Monday, August 14, 2006

The Commonplace Book (or Copywork for Older Students)

excerpt from Thomas Jefferson's commonplace book
(photo courtesy of

Don't you find it interesting that the greatest literary figures in history such as Shakespeare, Tennyson, Dickens, Stevenson, Franklin, J. London (Oh my, the list is huge...) did not take creative writing or composition courses? They copied very carefully passages from classic literature and then tried to write the same passage again from memory without looking at the model. They used their own words when needed, but tried to sound like the original author as much as possible. Eventually, this carried over into their own writing. This is exactly what is happening to my own children. Their sentence structure is sophisticated and their vocabulary is extensive.

JournalWhen my children enter the House of Education, around twelve years of age, I give them a beautiful new journal. This becomes their Commonplace Book. It is where they copy great passages, quotes and poems from literature. I no longer choose the passages for copywork but give them the freedom to choose. They keep their commonplace book beside them while reading from their literature selections. Unlike a personal journal, this is not a place to write their own thoughts, but the great and noble thoughts of others. My eldest daughter wrote about her book over at her blog. She enjoys this practice immensely.

“It is very helpful to read with a commonplace book or reading-diary, in which to put down any striking thought in your author, or your own impression of the work, or of any part of it; but not summaries of facts. Such a diary, carefully kept through life, should be exceedingly interesting as containing the intellectual history of the writer; besides, we never forget the book that we have made extracts from, and of which we have taken the trouble to write a short review.” -Charlotte Mason


  1. Thanks for this. I know it's an old entry, but we are just getting where you were years back! I am always inspired by the journey you have walked before me. You have challenged me in CM ways since 4 yrs ago when I discovered her.

  2. May I link this page to a post I am doing soon on commonplace books?