Skills for Rhetoric teaches composition and speech skills to academically-advanced Christian students in junior high. Since the course is quite challenging, it should also be appropriate for average high school students. (If I didn't know in advance that the course was intended for junior high students, I would have pegged it as appropriate for ninth or tenth grade.)
Author James Stobaugh explains his rationale for the course as fulfilling the need for Christians to develop rhetorical skills to be able to engage the culture and to be equipped to participate in apologetics. He says, “Good thinking and good talking may redeem the Church from both the overzealous and the skeptic. Rhetorical skills may help us regain the intellectual and spiritual high ground we so grievously surrendered without a fight” (p. 5).
As an aside, the introduction in the teacher guide should be in the student book. It’s an outstanding persuasive essay written directly to students to encourage them to be world changers. Make sure your student(s) read it!
Skills for Rhetoric course components consist of a soft-cover student book and a three-hole-punched, loose-leaf teacher guide that you will insert into your own binder.
The course has 34 chapters with four lessons per chapter, so it slots neatly into a single school year as your primary English course. Students also need a literature component, but that can easily be supplied by having students read real books. (If you are thinking of using Stobaugh's Skills for Literary Analysis course the next year, you might have students get a head start on the extensive reading list for that course during this prior year, and reading some of those books can serve as your literature component.)
Skills for Rhetoric assumes that students have already learned how to write coherent paragraphs and short compositions, so it focuses primarily on skills for essay writing such as outlining, writing the introduction and a topic sentence, transitions, conclusions, supporting evidence, illustrations, audience, and voice as well as common grammatical errors to avoid. Since the course does not intend to cover grammar and usage skills comprehensively, students are likely to need a grammar and composition handbook for reference.
Students will write at least one essay per week. They will also present a brief speech most weeks, and they will write a research paper during the last quarter of the course. Speech-related activities sometimes substitute for writing and presenting a speech. For example, one chapter requires students to listen to a speech or sermon then explain the main points. Another chapter has students present a dramatic reading of Isaiah 6: 1-8. In addition to developing essays and speeches each week, students are encouraged to write every day in a prayer journal, and they will often be required to write an essay as all or part of their weekly test. As you can see, a great deal of writing is required in this course.
Daily lessons in the student book provide instructional information as well as activities to be completed plus the writing and speech assignments. Daily “Concept Builders” built into each lesson work on specific skills. These usually take less than 15 minutes and can often be completed within the book. Students should also create vocabulary cards for new words they encounter in their reading and writing.
Moral and spiritual development is influenced by the content of the instructional material as well as the essay and speech assignments, all with a goal of developing young people with a biblical Christian world view and Christian virtue. Critical thinking skills are brought to bear in many of the activities, especially those related to worldview.
Students should be able to work through much of the course work independently. However, parents still need to be involved. Stobaugh explains on page 223 of the teacher guide, “[M]oral and spiritual development is encouraged through discussion surrounding the speech topic, the essay topic, journal entries, and even the warm-up exercises.” Parents also need to evaluate both written work and speeches, and they need to guide students through the process of writing the research paper in the last part of the course. In addition, lessons expect a rather high level of skills, so parents might need to work more extensively with students who need assistance.
The teacher guide includes student assignments, answers to Concept Builders and Tests when appropriate (sometimes these are only suggested responses), and evaluation and grading tools. There is little additional explanation as to how to teach the course. Generally, it's fairly easy to figure out from the information at the front of the student book and the teacher guide coupled with lesson instructions. Occasionally, it feels like something is missing. For example, Chapter 24 tells students, “You will be assigned a research topic this week. After being assigned a paper topic, narrow that topic by using the Thinking Game (see Appendix)” (p. 198). However, there is nothing in the teacher guide to suggest possible topics. Additionally, there are brief instructions for essay evaluation but none for speech evaluation. On the Grading Chart in the teacher guide, there is space for a score for only either one essay or one speech per week. These omissions are easily overcome, but you will need to read through lessons ahead of each week to make sure students have everything they need to complete their work.
Throughout the course, students will be building a portfolio that they will turn in at the end of the course. The portfolio will include corrected essays, speeches, their journal vocabulary cards, their research paper, and anything else pertinent to the course.
Skills for Rhetoric might be a more demanding course than others typical for junior high and even high school level. However, students striving to develop strong rhetorical skills in both composition and speech and who are able and willing to do the work should benefit tremendously from it. In additional, thorough incorporation of thought-provoking material will almost certainly help students develop a solid Christian worldview.