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Now, for the sole benefit of young and inexperienced teachers who may indulge in a dislike of the art of writing essays, let us look at some of their pet excuses and try to answer them. Perhaps we may succeed in proving that the difficulties are not insurmountable, although we may not enable you to turn out the Miltons, Scotts and Emersons by the score.
As to you, sir, or ma'am, who declareth that you consider composition writing a bore - unless you are a thoughtless stripling or miss who is rather “slow to think and quick to speak,” you are either too lazy or too ignorant for your vocation, and the sooner you reform or quit, the better for the “
you cannot teach how to shoot, and sprout, and become a goodly tree.
Number two tells us that he or she cannot write a good composition, and consequently does not require the pupils to do better.
But why cannot you write? Because you never learned to write? Well, then it is high time you made up that deficiency in your education. The
why” will be explained to you by and by. Number three strikes & key note; he tells us that composition-writing requires a talent for literature. But there you are mistaken. It is nothing but an exposition of a few of your beloved common school branches in a different form. It is a compound of:
1. Correct thinking.
That is all. The cement used in forming this compound is simply the easily acquired habit of using your pen instead of your tongue, in expressing your thoughts. But this is merely a matter of habit, which a little patience will help you to acquire. Mind, you will most probably never become a Lamb, or Dickens, or Irving, any more than all the boys who study geography will become Ritters, or Guyots; or those who dip into arithmetic turn out Adam Rieses or Tycho de Brahes. But, you know, that is no reason why we should not study geography and mathematics.
We presume that you will readily admit that everybody ought to know how to write letters; letters of business, of information, of ceremony, or of friendship. But how to do or teach that same letter-writing without the aid of the dreaded “ art of composing," is a mystery
It reminds us of the celebrated egg which was not laid by a hen, but came into the world on its own responsibility, and from which came the celebrated first hen (and cock?). For, what is letter-writing but a branch (and a very important one) of composition writing? Now, if you can write a nice, sensible, wholesome letter to a friend or stranger, you have mastered the art—and if you can't, it is high time to learn it.
It is a perfect relief to hear number four say that he he or she can write an essay, although that diffident young person despairs of imparting his or her talents to his or her pupils. We are opposed to betting, or we would lay a wager that you never tried it in a serious or systematic way. Shall we tell you how you proceed in this matter? We do so by summing up the literary experiences of our own schooldays, and those of our fellow sufferers.
Miss A (new teacher). Well, children, I expect you to write a composition every week. I shall take your papers next Monday. (Sensation.)
Bold Boy. What about, ma’am?
(School tries hard all week, wastes several reams of paper by trying pens and making catalogues of subjects from which to choose, and finally gives it up as a “bad job.” On Monday the good boy and girl of the school (of the family where Miss A. boards) hand in their papers. Grand lecture and peremptory orders to have "those compositions” ready by Friday. More wasting of paper, and on Friday, a grand display of hieroglyphical documents, which we discover in the stove on Monday. Miss A. declares her determination to put off composition till "next term." Three cheers on going home.)
Mr. B., (brand new teacher from college). Well, boys and girls, how many of you can write compositions? (Two hands are raised, one by good girl, the other by good boy.) Two is a bad show for a school of sixty. All who read in the fourth, fifth and sixth readers, will write an essay next week.
Chorus (of all but two). Please, sir, we can't.
Mr. B. Well, all I can say is, Try, try again! Be sure and have
. Bold boy That's just what Miss A. told us last term, and we could not write because we could not find a good subject.
Mr. B. Could not find a subject! Why, the world is full of things that you can write about. There are Shakspeare and George Washington and Napoleon; or, if you can't find their histories in your
books, write about the sun, moon or stars; or about snow, rain or
“The lightning flashed, the thunder rolled,
And killed the little pig." (A very broad smile, followed by much half-suppressed giggling, on the part of the school. Mr. T. ends it by announcing that “school will be continued till all are quiet.” Another week of hard labor, immense consumption of paper and ink, and on Monday a dozen and a half crumpled papers inscribed with the combined wisdom of our text books, on such simple and infantile subjects as astronomy, death, war, Fourth of July, and others too numerous to mention, are handed in. This wonderful, though (to our text books) rather exhaustive exercise is kept up for several weeks, then the master forgot to call for the combined wisdom, etc.; then the pupils forget to compile said wisdom; then it is understood (though not expressed) that composition writing will be put off till next term.
Now, my young friend, if you complain that you cannot make your pupils write readable essays, it is quite apparent that you expect them to be written, but, like Miss A and Mr. B you forget teach your pupils how to do it. You somehow look upon composition writing as a thing that cannot, or need not to be taught; it seems a veritable pond on which your ducks will swim, but your hens won't, and you know you can't coax them. “Poets and ducks are born to their vocation, let others try something else.” But we have seid before that letterwriting is a common duty, an imperative necessity, and as it is inseparable from composition writing, the latter must be taught.
Now, you teach all the branches required by law, almost daily and for years, and with the help of sundry text-books, and perhaps by the aid of additional apparatns, and you well know that any excellence the pupil may attain in those branches, is due - not to inspiration, but to careful study and long application. Yet, in the face of these facts, you expect him to become a good writer without any painstak. ing on your part or on his. Supposing you taught the art of composing essays as thoroughly, and but half as long as arithmetic or geogra. phy, do you not think there would be some improvement ?
Perhaps you are willing to teach this branch but you do not know how. No doubt there are a great many profound works on this subject to be had at any book store, and if you have the patience to work your way through from 2 to 700 pages you will know “all about it.” However, being young, you may prefer a few plain hints to a bookful of rules, and if that is the case you will probably learn quite as much
in an experimenting way, from the following notes, which, in days gone by we gathered from the instructions of a veteran in our profession; and we hope you will try his method, and, no doubt, learn to conduct your exercises in the art of “penphotography” in a pleasant and systematic manner. Then will another of the step-children of our common schools be received into the family, and sit at the genial board where is spread the “feast of reason;" and may its still unrecognized sisters, Music, Drawing and Physiology, soon follow and share its dig. nities and honors.
NOTES ON COMPOSITION WRITING. Never allow a composition to be written before you are sure that the subject is fully understood.
Commence with descriptions of visible objects, and let each description be correct and in full.
Let no abstract subject be given or chosen, until the pupil can express his thoughts on other subjects, with ease and fluency.
Always make the subject of the composition the subject of an oral lesson, before the composition is written. This will give the children a chance to exchange ideas and opinions, insure a clear comprehension of the subject, and if properly conducted, will assist the pupils in the arrangement of paragraphs.
Letters should be written quite frequently; they must be correct in form, and the language used must be concise, pure and simple. The chief parts of a letter introduction, contents and conelusion), must be strictly observed, or the letter will be a mere jumble of words. The style of the letter must be in harmony with the person addressed, the sentiments uttered, and the object in view. All letters must be to the point, and free from affectation of any kind; unlike the diplomates they must express our real thoughts, instead of concealing them.
The teacher must ever remember that simplicity is necessary with beginners. Do not crowd their minds with multitudinous views and qualities of, and observations on, one thing; or, worse still, of many many different things. For such, seleet the chief points and discuss them well.
In conducting an oral exercise on a chosen subject, lead your pupils to say all they know about it. Never tell them what, with a little thinking on their part, or judicious questioning on yours, you are able to elicit. After a little experience on both sides, the pupils will learn to observe a certain order in the handling of their subject, and to proceed in a natural and systematic manner.
This must be insisted upon from the beginning, and will soon become a matter of habit. For instance, you start with
1. Classification. (An object may be natural or artificial; of what class in natural history, science, the arts, etc.?) Then you proceed to a
2. General Description. (Substance, size, shape, color, weight, etc. Objects have different parts, peculiarities and characteristics-. e., habits of animals, etc. Thus, an object may have various properties; it may be odorous or odorless; solid, liquid, or semi-liquid; dense, porous, or spongy; opaque, transparent, or semi-transparent; clear, opaque, or turbid (muddy]; salt or fresh; sweet, sour, or bitter; cool, hot, or pungent; fresh or stale; weak or strong; rough or smooth; tough, tender, or brittle; hard, soft, or elastic; stiff, pliant, or limber; wild or tame (cultivated); beautiful or ugly; etc., etc.) Then you go on to inquire
3. Where it is found, or made, and by whom.
4. Difference among specimens of the same class, how, where, and why different.
5. How used, or useful, and by whom used. 6. Is it ever hurtful? How, when, or why? 7. Origin and history.
8. Call for or tell some anecdote which may tend to illustrate the subject, or quote some poem or remark which is apropos.
In writing essays on trades, professions, arts, etc., - subjects for classes well advanced in their studies, it will be well to start with & sketch of the origin and history of the subject. Then let the class exchange their ideas and knowledge of it, on the following points:
1. Where is it (the trade or art) pursued or practiced? 2. Its degree of usefulness, and injuries or dangers arising from it.
3. Particulars respecting the duties pertaining to it, the amount of skill, knowledge, labor and capital involved, and the circumstances on which its prosecution depends; also, the different modes of carrying it on, tools used, etc.
4. Who engage in it?
5. Characterize the people who engage in it, their habits, peculiarities, moral and social rank, and degree of intelligence.
6. Which of them became famous in their callings; anecdotes or quotations on the subject.
In order to illustrate this method still further append the outlines of two essays. The words in “italics” are the leading questions by the teacher, the remainder of the paragraphs being the abbreviated replies given by the several pupils, who, however, must give their answers in the form of complete sentences, and not abbreviated. If you allow your pupils to make memoranda, let them write down your questions only, and not any of the answers. Be sure to make each oral lesson a success, and the written compositions will repay you for your trouble.