daughter couldn't write. Oh, I wasn't illiterate; I was just not a great writer. His solution? He would choose several articles from National Geographic Magazine and make me copy them, word for word, until I got the idea. So, long before I had ever heard of "copywork" as a lesson, I was doing it for the sake of my own education. I think it helped, as my grades improved and I tested out of freshman composition when I got to college.

Think your high school student is too old for some old-fashioned copywork? Think again. Just as your youngest students benefit from added vocabulary, spelling and phrasing by imitating good literature, so will your older students benefit from the imitation of great works of literature and technical writings across a variety of fields. Like an artist learning certain techniques by imitating the masters, or musicians learning by listening to the many wonderful recordings available, so writers may learn techniques, a new turn of phrase, strong, subject-specific vocabulary and good-old information from imitating the good folks who make a living by writing, or who write as part of their vocation.

Of course, the copywork does not have to come from National Geographic. As students gain a better idea of their future plans, they also gain an understanding that specific field and endeavors require technical writing skills that are different from the five paragraph essay. An archaeologist does not write a paper that sounds like one written by a musician; a student interested in philosophy will write a very different paper than will a student of social sciences. Here's where copywork comes in. If your high schooler is a regular reader of a particular publication or trade magazine, that's a great place to find a passage worthy of copywork. Perhaps it is Natural History, or maybe Sacred Music, North and South, or Archaeology that interest your student most. Or perhaps you might want to use copy work as an opportunity to introduce him to a new subject, or to reinforce the vocabulary of a difficult course. And for the aspiringing young Catholic writer, nothing beats the prose of the great Catholic writers of our times: Chesterton, Tolkein, Belloc, Waugh, O'Connor and others.

So don't be afraid to assign some copywork for older students; they will benefit as much, if not more, than the younger children.

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