what’s the difference between dictation and spelling wisdom?

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  • pmsullivan

    Hi–i am beginning to add a few CM ideas to our lives. This week we will try the Spelling Wisdom. But how is this different from dication? Would using Spelling Wisdom accomplish spelling and dictation together. Also, would i still use copy work in addition to the spelling wisdom?




    I’m so glad you asked this question, Pam. I’ve been wondering the same thing myself!

    Faith 🙂

    Sonya Shafer

    Hi, Pam and Faith –

    Dictation is the method Charlotte used to teach spelling. Now, be sure that you are thinking “prepared” dictation, not cold-turkey dictation. In prepared dictation, you look over the passage along with the student and identify any words he isn’t sure he knows how to spell. Only once the student has studied those words and is sure he know how to spell every word in the passage do you do the dictating while he writes the passage phrase by phrase.

    If you think about it, it has many of the same elements as the traditional spelling tests we all grew up with: look at the words, identify the ones you don’t know, study those, make sure you know all the words for the test. Only with dictation, the student is studying a beautiful and interesting idea imbedded in the passage, not just a list of unrelated words. And he’s having good grammar and punctuation reinforced to boot!

    Spelling Wisdom is a collection of dictation exercises to be used to teach spelling in that prepared-dictation way.

    So the purpose of dictation is correct spelling. The purpose of copywork is to practice beautiful handwriting. It’s up to you whether you want to/need to continue copywork. A lot of that depends on the student and how good his handwriting is. Some moms combine the two and use their current dictation passage as their copywork exercise during the week too. They have their student copy the dictation exercise as part of the studying-the-words process.

    Does that help?


    Beautifully explained!!! I will be purchasing the first book for my 3rd grader in the fall. Thanks, Sonya!

    Faith 🙂


    This in an old thread, but a new one to me since I’m a newbie around here. This will help me so much in figuring out our routine with our eldest dd.

    Sonya said,”So the purpose of dictation is correct spelling. The purpose of copywork is to practice beautiful handwriting.”

    What a simple & helpful explaination. I’ve been trying to think through dictation/spelling/copywork. It seemed all muddled in my mind on how best to key in on these aspects of learning with effeciency, purpose and effectiveness. Thanks so much for taking time to answer questions that must come time and time again.


    I agree, the purpose of dictation and copywork is beautifully explained here! As Faith, I plan to use SW for my 3rd grader in the fall too. Thank you, Sonya (and Pam for asking!)


    Copywork/Dictation/Spelling seem like something that could so easily be done without purchasing a curriculum.  Although SCM’s Spelling Wisdom would save me a lot of time…we are in a place where saving money is of more importance.  It’s so refreshing that Sonya recognizes this, and does not at all seem concerned with making money off all of us CMEducating parents.  And actually does explain to us how to do it on our own.  I’ve bought and used some other “Christian, bible-based” curriculums, which I learned first hand, were not this way.  Thank you SCM and Sonya.

    To my question…Marstar…why are you starting this with your 3rd grader instead of waiting until 4th grade?  We have a DD who is in 3rd (she went to public school until half way through 2nd, did half 2nd and 3rd in homeschool, and now we are repeating 3rd).  She has been doing “spelling” since the beginning of 1st grade…sight words, then R&S 2nd grade spelling, then Spelling Power.  We are now taking the year off from spelling the second time around in 3rd, and I was just curious as to why you were going ahead with it?



    Kathi, Simply put, it’s just my personal choice based on my DD’s capability. After having 3 years of traditional spelling/grammar, this will be a much “lighter” approach for her. She loves to write, and worked above her grade in spelling, etc. last year.  Of course, I have not decided if I will start it at day one or half way through the year or somewhere in between…and plans can always change 🙂  Here’s a link to another thread about when to begin – esp last post by Christin Dictation Post  HTH 🙂


    Hi.  If my kids are good at spelling, is dictation necessary? I use Spelling Wisdom as a nice source of material for copywork, but wanted to know if I “should” be doing dictation instead.



    Dictation, in my opinion, is about more than spelling. There are a few benefits that the child can reap through prepared dictation passages other than learning to spell new words. A few that come to mind are:

    1. Habit of Attention. If the child knows that Mom is only going to read each part of the passage one time only, he/she learns quickly to really focus and give their full attention to what is being dictated to them. If I constantly go back and repeat words or phrases, I’m training my child to allow his thoughts to wonder, to not give his full attention, and to accept slip-shod work. By straining their ear to hear every word or phrase and then to remember it until the passage is completed, the child is training himself in the valuable habit of attention.
    2. Good Punctuation. All of the passages in Spelling Wisdom are well-punctuated. The child sees the use of commas, quotation marks, question marks, hyphens, and more in context and learns to use them for himself. Dictating to him using appropriate pauses, changes in diction, or fluctuations of the voice helps him to, again, hear first and then write out the correct punctuation. 
    3. New Vocabulary. Each time a passage is studied and new words are learned, you have the opportunity to expand the child’s vocabulary. I love that Spelling Wisdom uses many passages from older books, so the opportunity to learn unfamiliar or sparsely used words in our modern vocabulary is enhanced. When my child points out words he doesn’t know, we also make sure to go over the meaning of the word as well. It is much easier to learn to spell a word, in my opinion, when you know what it means.

    The Spelling Wisdom passages do make excellent copywork, and many moms on here use them as such–as a way for the child to further his study of a passage before prepared dictation. Personally, we have separate copywork, and I allow my child to study his dictation passages on the day of the exercise. 

    Like Charlotte Mason, many of us don’t start prepared dictation with our children until age 9 or 10. Until then, language arts is learned primarily through the reading of good, living books and copywork. 

    I hope that answered your question!



    I also believe dictation helps to create good writers.  Copying, memorizing, amazing style, punctuation, and vocabulary rubs off.  If the student is regularly exposed to great writing through read alouds and copywork and dictation, they will naturally imitate what they have heard, seen, and copied. It really does work.

    We use Spelling Wisdom for copywork. Younger ones do it everyday, middle schoolers twice a week, high schoolers one longer one once per week to copy.

    We use Spelling Wisdom for dictation in the following way: Twice per week the 4th grader through middle schooler picks one of the week’s copywork pieces to use for dictation. My high schooler does one per week.  He has many other written narrations, essays, etc… to do.  This simply helps refresh spelling and contribute to his writing style, vocabulary, etc…

    I actually like Sequential Spelling and typically work through two years with a child in either 4th and 5th or 5th and 6th depending on the needs of the child. I like this version of spelling because it really is no busy work and just building words. No studying.

    Benita, we use SW for both dictation and copywork as well, depending on age and need. It sounds like you are working through around 5 passages a week for youngers, and then how many passages per week for middle schoolers if some are copywork and one is dictation? And then 2 whole passages for high schoolers (one for copywork and one for dictation)? Just curious to hear more specifically how you handle that — we have all 5 volumes of SW and have no concerns about running out, lol. 

    We’ve also used SW for copywork passages entered into that create-your-own-handwriting-pages-software (can’t remember the name at this hour, lol)


    Sorry, I haven’t been on here for a couple of days! Mysterious Lady in Pink, I saw your PM so thought I ‘d put it here for others too.

    For my youngest, first grade, I am using the SCM copywork books.  I used HWT to teach her how to form the letters in Kindergarten.  I used those books longer with my other children, but they, and I, found them boring.  SCM copywork is much more fun for practice. She does a portion of a page only each day (5 days a week).  Only a portion as I want her to practice perfect execution as opposed to just getting it done. She doesn’t use Spelling Wisdom yet.

    My other elementary aged student usually does copywork 3-4 days a week now.  I pick one or two (depending on how crazy the rest of life is that week) for her to do as dictation.

    My current 8th grader really does about two copyworks a week as well as her schedule is tight.  Then she picks one as a dictation.

    My high schooler does one copywork a week and it is his dictation as well later in the week.  He writes so much in other ways.  When he was younger he did more. He also started a book of mottos or commonplace book in 9th grade that he adds to as often as he likes but at a minimum- weekly.

    I guess the basic premise is lots of copywork in the beginning and beginning dictations somewhere arounnd age 10 and then copywork may slow down a bit as they are doing so many other forms of writing, but never giving it up completely. Copywork eventually transistions into a Commonplace book of sorts.

    Hope this is helpful.  I think there is no one right way.  I think it is just finding a fit for your family and each individual child and making it work.

    Thanks, Benita! I appreciate hearing more details. That sounds in many ways similar to what we’ve done over the years, but now I have some ideas for improving — thank you!

    When our kids transition from manuscript to cursive, we use that StartWrite software to do some “tracing” of the copywork and then once they’re getting that done we transition to printing out the SW passage in their chosen cursive font as a model to follow until they are pretty fluid with cursive, at which point they can just follow the original SW model and still write cursive. 

    When we do dictation, typically it hasn’t been done before as copywork, although they do still prepare for the dictation, of course. I like that you continue doing it into high school too. With my older crew, they became proficient typists (super fast, actually) that they did that SO MUCH for all of their writing. I don’t regret that as it is a skill that has served them well. However, the one downside was that when they had to do timed written essays (once in a while in high school, but the ACT essays are like that too…and they still have them in college sometimes), their handwriting speed wasn’t that great. I guess copywork and dictation isn’t done for speed, lol, but I’m just saying that I see the value in keeping up with some of those earlier habits.

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