Writing Prep Workshop for Great Books Essays

Miniature painting of Dante Alighieri by Betsy Marsch

"If you young fellows were wise, the devil couldn't do anything to you; but since you aren't wise, you need us who are old." - Martin Luther, "On the Family"


I'm ready to get started with a free workshop offered three times per week, one new topic each week, assisting students who are writing about the Great Books (and other important literature and history and theology and philosophy) this school year. Go to the "Online Meetings" page of this website to download the two needed files, one of which includes the schedule, and join me online on Mondays or Saturdays at 9 a.m. or Tuesdays at 9 p.m. Eastern Time. 

Learn more with this orientation session recorded on September 12. 

Please post here if you have any questions or if you want to share your completed Assignments through the weeks of the workshop. If you would like to share anonymously, please email your work and I will post it for you.

(Painting image courtesy Betsy Marsch. Martin Luther, a minuscule 1" x 1.25")

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Comments: 11
  • #1

    Sophie Hindman (Sunday, 13 September 2015 23:17)

    Assignment 1
    From previous writing courses, I have learned important tips for drafting essays. For instance, one class several years ago taught a pattern to use for a five paragraph essay: begin with a thesis, then write three background paragraphs, each with three example sentences and supporting sentences, and finish with an introduction and conclusion. In another class, I also learned not to let giraffes into my essays—that is, my teacher used the metaphor of giraffes to describe how sentences unrelated to the main theme of essays stuck out and distracted from the point. As a final example, I studied ways to draw the readers in and keep them entertained. I used intriguing first sentences to my introductions and strong verbs throughout my essays. Each of these instructions from my teachers and many more guided me towards constructing organized, clear, interesting compositions. Still, I have a wide capacity to improve!

    Assignment 2
    In Emily Wells’ Essay, “From the Summit,” a composition praising medieval literature, her thesis states, “Medieval literature not only builds upon a Christian era, but it helped *make* the Christian era.” The entire essay springboards off this sentence, exploring the bright Christian themes in medieval works and the men who wrote them, such as Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan and the Divine Comedy by Dante. Many writers of that time built off of each other’s’ ideas to influence the culture even more, such as Sidney, who copied and elaborated on Dante’s Divine Comedy. The author believes that because of the widespread belief in God at the time, medieval literature, reflecting the glory and truth of Christ, outshone literature from previous eras. As Emily Wells proves, the great works of the Middle Ages truly did stand rooted in a Christian worldview and branched out to influence an entire culture.

  • #2

    Cindy Marsch (Monday, 14 September 2015 06:09)

    So glad you posted. We can use this material in the workshops this week!

  • #3

    Cindy Marsch (Monday, 14 September 2015 08:41)

    We had an awesome little workshop this morning--view the archive if you like, for Monday, 9/14, on the WizIQ site, linked from "Online Meetings" on this site.

  • #4

    Sophie Hindman (Sunday, 20 September 2015 21:30)

    Assignment 3

    Introduction (from P.E.P. Talk)

    Soon after the Roman Emperor Nero (who reigned from 54 to 68 AD) came to the throne, he selected “The Best of Mothers” as a password in honor of his mother, Agrippina. But was she really the best? As Nero’s mother she had a lot of influence over him, but it was actually a bad influence. She taught him that power was worth anything. He learned that lesson well, because it was in line with his own character. In fact, by the time Agrippina died she probably thought that Nero learned it a trifle *too* well.

    It is true that Nero took to heart his mother’s example of exploiting anything for power, because many people thousands of years after his suicide could still list one of his infamous acts that shadowed history. Not surprisingly, Agrippina stands out in history among the worst of mothers and Nero among the worst of emperors. It is a shame that Nero put power on a pedestal. What did his worship of might and luxury gain? Suffering and death for Christians and Nero himself. Power never served him in the end.

    Assignment 4
    Summary on David and Goliath:
    When the Philistines fought against Israel, their giant Goliath challenged the Israelites to send a single warrior against him in a duel to determine which nation became a slave to the other. No experienced soldier stood up to the giant—only a mere shepherd boy named David, who dared to fight in the name of God. Goliath laughed at the small boy standing in front of him with feet firmly planted in the dust. Even David’s 7 elder brothers to which he brought cheese and bread from home did not expect him to stand up to Goliath. However, with a rock in his sling and the boldness of God in his heart, David proclaimed “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have defiled.” With the giant rushing at him, David slung a stone at his forehead. Goliath toppled with a clash of armor. If God had not worked in his servant David, Israel may have fallen instead of the giant.

  • #5

    Cindy Marsch (Monday, 21 September 2015 10:22)

    Great job on the Nero Conclusion, Sophie! We talk about this in the recording for PEP Talk 2, September 21. You asked some excellent questions about how to reduce wordiness. I hope I answered helpfully.

    The David/Goliath summary we will discuss in PEP Talk 3 on September 28, 29, and/or October 3. I will comment here, though, that you did well with my hint to provide a "theme" for it, and you chose the theme of David fighting in the name of God. Each sentence works in service to that theme, moving us forward to think, "Yes, I see that" as you retell the familiar story.

    I encourage others to give it a try, even if you cannot join us for one of the workshops online. The more material I have to work with, the better I can help!

  • #6

    Sophie Hindman (Sunday, 27 September 2015 21:41)

    Yes, that was helpful, thank you!

    Assignment 5
    Nihilism is the philosophy of skeptics that nothing matters and, in some cases, that nothing truly exists. Morality and purpose are entirely manmade social constructs to nihilists. If earth actually does exist, the nihilistic worldview leaves it bleak and bare.

    Assignment 6
    Original paragraph: It was an unusually warm summer day in Greece and I was sweating like Hades inside my bronze armor. It looked as if another uneventful day was upon me. ... I was getting rather annoyed at our General Militades for making us stand in this hot weather.

    My version:
    The soldier was proud to be among the heroes. The language is gritty.

    The summer sun reflected off my bronze armor and the armor of the heroes at my sides, but heat and sweat did not bother me when duty called. I mentally prepared myself for another day training under General Militades. I hoped to strengthen my shield arm for the long war ahead and prove I could fight with these soldiers.

  • #7

    Cindy Marsch (Tuesday, 29 September 2015 10:31)

    Sophie, I like the way you combine a couple of ideas into your first nihilism sentence. More elementary writers might say, "N. is a philosophy that says that nothing matters. It is a popular philosophy with skeptics." I'm glad your Greek warrior has been edited to get ride of "sweating like Hades!" :-) I like the purposefulness of your soldier, knowing his current pains are gaining him credibility and strength for the future. Well done.

  • #8

    Sophie Hindman (Sunday, 04 October 2015 22:53)

    Thanks for the feedback!

    Assignment 7
    The founding fathers did not rush into the formation of the United States without careful study of past political histories of cultures. Through their observations they understood what ideas and governments worked when put to the test, since “in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see…” Indeed, books about ancient civilization were plainly set out for the founding fathers to see in their colonial libraries. When they explored “both examples and warnings” in history, the founding fathers recognized that democratic Greece only lasted 50 years and that the republic of Rome continued for 450 years. They fashioned America’s government after Rome’s republic, which is one reason for the United States’ power and prosperity.

    Assignment 8
    Comparison ideas for the essay:
    Penthesilea and Camilla
    Homer’s descriptions of nature vs. Vergil’s
    Homer’s depiction of the underworld vs. Vergil’s
    Juno and Venus

  • #9

    Cindy Marsch (Saturday, 31 October 2015 19:34)

    Belated response here, but I just wanted to note that we discussed these assignments in the class meeting time. :-)

  • #10

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  • #11

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