Why Even Non-Classical Homeschoolers Need the 5 Canons of Rhetoric

Aristotle is remembered for his incredible ability to communicate an idea clearly and persuasively. When your student has truly mastered a subject, they should be able to explain the concept or idea in such a way that helps someone else learn it. Using Aristotle’s canons of rhetoric can be a great way to help your students build the skills they need to be powerful communicators.

You don’t have to be a classical educator to benefit from these tools. In fact, you might already apply many of them in your composition and speaking lessons not to mention during discussions of Readers and Read-Alouds when your children narrate back what they have learned.

The five canons of rhetoric are

  1. invention, identifying what you are going to say
  2. arrangement, deciding the order of what you want to say
  3. elocution, breathing life into what you’re trying to communicate
  4. memorization, committing your content to memory
  5. delivery, how you are going to communicate your message

Each has an important role in helping your student become a confident communicator either in writing or in speaking. Add these principles to your child's next presentation, and watch them soar with clarity and focus.

1. The Canon of Invention

The word invention comes from the Latin word invenire which means to find as an inventor might discover a new way to solve a problem. From this Latin root, we also get the word inventory which conveys the idea of gathering resources into a storehouse.

Applying the canon of invention to a presentation includes:

If a student spends sufficient time gathering content, they will have quality ideas to work with as they build their presentation whether that's oral or written, formal or informal.

2. The Canon of Arrangement

Arrangement is challenging for many students because it requires form while we tend to prefer freely communicating our ideas without the constraints of structure. The problem is that communicating ideas an audience who must be considered. A formal structure helps your readers or listeners follow the idea you want to express and not get lost in rabbit trails.

A basic form that many students learn is:

  • Introduction - giving your audience background information on the topic you are presenting, as well as introducing them to your three main topics.

  • Body - expanding on your three main topics with details to give your audience sufficient details to understand what you’re trying to convey.

  • Conclusion - reminding your audience of the three main topics and summing up your main message to leave your reader with no question about what you were trying to communicate.

Creating a clear structure for a presentation is an important aspect of communicating effectively.

3. The Canon of Elocution (or Style)

Just because you have a structure doesn’t mean that it has to be stuffy and formal. We all walk around with bones that give our bodies structure, but we are very thankful that we can’t visually see that form! As a communicator, adding flesh to the structure brings your form to life.

Elocution is a fancy word for style, and when you take the time to choose the right words, you cultivate a presentation that people will want to hear. There are stylistic techniques that help you draw attention to certain points, so that you can help your audience know what you deem important for them to hear.

Some stylistic techniques include:

  • Alliteration - repetition of the same sound at the beginning of nearby words

  • Parallelism - phrases or clauses that have the same grammatical structure

  • Similes - comparisons using like or as

  • Metaphors - comparison made by equating two things

These are just a few options for helping draw attention to important elements of your presentation. There are so many more stylistic techniques that can really elevate a basic paper or speech to the next level.

4. The Canon of Memory

Why Even Non-Classical Homeschoolers Need the 5 Canons of RhetoricAfter you’ve crafted the perfect presentation, the way to take it to the next level is to memorize it. In ancient Greece, if an orator was giving a speech from a teleprompter or from their notes, no one would have given them any attention. It would be similar to a movie star using a script in a movie; you just wouldn’t be compelled to watch them.

In the same way, memorizing a speech gives the presenter ownership of the content and allows them to connect their material to their audience in a compelling way.

Your student can practice the canon of memory with great works if they don’t have a presentation they’re currently developing. Here are some options to memorize:

  • A historical speech

  • Lines from Shakespeare

  • Passages from a favorite novel

  • A classic poem

  • A powerful speech from a movie

Memorizing quality content will provide models for creating quality content in the future.

5. The Canon of Delivery

Even the best crafted content can fall short in a lackluster presentation.  The canon of delivery is all about making sure your message gets to your audience. As our society moves into more visual based communication, it’s important to ensure your student has access to tools that help express their message visually.

Some tools for creating visual presentations include:

  • Powerpoint - a classic, slide based presentation tool

  • Prezi - a conversation style animated presentation tool

  • Mysimpleshow.com - a fun tool for creating explainer videos

  • Screencast-O-Matic -  A creative presentation tool to create and share screen recordings

Each of these tools helps students craft a quality presentation and learn to refine their message in order to convey a quality message. Even if you’re not a classical educator, your student can benefit from developing these ancient tools for communicators. They apply to all kinds of day to day communication needs from writing essays and letters to presenting a proposal.


Betsy StraussAbout the Author

Betsy Strauss is a wife to a deep thinker and a homeschooling mom of three kids.  When she stumbled into homeschooling, she thought it would just look like public school at home. Thankfully, she quickly learned that using a one-room schoolhouse model of teaching was a great way to unify the family, and enrich family life without going crazy! She shares her encouragement on Family Style Schooling Blog.

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