Composition, High School, Practical Application
Comments 2


Charlotte Mason used examination questions in 7th through 12th grade such as “Write twelve lines (which must scan) on ‘Sir Henry Lee’ or ‘Cordelia’ or ‘Pericles or Livingstone’” (Philosophy of Education, Vol. 6, p.193), or “Gather up in blank verse the impressions you have received from your reading of Tennyson’s poems” (p. 202).  Last year as I composed a term examination for my 9th through 12th grade literature students, I pondered how to apply these types of questions for my students and how the PNEU teachers got the sort of writing they did from their students. As I dug into “Composition” from Vol. 6, I found some guidance into her method of writing examination questions.

For Form II (9 through 12 year old) there is a rich curriculum of poetry with composition becoming “an integral part of their education in every subject”  (p. 92 and an example of work on p. 195).  For the next Forms III and IV (age 12-15) Charlotte Mason writes:  “Exercises in scansion are as necessary in English as in Latin verse.  Rhythm and accent on the other hand take care of themselves in proportion as a child is accustomed to reading poetry” (p. 193).  Scansion is the analysis of verse to show its meter. Therefore, in googling the word scansion, I found many sites that give examples and exercises.  My students did a project of writing a poem in dactyl hexameter on The Odyssey. They had a rich curriculum of reading poetry and recitation.  As I read on to the highest Forms V to VII (ages 16 through 18), I find that Mason is confident that students will produce good work for these types of examination questions: “Write a woeful ballad touching the conditions of Ireland” or “ Write in blank verse about Pegasus.” Taking Mason at her word, I wrote an examination question like these and the students did very well. They knew meter and knew the cadence of poetry and applied it to the subject.

Here is the response a student in Grade 11 (just a day being 17) wrote in response to the following examination prompt:  Write in blank verse 16 to 20 lines on the themes in The Odyssey.

Mother and son, left alone
Trials were frequent at their home
While their husbands and fathers traveled abroad
Twenty years later to touch his home sod.

After the war he started his travels
But the gods slammed down their gavel
Forbid easy passage to Ithaca his home
Forced him for twenty years to roam.

He encountered many dangers
And ran into many strangers
Many of his men were lost
But home was worth the cost.

Cyclops he met, so proud and strong
But they escaped after not very long
Cyclops with one eye less
Odysseus acclaimed as the best.

Finally he reached home and saw
The suitors of his wife were raw
So he avenged his wife and took his throne
Finally, wonderfully, blissfully home.

The following is from a Form V student in 12th grade, age 17.

Write in blank verse on the themes of morals, manners, marriage, and money in Pride and Prejudice.

Austen shows the timeless themes
That go beyond our volatile dreams
Marriage, manners, and morality
She weaves in spirituality.

Marriage is not purely fun
A good one takes a work well done.
Trust, respect , and humility
Takes more than speaking superficially

Morals must be Biblically
Founded so we truly see
That God is God and we are not
Our character can have a blot.

Repentance is so valuable
Though it hammers like a tool
Those who change are truly blest.
Though first is a time of soul unrest.

Manners show respect for man
And affirm God’s love to them again.
Though rich or poor, all men have worth
Before and after second birth.

Money sometimes draws a line
Prejudice blinds and does confirm
Riches are not guaranteed
Pride often feeds on harmful greed.

And to these themes don’t lose their pull
With them this book is quite full.
And if we to the lessons heed
Planted is a beautiful seed.

This entry was posted in: Composition, High School, Practical Application


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. willowspring says

    Brilliant, Bonnie. I have been meaning to try these types of exam questions for a long time. I’m glad to hear it’s working so well. And I am inspired to go ahead and take the plunge! Did you have to do much teaching on the craft of writing various forms of poetry first? –Megan

  2. thebuckatmindspring says


    That student knows many forms of meter as she is a Senior
    this year. What I was amazed with was the time limit she produced them in . The later one was the last one of 6 essays, with one of them being a written recitation. Students do need to know the craft of writing poetry and the subject that she is applying into poetry form. You can see she did that. the others I only had 3 do the poem out of 15 students. Most did essays.
    With the Odyssey , most of last year’s 14 students did the poem.All did well! With such application , I find CM to know what was true.

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