A Creative Approach to the Classical Progymnasmata—Think of the progymnasmata as a step-by-step apprenticeship in the art of writing and rhetoric. What is an apprentice? It is a young person who is learning a skill from a master teacher. Our students will serve as apprentices to the great writers and great stories of history.
Students are often expected to write with no clear model before them. Modern composition scolds traditional writing instruction as rote and unimaginative. It takes imitation to task for a lack of freedom and personal expression. And yet, effective communication from writer to reader always requires some sort of form and structure. Many of history’s greatest writers learned by imitation. In other words, writing takes the same kind of determined study as ballet or diving. Creativity uses conventional form as a stage or a springboard from which to launch grand jetés and somersaults. Too often students are expected to tackle complex writing assignments without learning the necessary intermediate steps. The assumption is that because most everyone can speak English well enough to be understood, and form letters with a pencil, that everyone should be able to write well. Yet how many of us would expect a child to sit at a piano, without piano lessons, and play a concerto? Writing is never automatic.
The Writing & Rhetoric series method employs fluent reading, careful listening, models for imitation, and progressive steps. It assumes that students learn best by reading excellent, whole-story examples of literature and by growing their skills through imitation. Each exercise is intended to impart a skill (or tool) that can be employed in all kinds of writing and speaking. The exercises are arranged from simple to more complex. What’s more, the exercises are cumulative, meaning that later exercises incorporate the skills acquired in preceding exercises. This series is a step-by-step apprenticeship in the art of writing and rhetoric.
Fable, the first book in the Writing & Rhetoric series, teaches students the practice of close reading and comprehension, summarizing a story aloud and in writing, and amplification of a story through description and dialogue. Students learn how to identify different kinds of stories; determine the beginning, middle, and end of stories; recognize point of view; and see analogous situations, among other essential tools. The Writing & Rhetoric series recovers a proven method of teaching writing, using fables to teach beginning writers the craft of writing well. This is the first in a series of 12 books that will train students over 6 years, starting in grades 3 or 4 and up.
- Narration/telling it back (creating a natural sense of outline/sequence)
- Analogy—learning how this story is like/different from other stories
- Sentence play/word play
- Rewriting (gaining a sense of internal structure of a piece of writing)
- Rewriting given stories
- Speak it experiencing the story from your own mouth (orally) with an audience—a different point of contact, often with some sort of change than the first time you heard it.
See the Support tab above for suggested schedule and rubrics.
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Paul Kortepeter currently serves as curriculum director and eighth-grade teacher at The Oaks Academy, a private K–12 classical school in Indianapolis. His passion for helping students write effectively and speak persuasively led him to write the Writing & Rhetoric series, a step-by-step program for young writers based on the classical progymnasmata. Paul has a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Earlham College and a master of fine arts degree in cinema production from the University of Southern California. While a student at USC, he edited a documentary film on the homeless that was nominated for an Academy Award. He spent the next six years in Los Angeles developing made-for-TV movies for popular performers such as Jane Seymour, Pierce Brosnan, Walter Matthau, and Isabella Rossellini. More recently, he worked as senior editor for Sunrise Publications, now a division of Hallmark Cards. While at Sunrise, he met artist Susan Wheeler and the two collaborated in creating picture books for Dutton Children’s Books and gift books for Harvest House Publishers.
Grade Level: Grades 3-4
Use: Consumable product
Course Length: Semester