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Do you want to weave magic with words? Keep people spellbound?

Or, in other words, do you want to speak more clearly, more persuasively, think more deeply, and learn to tell stories well?

Yes? Really? Then read on ...

One of the oldest and best ways to learn to do all this is by diving deep into some Progymnasmata exercises - they're like a mental swimming pool for kids.

These exercises are designed to encourage spoken language and deep thinking. They go back at least to Ancient Greece - and are perhaps even older. They were used throughout the classical period, through Medieval times and well into the Renaissance. These Progymnasmata exercises were intended to help students develop the thinking and speaking skills they needed to engage in oratory and public speaking later on in life.

This 'Word Magic for Beginners' course draws on this rich cultural heritage of the Progymnasmata, bringing the exercises up to date and making them relevant to you today without losing any of their original magical power.

On this course you will cover the following traditional Progymnasmata exercises:

  • Write a fable - explore classic Aesopic and other fables, and how they are structured and then compose or retell your own - and, on the way, learn some cool storytelling techniques from the oral tradition that will help you weave some 'story magic'. 
  • Explore an anecdote or chreia - take a short story, traditional rhyme, or well-known scene from history. Learn to tell it in different ways, using different modes of interaction to bring characters to life. On the way, you'll put famous sayings and actions in their historic context and link their relevance to the world in which we live today, bringing them to life for others in your telling - magically.
  • Bring a story to life - take a story of your own, or a traditional tale. Tell it from different points of view. Explore different structures. See how you can use them to magically keep your audiences interested - whether you're writing or speaking about fictional or non-fictional topics. 
  • Learn to see things from different points of view - take both sides of a case and learn how to refute an argument by presenting a truer one, or showing that an argument holds because its contrary cannot be true, thus confirming it.
  • Compose maxims (memorable proverbs or sayings). 
  • Engage with the magic of humour. Tell a joke well. What makes jokes work, and why do some things make us laugh, while others don't?
  • Compose an effective speech of praise or encomium and an effective tirade or invective against injustice in relation to commonplace topics.

In addition

  • You will be encouraged to keep a commonplace book and assessed on the content and range of entries at the end of the course.
  • You will also be encouraged to engage with nature and with a wide range of texts - written and spoken, to inspire you and work their magic on you.

This introductory course differs from other Progymnasmata courses on offer. For a start, it's more creative. And, I believe it brings back the magic of the original way the exercises were taught - which was much more closely related to storytelling and the culture of oral transmission and dialogue than our modern society is today - which is something we need to recover in an age where texting and messaging threaten to predominate.

About Leon

Leon is a teacher steeped in the wonder and wisdom of the traditional integrated and integrative classical liberal arts, and is a keen supporter of living traditions, including living traditions of oral storytelling. He is author of several books including Aesop The Storyteller (Aladdin's Cave Press, 2008), a collection of 12 versified Aesopic fables, and History Riddles (Liberalis Books, 2013).


Students will need a notebook or basic sketchbook with at least 200 pages in - ideally hardback, bound - lined or blank, A4 or A5 size, standard stationery supplies, EITHER a digital shared workplace OR a hard copy A4 ring-file binder with dividers. In both cases, they will need facilities to upload clear scans or pictures of homework tasks. All courses will be taught on line in a specialised learning environment - a fast broadband connection is advisable.

Flexibility and Accessibility

Content will be adapted to individual levels and interests as much as possible. Special needs students can be provided for (please contact the tutor to discuss before enrolling) and assessments can be handed in via video rather than in written format, with videos uploaded to SchoolClubs directly or to WeTransfer and shared via private link.

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