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Persuasive Writing and Classical Rhetoric (PDF) Review by Jennifer Harrison

Practicing the Habits of Great Writers
Joshua E. Hummer, Esq. and Dr. Jill A. Hummer, Ph.D.
Silverdale Press
P.O. Box 3070
Winchester, VA 22604

With two students who are pretty serious about becoming published authors someday, I have been on the hunt for a quality writing program. I was hoping to find something that was open-and-go, with clearly explained lessons that had defined expectations rather than beautiful theories, and I wanted something with a classical bent. I think I have found it in Persuasive Writing and Classical Rhetoric: Practicing the Habits of Great Writers.

This four book set uses the framework of classical rhetoric to instruct students in the art of persuasive writing. The authors emphasize that writing is not a skill that you must be born with. Anyone can become a great writer with lots of practice and by imitating three habits of great writers: Writers write, writers read, and writers think. All three habits are used continuously throughout the course. Twenty-eight authors and orators are studied throughout the thirty-six week course.

This program includes a workbook, a lesson book, a reader, and an answer key. Each book outlines a suggested schedule. At no point can students wonder what comes next or what book they should be in. Each lesson is organized to be completed in one week, for a full year. Each lesson features a great writer or rhetorician such as Daniel Webster, Dorothy Sayers, Ronald Reagan, and more.

On day one, students read a lesson about writing, which concludes with a couple pages about the featured author or speaker. Students learn about their reading and writing habits. After this, students go to the workbook to write in definitions and then answer questions, which are basic reading comprehension questions. On day two, students read an original source document (provided in the reader) by the featured author and then go back to the workbook. The workbook questions on this day are designed to help students think critically and to become more aware of techniques used by skilled authors. Answers to the workbook questions are provided in the Answer Key. Day three uses only the workbook and includes a writing exercise, which is different for each lesson. On day four, students are given a writing prompt and instructed to write a 500-word essay. For example, after a lesson that studies Patrick Henry, students are given this prompt:  “Give me _________, or give me death!” In 500 words, explain why you would rather have death over _________________.

The suggested schedule is designed to be completed within four days, with a recommended time of about an hour and fifteen minutes per day. I did feel that it took this much time to complete the weekly lessons. Students can also work a fifth day, taking two days to complete the essay. By the end of the book, students will be equipped to write a final persuasive essay. They are also instructed as to how to submit their writing for publication.

I like that the lessons are clearly explained, starting with a list of the skills to be learned in each lesson. I like the rubric included in the answer key, making it easier to assess students’ writing. So many skills are covered that it is almost overwhelming. Students learn rhetoric, the process of Invention, how to take notes, and they learn how to make logical, emotional, and ethical appeals. They learn arrangement, refutation, how to do proper research, and much more.

The lessons aren’t complicated, but they aren’t for the faint of heart. For instance, the first lesson not only defines rhetoric, but explains deliberative, judicial, and epideictic rhetoric. These are interesting but new topics for me. This can be a little intimidating for immature students.

We found the pace a bit fast at the beginning. My students are working at a freshman level, so for us, it works best to do the lessons orally, and then take a week to do the essay draft, make edits, and rewrite. The book does not suggest doing rewrites for these essays, but I prefer working on problem areas as we go along. The book explains that as the lessons progress, their writing will improve, and I am finding that to be true.  

Persuasive Writing and Classical Rhetoric is written for students in grades 9-12. The cost is $149.00 for the print edition and $119 for PDF digital downloads.

-Product review by Jennifer Harrison, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, December, 2018