Along with our new four-year grammar program, we’ve also been working on a new writing program, Writing With Skill.
This too will be a four-year series, designed to develop–above all–organizational skills. The first task for the beginning writer is simply to learn how to get words down on paper–a skill taught in our elementary writing series Writing With Ease. But once that ability is developed, the next challenge for the writing student is to figure out how to get those words into the right order. The right order is one that makes sense, that reads easily, that provides clarity.
(The philosophy is outlined with more detail in this brief essay, “Why Writing Programs Fail.”)
How do you teach this?
For years I’ve been suggesting that parents make use of outlining as a tool for teaching organization–asking the young student to regularly outline a page or so from a history or science book, and eventually to practice rewriting the original text from the outline. (If this sounds familiar, it’s the method Benjamin Franklin used to teach himself to write–see the excerpt from his Autobiography at the end of this blog entry.)
Writing With Skill takes these suggestions and fleshes them out in weekly lessons that specifically teach outlining as well as basic forms of writing (descriptions, biographical sketches, chronological narratives, and so on) that can be assembled to make longer compositions. The program also teaches beginning style by asking students to rewrite sentences using different grammatical constructions, and also includes a primer on writing about stories and poems (basic literary criticism).
The sample of the instructor text, below, begins with an overview of the course’s goals and methods.
Writing With Skill is designed to start at any time from fifth grade on; these are basic skills that should be in place before a student begins to study rhetoric, so any student who is not quite ready for a rhetoric course can benefit from starting with the first book and moving forward.
The course gives the primary responsibility for learning to the student, so the student text is central. The student text below includes a complete, detailed table of contents, showing what is taught in each week.
The instructor text contains specific guidance in teaching skills that the student may struggle with, as well as rubrics and sample compositions to help with evaluation.
Not sure when the physical texts will be ready, but PDFs should be available by fall. (The folks at the Peace Hill Press office would like me to clarify–I hope to have the full downloadable PDF available for purchase in the fall, but if we’re still proofreading/making final changes, we will make the first weeks available for free so that you can get started.)
Enjoy the preview!
And now for a word from Benjamin Franklin…
About this time I met with an odd volume of the Spectator. It was the third. I had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it.
With this view I took some of the papers, and, making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, try’d to compleat the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand. Then I compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them.
But I found I wanted a stock of words, or a readiness in recollecting and using them, which I thought I should have acquired before that time if I had gone on making verses; since the continual occasion for words of the same import, but of different length, to suit the measure, or of different sound for the rhyme, would have laid me
under a constant necessity of searching for variety, and also have
tended to fix that variety in my mind, and make me master of it.
Therefore I took some of the tales and turned them into verse; and,
after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them
I also sometimes jumbled my collections of hints into
confusion, and after some weeks endeavored to reduce them into the best order, before I began to form the full sentences and compleat the paper. This was to teach me method in the arrangement of thoughts. By comparing my work afterwards with the original, I discovered many faults and amended them; but I sometimes had the pleasure of fancying that, in certain particulars of small import, I had been lucky enough to improve the method or the language, and this encouraged me to think I might possibly in time come to be a tolerable English writer, of which I was extremely ambitious.