How I Choose Sentences for Copywork

In the younger years copywork is almost our only introduction to grammar and punctuation, so I try to use sentences from their reading that illustrated the things I think they should learn that year.
I use two books to determine what I want them to know- How To Write Your Own Low-Cost, No-Cost Curriculum, and Learning Objectives for Grades K-8. You don’t really need two books like this, but I always overdo it.

Looking over the language arts sections for grades 3, I decided that my copywork choices for my children in roughly that grade should focus on selections that included examples of capitalization of proper names and sentences, quotation marks, and the use of commas and apostrophes for ownership and contractions.

Here are sentences I would use from Five Little Peppers to illustrate those topics:

Five Little Peppers And How They Grew

Chapter one:

Away she flew to get supper.

Polly went skipping around, cutting the bread, and bringing dishes, only stopping long enough to fling some scraps of reassuring nonsense to the two boys, who were thoroughly dismayed at being obliged to remove their traps into a corner.

Chapter Two:

Grandma was sweeping up the floor, already as neat as a pin. When she saw Polly coming, she stopped and leaned on her broom.


When Phronsie saw that anybody else could cry, she stopped immediately and, leaning over Polly, put one little fat hand on Joel’s neck. “Don’t cry,” she said. “Does your toe ache?”

Chapter Three:

There was a bumping noise that came from the Provision Room that sounded ominous, and then a smothered sound of words, followed by a scuffling over the old floor.

“Boys!” called Polly. No answer; everything was just as still as a mouse. “Joel and David!” called Polly again, in her loudest tones.

Chapter Four:

“Your ships aren’t ever coming,” broke in Mrs. Pepper wisely, “if you sit there talking. Folks don’t ever make any fortunes by wishing. “

Chapter Five:

Davie, too, worked patiently out of doors, trying to do Ben’s chores. The little fellow blundered over things that Ben would have accomplished in half the time, and he had to sit down often on the steps of the little old shed where the tools were kept, to wipe his hot face and rest.


“Oh, Ma! Ma!” screamed Joel, running to the foot of the stairs leading to the loft, where Mrs. Pepper was with Ben.

“Something’s taken Polly, and she fell, and I guess she’s in she’s in the woodbox!”

Chapter Six:

“Do you suppose,” said the doctor, getting up, “that you know of any smart little girl around here, about four years old and that knows how to button on her own red – topped shoes, that would like to go to ride tomorrow morning in my carriage with me?”


“Oh, mammy!” cried Polly. “It does seem so good to be all together again!”

“And I thank the Lord!” said Mrs. Pepper, looking down on her happy little group; and the tears were in her eyes. “And children, we ought to be very good and please Him, for He’s been so good to us.”

Chapter Seven:

“Now, Joel,” she said, putting on her bonnet before the cracked looking glass, “you stay along of Polly. Ben must go up to bed, the doctor said, and Davie’s going to the store for some molasses, so you and Polly must keep house.”

Chapter Eight:

Still the cloud hovered, dark and forbidding. At last, one afternoon when Polly was all alone, she could endure it no longer. She flung herself down by the side of the old bed and buried her face in the gay patched bed quilt.

“Dear God,” she said, “make me willing to have anything” – she hesitated – “yes, anything happen; to be blind forever, and to have Joey sick, only make me good.”

Chapter Nine:

“Hooray!” screamed Joel and David, to fill any pause that might occur, while Phronsie gurgled and laughed at everything just as it came along. And then they all danced and capered again – all but Polly, who was down before the precious stove examining and exploring into ovens and everything that belonged to it.

Chapter Ten:

A man with an organ was standing in the middle of the road playing away with all his might, and at the end of a long rope was a lively little monkey in a bright red coat and a smart cocked hat. The little creature pulled off his hat, and with one long jump coming on the fence, he made Phronsie a most magnificent bow.


The others were having the same luck. No trace could be found of the child. To Ben, who took the Hingham road, the minutes seemed like hours.

“I won’t go back,” he muttered, “until I take her. I can’t see mother’s face!”

But the ten miles were nearly traversed; almost the last hope was gone. Into every thicket and lurking place by the road-side had he peered–but no Phronsie! Deacon Brown’s horse began to lag.

“Go on!” said Ben hoarsely; “oh, dear Lord, make me find her!”

Chapter 11:

“Do come,” said Ben, lighting up, for he was just feeling he couldn’t bear to look his last on the merry, honest face; “anybody’ll tell you where Mrs. Pepper lives.”

“Is she a Pepper?” asked the boy, laughing, and pointing to the unconscious little heap in the wagon; “and are you a Pepper?”

“Yes,” said Ben, laughing too. “There are five of us besides Mother.”

Chapter Twelve:

Mrs. Pepper wisely kept her own counsel, simply giving them a kindly caution:

“Don’t you go to judging him, children, till you know.”

“Well, he promised,” said Joel, as a settler.

“Aren’t you ashamed, Joel,” said his mother, “to talk about any one whose back is turned? Wait till he tells you the reason himself.”

Chapter Thirteen:

“And it’s real dull there, Jasper says,” put in Polly, persuasively; “and just think, Mammy, no brothers and sisters!” And Polly looked around on the others.

After that there was no need to say anything more; her mother would have consented to almost any plan then.

“Well, go on, children,” she said; “you may do it; I don’t see but what you can get ’em there well enough; but I’m sure I don’t know what you can make.”

Chapter 14:

So Polly packed the little cakes neatly in two rows, and laid the ‘gingerbread boy’ in a fascinating attitude across the top.

“He looks as if he’d been struck by lightning!” said Ben, viewing him critically as he came in the door with the paper.

“Be still,” said Polly, trying not to laugh; “that’s because he baked so funny; it made his feet stick out.”


So after another last look all around, Polly put the cakes in the paper, and tied it with four or five strong knots, to avoid all danger of its undoing.

“He never’ll untie it, Polly,” said Ben; “that’s just like a girl’s knots!”

“Why didn’t you tie it then?” said Polly; “I’m sure it’s as good as a boy’s knots, and they always muss up a parcel so.” And she gave a loving, approving little pat to the top of the package, which, despite its multitude of knots, was certainly very neat indeed.

Chapter Fifteen

The children crowded back their tears, and hastily said their last good-bye, some of them hanging on to Prince till the last moment.

And then the carriage door shut with a bang, Jasper giving them a bright parting smile, and they were gone.

And the Peppers went into their little brown house, and shut the door.

Chapter Sixteen:

Such a contriving and racking of brains as Polly and Ben set up after this! They would bob over at each other, and smile with significant gesture as a new idea would strike one of them, in the most mysterious way that, if observed, would drive the others almost wild. And then, frightened lest in some hilarious moment the secret should pop out, the two conspirators would betake themselves to the wood-shed as before agreed on.


And so the weeks flew by–one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight! till only the three days remained, and to think the fun that Polly and Ben had had already!

“It’s better’n a Christmas,” they told their mother, “to get ready for it!”

Chapter 17:

“Let’s have a concert,” put in Ben; Polly was so out of breath that she couldn’t speak. “Come, now, each take a whistle, and we’ll march round and round and see which can make the biggest noise.”


Five o’clock! The small ones of the Pepper flock, being pretty well tired out with noise and excitement, all gathered around Polly and Ben, and clamored for a story.

Chapter 18:

“Better not be looking for summer,” said Mrs. Pepper, “until you do your duty by the winter; then you can enjoy it,” and she took a fresh needleful of thread.


And then the carriage turned in at a brown stone gateway, and winding up among some fine old trees, stopped before a large, stately residence that in Polly’s eyes seemed like one of the castles of Ben’s famous stories. And then Mr. King got out, and gallantly escorted Polly out, and up the steps, while Jasper followed with Polly’s bag which he couldn’t be persuaded to resign to Thomas.


“Let Polly sit next to me,” said Van, as if a seat next to him was of all things most to be desired.

“Oh, no, I want her,” said little Dick.

“Pshaw, Dick! you’re too young,” put in Percy. “You’d spill the bread and butter all over her.”

“I wouldn’t either,” said little Dick, indignantly, and beginning to crawl into his seat; “I don’t spill bread and butter, now Percy, you know.”

Chapter 19:

“I think,” said Jasper one evening after dinner, when all the children were assembled as usual in their favorite place on the big rug in front of the fire in the library, Prince in the middle of the group, his head on his paws, watching everything in infinite satisfaction, “that Polly’s getting on in music as I never saw anyone do; and that’s a fact!”

Chapter 20

I’d like it first rate to be away from Percy,” said Van, reflectively; “I wouldn’t come back in three, no, six weeks.”

“My son,” said his mamma, “just stop and think how badly you would feel, if you really couldn’t see Percy.”

“Well,” said Van, and he showed signs of relenting a little at that; “but Percy is perfectly awful, Mamma, you don’t know; and he feels so smart too,” he said vindictively.

“Well,” said Mrs. Whitney, softly, “let’s think what we can do for Polly; it makes me feel very badly to see her sad little face.”

Chapter 21:

“I went to the Post Office,” said the child, clinging to him in delight, her tangled hair waving over the little white face, into which a faint pink color was quickly coming back. “Only it wouldn’t come; and I walked and walked–where is it, Grandpa?” And Phronsie gazed up anxiously into the old gentleman’s face.

Chapter 22

Three weeks! “I can’t wait!” thought Polly at first, in counting over the many hours before the happy day would come. But on Jasper’s suggesting that they should all do something to get ready for the visitors, and have a general trimming up with vines and flowers beside–the time passed away much more rapidly than was feared.

Chapter 23

“Oh, Vanny,” said Mrs. Whitney reproachfully, “to treat a little guest in this way!”

“I wanted to,” said Joel cheerfully; “twas great fun. Let’s begin again, Van!”

“We mustn’t,” said Van, readily giving up the charming prospect, and beginning to edge quickly towards the house. “Mamma wouldn’t like it you know. He hits splendidly, Mamma,” he added generously, looking up. “He does really.”

“And so does Van,” cried Joel, his face glowing at the praise. “We’ll come out every day,” he added slipping into his jacket, and turning enthusiastically back to Van.


Do you ever get into mischief?” asked little Dick, coming up and looking into Mrs. Pepper’s face wonderingly. “Why, you’re a big woman!”

“Dear me, yes!” said Mrs. Pepper. “The bigger you are, the more mischief you can get into. You’ll find that out, Dickey.”

“And then do you have to stand in a corner?” asked Dick, determined to find out just what were the consequences, and reverting to his most dreaded punishment.

“No,” said Mrs. Pepper laughing. “Corners are for little folks; but when people who know better, do wrong, there aren’t any corners they can creep into, or they’d get into them pretty quick!”

Chapter 24:

Of all things in the world that tried Polly’s patience most were the troublesome little black buttons that originally adorned those useful parts of her clothing, and that were fondly supposed to be there when needed. But they never were. The little black things seemed to be invested with a special spite, for one by one they would hop off on the slightest provocation, and go rolling over the floor, just when she was in her most terrible hurry, compelling her to fly for needle and thread on the instant. For one thing Mrs. Pepper was very strict about–and that was, Polly should do nothing else till the buttons were all on again, and the boots buttoned up firm and snug.

Chapter 25

Mamsie would be worrying, she knew; and besides, the sight of so many birds eating their suppers out of generously full seed-cups, only filled her heart with remorse as she thought of poor Cherry and his empty one.

So she put down her ten cents silently on the counter, and took up the little package of seed, and went out.

Many of these selections are too long for some third graders. They could be broken up over several days, or you could move them to a word document and remove the quotation marks, then print them out and have the children replace them in their proper homes.

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