On Writing, The Third “R” of the SAT

by Rachel Olson

lt’s not difficult to convince a parent or teacher the children under their care must learn to write well. Writing is an essential part of every child’s education from grade school through college. Nearly every humanities subject requires multiple essays. And if you’re planning on going to college, the Reading and ‘Rithmetic sections on the SAT have of course been joined by a third R: Writing.

Moreover, there are dozens of careers which require professional writers. Journalists make their living composing a glorified form of the grade-school essay. Playwrights and lyricists earn their bread by putting words on the page. Someone writes all the advertising mail you throw away—and someone else checks it twice to make sure there are no mistakes.

But, a conscientious mother might protest, what if my child does not want to be a journalist? And who’d want to make a living off the junk mail nobody reads? Is learning how to write worth it if you don’t plan on writing to support your family?

With no reservations: yes! From a practical standpoint, no matter what job a person gets, whether it be office executive or barista, his success level will be largely dependent on how well he communicates through writing.

In this age of emails and text messages, everyone is speaking to each other through the written (and read) word.  Whether you’re writing instructions, or giving reports, or helping customers, or even scheduling appointments or taking down memos, clear communication is essential. 

But learning to write well is not just about acquiring a useful skill for the work force. When a child practices organizing and expressing his thoughts on paper from an early age, he is cultivating an organized mind. An organized mind is focused. An organized mind can retain instructions and carry them out. And, “out of the thoughts of the heart the mouth speaks”—a person who can write well can also speak well much more easily.  If a child has already disciplined his mind to form his thoughts into cogent sentences on paper, he will not only think before he speaks, but his speech will be both coherent and thoughtful.

How can you teach your kids to write well? For starters, make sure you’re taking advantage of the tried and true classical method of imitation. As Matt Whitling stresses throughout his Imitation in Writing series, imitating good prose and poetry helps a student develop their style by standing on the shoulders of the giants who went before them, especially at a young age. Students should learn to write (and appreciate good stories) from Aesop’s fables, Greek myths, and medieval legends that have fed imaginations for millennia (literally).

Upper elementary and junior high students will be ready to dive into Whitling’s Grammar of Poetry, which applies classical imitation to teach students to write in “pictures and music”—a skill that must be applied to prose as well as poetry. And high school students will eat up the practical advice and lively assignments in The Rhetoric Companion—an introductory guide to memorable and effective expression. (The Rhetoric Companion is even used to teach undergraduates how to write at both New Saint Andrews College and Patrick Henry College.)

Cultivating the skill of writing also brings the child out of himself. The world is rife with material to write about, from one’s own experience to nature to history. Don’t let all that go to waste! This is the number one point Douglas Wilson addresses in his book Wordsmithy. A good writer is a good storyteller, and a good storyteller is interested in the world. A good storyteller is also interesting, even if his stories go no further than anecdotes for his kids. He is a good man speaking, writing, living well.

Helps for Learning to Write:

Grammar & Logic Stage:

Imitation in Writing Series Bundle
Aesop’s Fables
Fairy Tales
Medieval Legends
Greek Myths
Greek Heroes
Grammar of Poetry
Grammar of Poetry Teacher’s Edition
Poetry Primer
Poetry Primer Teacher’s Edition

Rhetoric Stage:
The Rhetoric Companion
The Rhetoric Companion Answer Key


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