A Look At Writing & Rhetoric

If you’re like most homeschool families, you’ve tried a few different writing programs. It’s one of those subjects that many homeschool moms struggle to teach.

We’ve shared that struggle too and have tried our own fair share of homeschool writing programs – some with more success than others.

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That struggle ended for us when we started using the Writing & Rhetoric series from Classical Academic Press.

Classical Academic Press

Classical Academic Press is one of my favorite homeschool curriculum publishers. While they do offer those programs you’d expect from a company focused on Classical education (like Latin and Rhetoric) they also offer plenty of other resources – French, poetry, grammar, Bible study, and of course, writing.

Everything they offer follows their motto of ‘Classical Subjects, Creatively Taught’ – with interesting and engaging lessons and solid teacher’s manuals that will guide you through every step along the way.

The Writing & Rhetoric Series

The Writing & Rhetoric series is clearly a Classical program (but you certainly don’t need to follow the Classical methodology to use the series!).

It’s modelled after the progymnasmata which is a method of teaching students to speak and write persuasively. Designed by ancient teachers, it focuses on using a carefully sequenced series of exercises to teach these skills.

Classical Academic Press has adapted this ancient methodology and carefully teaches this system in their 12-book series, focusing on one aspect of the progymnasmata in each level.

As you progress through the series you’ll recognize how the skills taught in each level get progressively more difficult and detailed.

The early books in the Writing & Rhetoric series (see my review for Writing & Rhetoric 3) focus on teaching basic writing and summarizing skills with copy work, narration, and creative writing assignments.

Beginning with the fourth book, students begin learning how to write persuasive essays. Each level focuses on a different method. Writing & Rhetoric book four uses famous sayings and proverbs as the foundation for the essays taught.

The fifth book in the series (one of my favorites – so much more interesting than writing boring book reports) focuses on writing about elements of a narrative. In book six, students take a close look at vices and virtues.

Book Three: Narrative

The first two books in the Writing & Rhetoric series were great – wonderful discussions, great lessons on learning to summarize, learning about dialogue and important elements in a story. They provide a great transition from those early elementary years to the middle school years.

Writing & Rhetoric 3 takes things to a whole new level. Lessons still follow the same format, divided into different sections (Tell it Back, Talk About It, Go Deeper, Writing Time, and Speak It) but  go much deeper and include many new writing components. It really makes me excited to see where this series is going.

A look at Narrative II

If you’ve used the earlier books in the series, you are very familiar with the lesson format. Level 3 follows the same basic format with 11 lessons (to be used over the course of one semester):

Go Deeper – discuss the various literary elements of the story with your student – types of narrative, morals, some vocabulary work with the dictionary and thesaurus.

Writing Time – you’ll work on dictation and ‘sentence play’, varying the types of sentences in the story, working on various narrative elements (dialogue, point-of-view, characters). There’s so much good stuff packed into this section!.

Speak It – this last section works on speaking skills with simple exercises and ideas to practice speaking aloud

There are two books for each level – one workbook for the student and a teacher’s manual (a copy of the student book with gray boxed areas for teacher information). There’s also an MP3 audio – a very nice addition for this mom who has trouble with some of those ancient names.

We cover one lesson each week with some lessons taking longer than others, depending on the depth of the writing assignments. Generally it takes 3-4 days to work through all the material.

Why You’ll Love Narrative II

I really liked the first two books in the series. But book 3 really kicks it up a notch. It pulls all of those pieces together and you can really see where this program is going (and why it’s so fabulous).

Here’s some of my favorite features;

The MP3 audio – some of those names can be a bit tricky so having someone else do the reading aloud is a nice bonus

A wonderful teacher’s manual that really lays everything out for you – if you don’t know how to teach writing, Writing & Rhetoric can make you a confident teacher

The simple assignments that teach good writing methods – using a dictionary and thesaurus for alternate word choices, how to vary sentences or write from alternating points-of-view

Many of the assignments can be done orally – which is a nice thing for pencil-phobic kids

A nice bit of grammar review – your kids will learn those parts-of-speech while working on writing good sentences

Simple speaking assignments that will give kids confident public speaking skills

I could go on, of course, but I’ll leave a few surprises for you to discover on your own. As odd as it is to say about a writing program, you can sit on the couch, cuddle with your kids, and discuss stories with this series. I don’t think you can say that about any other writing program.

Book Six: Commonplace

Like the other levels in the series, Writing & Rhetoric: Commonplace includes two books – a student worktext (assignments are completed directly in the book) and the teacher’s edition.

The teacher’s manual replicates the student book with included answers, writing samples, and other notes for the instructor. There’s even a corresponding audio file (which I highly recommend for this level as the chapter text and stories are longer).

Commonplace follows the same format as previous books in the Writing & Rhetoric series, with some changes, of course. It goes just a bit deeper, asking for more thought and reflection from students (something that’s expected as kids get older).

Students will learn how to craft a solid thesis statement and write a six-paragraph persuasive essay focused on common virtues and vices.

The first few chapters focus on thesis statements. Students will spend plenty of time studying well-crafted thesis statement and learn how to properly form their own in the carefully guided lessons. It’s one of my favorite parts of the program.

The remainder of the book focuses on writing six-paragraph essays arguing against common vices and in favor of common virtues. Each step is carefully taught to students with plenty of examples and creative assignments.

With ten lessons in Writing & Rhetoric: Commonplace, it’s easy to complete this level in one semester and still have plenty of time to include writing assignments in other subjects.

Classical Academic Press suggests that students begin book six in fifth or sixth grade (or older). My daughter is using this book in 8th grade and it’s a good fit for her skill level.

Once you’ve used one level of this program, you’ll begin to recognize the lesson sections. Every level follows a similar format while assignments get progressively more detailed and difficult as you progress through the series.

Each lesson in Book 6: Commonplace includes:

  • Chapter Story (adaptations and short historical or fictional narratives)
  • Tell It Back – narration exercises (oral narration, annotation, outlining)
  • Go Deeper – comprehension questions and exercises that ask the student to think more critically about the chapter story and theme

How We’re Using Writing & Rhetoric: Commonplace

We’ve found that book six expects more on the part of the students – something that should definitely be expected as kids gain more writing experience. Lessons are more detailed and assignments take a little bit longer.

Because of this, and the amount of work in our other homeschool subjects, we take two weeks to cover each lesson in Writing & Rhetoric: Commonplace.

Even by making this adjustment we’ll still be able to complete two books in the series this year and have plenty of time for writing assignments in other subjects.

Completing A Lesson In Commonplace

Day 1

We read the introduction and story selections aloud (or we listen to the audio version – I really appreciate it for this level) before we begin working on assignments in the ‘Tell it Back’ section.

This section includes narration, outlining, annotation, and finding supporting arguments for thesis statements. One of my favourite parts of the program is in the deep discussions it creates for us so we work on this step together.

Day 2

We begin our second lesson by discussing the questions in the ‘Talk About It’ section, adding the quotation in the ‘Memoria’ section to our commonplace books and discussing its meaning.

We finish the day by working on the ‘Go Deeper’ section. This is another teacher-intensive day for us as we prefer to discuss the material aloud.

Day 3

Once we move to the ‘Writing Time’ portion of the text, it’s less teacher-intensive as my daughter works independently.

It’s also the longest and most involved section of each lesson so we divide the assignments over three days. During the first day of this section, we focus on the ‘Sentence Play’ segment.

Day 4

Another independent workday working through the ‘Writing Time’ section – focusing on the ‘Copiousness’ exercises.

Day 5

We move on to the major portion of the ‘Writing Time’ section – the Commonplace essay (I recommend you have your children type their essay – it makes editing and revising much easier).

Day 6

We go over the notes for the essay to make sure everything is covered and my daughter makes any adjustments to her essay.

Day 7

We finish the week by working through the ‘Speak It’ and ‘Revise It’ segments of the lesson.

Most of our time is spent on revising since it’s a bit harder to do some of the ‘Speak It’ assignments with an only child (it would be great for a group setting, though!).

Day 8

My daughter makes her final revisions and completes her final draft.