Classics-Based Writing

Janice Campbell

Welcome to Classics-Based Writing on!

How to Use This Course

Classics-Based Writing on is presented by Janice Campbell and will help your student recognize excellent writing, understand various literary terms and techniques, and expand his/her vocabulary. Your student will use copywork, analysis, transformation of the work copied, and finally create their own work. The lessons can be done sequentially or in any order you choose. The course, as presented, is worth one-half credit. If you would like to use it as part of a full English credit, you must add four or more full-length works of classic literature, a solid roots-based vocabulary program, and an 8- to 15-page research paper on the topic of your choice.

Course Details

Course Introduction

This writing course will enable students to gain a greater appreciation for classical literature through such works as “Opportunity,” “Easter Wings,” and “Bleak House.” They will be able to recognize excellent writing and understand various literary terms and techniques. An expanded vocabulary will naturally flow from exposure to classical pieces, and students will regularly use reference tools such as the dictionary that will enable them to create and evaluate their own works. The components of this course are as follows:

Writer’s Toolbox

Each recommended activity will help you develop different skills, and each is important in creating a mental toolbox of knowledge, skills, and techniques that will make you a better thinker and writer.

Deep Reading: If you are working with a poem or other short piece of literature, you’ll want to absorb it by reading deeply. If you are going to spend four weeks thinking and writing about a work, it’s important to fully understand it, and deep reading is the first step in understanding.

My method of deep reading has three steps:

  1. Read it at a normal pace in order to get acquainted with the piece as a whole.
  2. Read it again slowly, with a pencil in hand. Underline words you want to look up and draw a vertical line next to lines that seem to be key turning points or just something you want to remember.
  3. Read it aloud, using proper diction and inflection that help to convey the meaning of the piece. If you are working with a scene from a play or a speech, dramatize it. Try to speak it as the character or original speaker might be expected to present it.

Copying: Writing is an art, just like painting or composition. To become an amazing writer, you need to be deeply acquainted with amazing writing. Copying not only acquaints you with master craftsmen, but it also allows you to absorb an excellent work and to closely observe how a great writer has used tools such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, or metaphor, and how word choice and sentence structure work together to create a beautiful or persuasive or powerful piece of writing.

When you are instructed to copy as part of a lesson, never use your computer to copy and paste the document. That completely short-circuits the lesson and bypasses the necessary focus. Studies in biology and psychology have proven that the physical act of putting words on paper helps the brain sort, categorize, and focus on the details of what is written. You simply learn more when you engage both brain and muscles to interact with a text.

The key to using copywork effectively is to copy, then move into analysis or creative work based on the work you’re studying (creative pieces based upon another work are usually called “derivative works”). For Classics-Based Writing, you will usually go on to analyze the structure and details of the piece, then transform it in some way, and finally create your own derivative work. The skills you’ll learn by going through this process will help you in all the writing you do in the future and will provide you with the tools to move even further into completely original creative work.

Transformation: If you’re going to be writing your way through high school and all that comes after, you don’t want to be limited in the skills, tools, and techniques you can use. The more you use words, structures, literary techniques, and other building blocks of writing, the more fun you’ll have with communication, and the more competent your writing will be.

Transforming a single piece of writing can be fun, and it’s definitely a way to build your word-crafting skills. Like the super-chef who figures out eighteen ways to use the Thanksgiving turkey leftovers, you’ll be challenged to find creative ways to make a story fresh and interesting, even when it’s completely familiar. I hope you’ll enjoy the process!

Janice Campbell

Go to the Course Objectives and download the notebook.


Short classical works of literature, introduction of literary devices, questions for further discussion, encouragement to create independent works of literature


Each of eleven classical pieces spans four weeks


Middle-high school

Course Outline

  • Lesson 1 – Opportunity
  • Lesson 2 – Death Comes for the Archbishop
  • Lesson 3 – Limerick form with variations
  • Lesson 4 – To a Locomotive in Winter
  • Lesson 5 – Mark Antony’s Funeral Oration for Julius Caesar
  • Lesson 6 – Condolence Letter to Mrs. Bixby
  • Lesson 7 – Easter Wings
  • Lesson 8 – Daffodils
  • Lesson 9 – Bleak House
  • Lesson 10 – Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?
  • Lesson 11 – The Declaration of Independence

For a printable course outline, click here.

Transcript Information

This course is designed to provide a strong literature-based writing component to your student’s studies. It is worth 1/2 a unit (0.5 academic credit) if done alone.

If you plan to use it as part of a full English unit, you will need to add these items:

• Four or more full-length works of classic literature

• A solid roots-based vocabulary program such as Dynamic Literacy’s Word Build

• An 8- to 15-page research paper on the topic of your choice (this can be on a history topic or a study of an author’s life and work, for example)

– Janice Campbell

*Please be informed of your own state’s academic requirements.

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Janice Campbell is a writer, conference speaker, and lifelong learner with an abiding love for classic literature. She graduated with honors from Mary Baldwin College (an English major, of course!) and is author of the Excellence in Literature curriculum for grades 8-12, Transcripts Made Easy, Get a Jump Start on College, and other resources. She is also Director of the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors ( In every facet of her business life—writing, speaking, and NAIWE—Janice’s goal is to share knowledge and resources that can help ordinary people do extraordinary things.  You can find her online at and, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

Classics Based Writing on Schoolhouse Teachers