The goal of the Writing and Rhetoric series is “to prepare students for rhetoric, which is the art of writing well and speaking persuasively” (Writing & Rhetoric: Fable, p. x). Many classical educators have begun to implement the progymnasmata, the ancient classical exercises for teaching these skills. Author Paul Kortepeter builds on the foundation of the progymnasmata, but updates it with methods such as those recommended by Charlotte Mason.
The progymnasmata are based on the idea that children should learn how to write by working from models rather than by dreaming up their own ideas. So students work through models of various forms of writing beginning with narratives and working up through expository, descriptive, and persuasive writing. Students simultaneously develop rhetorical skills in the same sequence.
Most students can begin this series in third or fourth grade, but older students should be able to easily jump in at the beginning as well. Before beginning the first course, students need to be able to identify and write complete sentences. They need to be able to identify subjects and predicates, and they need to understand basic capitalization and punctuation.
The series will eventually have twelve courses, each of which should take one semester to complete. The first four courses are available thus far. Titles of all of the courses with brief descriptions and approximate grade levels are as follows:
- Book 1: Fable - introduces narrative skills (grades 3-4)
- Book 2: Narrative Part I - narrations with descriptive elements (grades 3-4)
- Book 3: Narrative Part II - narrations with descriptive elements (grades 4-5)
- Book 4: Chreia and Proverb - expository essays with narrative, descriptive, and persuasive elements (grades 4-5)
- Book 5: Refutation and Confirmation - persuasive essays with narrative, descriptive, and persuasive elements (grades 5-6)
- Book 6: Commonplace - more advanced persuasive essays with narrative, descriptive, and persuasive elements (grades 5-6)
- Book 7: Encomium and Vituperation - praise and criticism used within persuasive essays (grades 6-7)
- Book 8: Comparison - use of comparison within essays (grades 6-7)
- Book 9: Impersonation - descriptive essays using characterization (grades 7-8)
- Book 10: Description - (grades 7-8)
- Book 11: Thesis - persuasive essays developed to support a thesis (grades 8-9)
- Book 12: Attack and Defend a Law - more technical version of the persuasive essay (grades 8-9)
The brief descriptions do not convey the breadth of these courses. Among the many skills developed as students work through the lessons are accurate copying, reading comprehension, creating and presenting oral and written narrations, writing from dictation, expanding vocabulary, identifying points of view, writing dialogue, providing details to support an opinion, amplification (expanding upon a sentence, paragraph, or lengthier piece), summarizing, plotting a story, developing characters in a story, and learning various ways to defend an argument. As with most writing programs, the courses cover a great deal of the language arts curriculum, but you still need to supplement with a course that concentrates on grammar.
I received the first three courses for review, so my comments primarily reflect the contents of those courses. Lessons in each course generally follow a similar rough outline with an introduction to the lesson, presentation of the story (or other writing model), and sections titled “Tell It Back,” “Talk About It,” “ Go Deeper,” “Writing Time,” and “Speak It.” Activities within each section vary from lesson to lesson, and the variety keeps things interesting. Each lesson should be completed over a week, generally with lessons on three days per week.
Lessons for the first day begin with the teacher reading the fable or narrative aloud with students following along. Students will then read the story aloud—to each other in pairs in a larger group or to a parent with a single student. (While the courses direct students to work with other students from time to time, those activities can usually be done either with the parent or independently.) In the “Tell It Back” section, students retell the story in their own words—narration. “Talk About It” presents a series of discussion questions. For example, after the fable of “The Fox and the Grapes,” one question asks, “What is your definition of the idea of ‘sour grapes’? Use the expression ‘sour grapes’ in a complete sentence” (Book 1: Fable, p. 37). Some discussion questions relate to Scripture, current events, or other readings to help students learn to connect ideas. “Go Deeper” is a set of questions on vocabulary, grammar, main ideas, word usage, and character traits for students to answer in their text. Some questions require students to use a dictionary.
On the second day of the lesson, the students should reread the fable or narrative aloud to refresh their memories. They then proceed to the “Writing Time” exercises. They will generally begin with copywork and dictation. “Sentence Play” exercises within “Writing Time” have students work from partial or complete sentences to change them or expand upon them in some way. “Copiousness” exercises might have students first identify parts of speech, subjects, or predicates in a passage, then rewrite by varying sentence elements. While students might write a summary of the story, they might also be directed to “write an amplification with dialogue” or vary their rewrite of the story in one way or another. In addition, within “Writing Time,” students will complete other exercises such as changing part of a story or rewriting a story completely (e.g., from a different point of view).
Day three should be used for students to read aloud their revised or summarized stories, work on elocution activities, discuss points raised for consideration in the instructions, or play games that relate to the use of language. The games usually work better in a group setting, but often they can be used with slight variations. (A fourth lesson day will probably be required for a large group class to accomplish all of these activities.)
Optional MP3 audio files feature Dr. Christopher Perrin and series editor Christine Perrin reading aloud the fables, narratives, legends, and myths presented in the courses. While the audio files are optional, they are included with purchase of the complete set for each course.
Teacher’s editions for each book have the complete student text with overprinted suggested answers, notes on the purpose of each lesson, dictation sentences, examples of responses for writing assignments, and occasional extra teaching notes. Lessons are very easy to follow. Although parents should read through lessons in advance for the week so that they know the objectives and the assignments to come, the lesson preparation requires little time. These courses are very user-friendly, even for inexperienced parents.
Lessons build upon one another from Book 1 through Book 12 as students develop a foundation of skills by emulating and working from worthy models of writing. While other publishers are producing resources based on the progymnasmata, the Writing and Rhetoric series seems to me to have taken the best from the ancient models while borrowing some of the most effective “modern” techniques, including a dose of humor. I expect that students and parents will enjoy these lessons, and I think that enjoyment can be shared even better within a group class if that is possible for you.