Jonathan Rogers teaches a number of online writing courses for Compass Classroom that are based on popular or classic literature. The courses are best for the high school level since they might be considered advanced creative writing courses. Rogers occasionally makes reference to Christian concepts or the Bible, but the courses should still be usable by non-Christians. These courses include:
- Writing Through the Wardrobe (based on The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe)
- Writing Through To Kill a Mockingbird (based on To Kill a Mockingbird)
- Writing with the Bog Owl (based on The Bark of the Bog Owl)
- Writing with Hobbits (based on The Hobbit)
Rogers says in some of the lectures that students do not need to read the book for each course since he either reads or presents on slides the pertinent passages. Even so, prior familiarity with the stories is helpful since Rogers often discusses the development of a character, plot elements, and other features that are more understandable to those familiar with the stories. In addition, the Supplemental Writing Exercises (either linked to the lectures or downloaded as a PDF) often have assignments that require that students read part or all of the book. While these courses are primarily intended for teaching creative writing, adding a requirement that students read and discuss the books solves potential problems that arise if students are not already familiar with the books. Adding a reading requirement also expands the courses’ value and should allow you to add some credit for literature.
Rogers assumes that students already know how to structure paragraphs and know the basics of writing narratives. He takes students to a higher level by teaching techniques used by professional writers to accomplish different goals in their writing. In each of the lessons, he uses the selected novel to focus on particular techniques used by its author. For instance, in Writing Through To Kill a Mockingbird, Lesson 13: Showing and Telling in the Courtroom, Rogers presents an example from the story where the lawyer in the story, Atticus Finch, uses both showing and telling to try to sway the jury. The author doesn't just show rather than tell but has her character do so. Rogers uses this example to teach students different ways of showing through dialogue and through the presentation of physical evidence.
How the Courses Work
The courses each have 18 lessons, generally with two steps per lesson. The first step in each lesson is to watch a video lecture by Rogers that runs for about 30 minutes, and the second is a writing assignment. The writing assignments are linked below the videos in all of the courses.
Rogers teaches with occasional reference to his notes and slides (which we can read), but he does not speak from a script. His manner is so casual that it includes many “ums” that are distracting. Even so, he’s an inspiring teacher.
Rogers teaches writing skills that are more complex than those usually taught in high school writing courses—so much so, that adults interested in writing can also benefit from these courses.
Just a few examples of the skills he teaches are the use of dramatic irony, revealing gestures, mannerisms, and writing with narrative layers. For example, he says in the second lecture for Writing Through the Wardrobe, “Storytelling isn’t just about giving information. It’s also about withholding information. And it’s often about deceiving the reader, not just enlightening the reader.” So in this lesson about characterization, Rogers explores the author C. S. Lewis's use of inversion to present things in ways that are often the opposite or quite different from what one expects. For instance, Rogers discusses Lucy’s encounter with, Mr. Tumnus, and the unfolding description that gradually reveals that Mr. Tumnus is a faun. Yet, as Rogers points out, we soon discover that Mr. Tumnus is not as innocuous as he seems since he turns out to be a kidnapper.
The writing assignments are great. For instance, the first lecture in Writing Through the Wardrobe teaches about an author's choice of the narrator for a story and the point of view from which it is told. The writing assignment is to retell the parable of the prodigal son from the viewpoint of one of the three main characters. The second assignment has students describe a character indirectly by describing one room in the character’s house in a way that reveals who this person is. The writing assignments are not lengthy. Some are even shorter than the examples I’ve given. I found that after listening to the lectures, I was eager to experiment with the writing techniques in the assignments. Some of them are challenging, but they are also intriguing and stimulating.
I love the way that Rogers encourages students to try out the different techniques. In one instance, he emphasizes that even if students aren’t good at writing with similes and metaphors (and some professional writers are not), they can be very effective writers if they simply write with lots of sensory details to help the reader feel as if they are present and can see what the narrator sees. Naturally, this is followed by a sensory-writing assignment.
How you use the courses will depend upon the student you are working with. The courses can be used as supplements to more-comprehensive language-arts courses, perhaps using one lesson per week. On the other hand, you could make these courses the core of a student’s language-arts studies for a year by using at least two or three of the courses, having students read and discuss the books, adding at least two lengthy writing assignments, and adding a grammar component with a course such as Analytical Grammar or one from the Easy Grammar series. This is just one possible option!
These courses are available individually or as a four-course set. Note that these courses are also available as part of the Compass Classroom Premium Membership—a subscription service that also gives you access many others. You can check out free sample lessons before purchasing.
The courses should work best for students who have an interest in writing, but they might inspire reluctant writers with ideas and strategies to make the process more interesting to them. However you use these courses, they will almost certainly take students’ writing skills to a higher level.