So, how can we reclaim the dying
art of good writing? I believe there are
a few simple skills that we can recover
from previous generations to train our
children to communicate complex ideas
well to those around them. First, our
students need to read voraciously. Reading quality literature builds vocabulary,
trains the brain to recognize, and later to
write, complex sentences, and provides
a storehouse of experiences and ideas
about which to write. Second, our students must learn grammar. It is difficult
for them to write a complex sentence if
they do not know what a complex sentence is. Third, we must train them to
think carefully about issues and ideas.
Finally, they can wrestle these ideas onto
This summer, I joined a group of my
colleagues at Leigh Bortins’ home for
a writing week. Prior to the meeting,
we each selected a topic and did a bit
of research. We then spent the week together divided into quiet times of reading, reflecting, and writing, interspersed
with discussion and editing. Across the
course of the week, we all remembered
a lot about the craft of writing. One of
the most important things we recalled
was that there are four relatively distinct
stages that must be completed by writers
of all ages.
The first is that there must be an input
of knowledge. Because we planned the
week about six months in advance, each
of us had read several books about our
topic before we convened. Each participant had taken careful notes on the topics so that we had compiled a large file
of ideas before coming together. For any
writer, this is an important step.
Our students input ideas by reading
and by memorizing. They need a ready
storehouse of quality information. According to Greek mythology, writers, poets, and musicians were inspired by the
muses. Interestingly, the mother of the
muses was memory.
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Our children need a rich storehouse of
facts, poems, and stories to draw upon
when they write. I was delighted the
other day when one of my students compared Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar to the
movie Valkyrie in which German officers
attempted to assassinate Hitler. His understanding of both has been enriched,
and he can communicate the complex
comparison of these two historical events
to others in his next essay.
MOVABLE PAPER FIGURES TO CUT, COLOR, AND ASSEMBLE
After gaining ideas, it is important to refine them through group discussion. Each
morning during our writer’s retreat, we
gathered to discuss our topics. We added
the knowledge from our research to the
new ideas from our discussions and began
We must know
the Truth, learn to
articulate Truth well,
and present it in a
way that is irresistibly
compelling to others.
to truly understand the ideas about which
we were writing. I have taught a Shakespeare course for three years, and every
time I teach the course I learn something
new about his plays because I have the
chance to discuss them with a new group
of students. Have your children read great
literature and discuss it around the dinner
table with the whole family. Form a book
club and have them discuss great books
together with friends. Teens particularly
enjoy the time with good food, good
friends, and good conversation.
After students have had a chance to
read great books and refine their ideas
through discussion, it is time to com-
municate their ideas through writing, a
process that requires some struggle and
a lot of discipline. I have had a lot of time
to think about study skills lately as I have
been taking Henle Latin Second Year
alongside some very bright high school
students. The primary lesson for me has
been that thinking clearly and expressing
oneself well require hard work. This is
just as true in Algebra as it is in Chemis-
try or Latin or writing.
Jennifer Courtney and her husband have
been homeschooling classically since 2003.
She currently serves as the Director of
Training and Development for Classical
Conversations. She is the co-author of the
Classical Acts and Facts History Cards
series and of the book Classical, Christian Education Made Approachable.
Jennifer writes for the Classical Conversations Writer’s Circle as well as a variety of
homeschool and other education websites
and magazines. She and her husband Tim
live in Oklahoma, where they home educate their four children.
1. This research was cited in Trelease, Jim. The
Read-Aloud Handbook, sixth edition, New York:
Penguin Books, 2006, p. 154.