Working on Writing

One of our classic reprints, Exercises in Dictation with Hints on Paraphrasing & Composition, has the most boring title ever, yet inside you will find some very practical and relevant help with your writing. There are two main elements to Exercises in Dictation: writing practice assignments and writing reference resources.

Exercies Cover Image

Writing Practice Assignments

The book has writing practice assignments in dictation, paraphrasing, and composition. All three forms of writing practice begin with very simple exercises and advance to more complex and challenging assignments. I especially love the paraphrasing and composition sections.

Take a look at this paraphrase exercise, which takes a passage from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”:

To speak truth of Caesar
I have not known when his affections swayed(1)
More than his reason. But ‘tis a common proof,(2)
That lowliness(3) is young ambition’s ladder,
Whereto the climber upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round,(4)
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning(5) the base(6) degrees
By which he did ascend: so Caesar may;
Then, lest he may, prevent.(7)
—Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar”

1. swayed, influenced him.
2. common proof, proved by common experience. Commonly proves to be the
3. lowliness, modest behavior.
4. upmost round, highest step of the ladder.
5. scorning, despising.
6. base, low; referring to the lowest steps of the ladder. The word base no doubt
expresses something of contempt also.
7. prevent, anticipate, prevent his further progress.


Here is my son’s paraphrase:

Truthfully, I don’t know when Caesar’s affections have influenced me more than his reason. Obviously, modesty is ambition’s ladder, where the climber upward looks; but when he has ascended to the utmost rung, he turns his back upon the ladder, looks to the clouds and scorns the steps by which he did aspire. In case Caesar does this, we must prevent it!

We worked on this together, and the exercise not only gave him practice in writing, but challenged him to carefully understand what the passage meant. His paraphrase is still a little awkward, and he had some trouble escaping Shakespeare’s poetic word order, however in the process of doing this, he was able to grow his vocabulary and practice unpacking metaphors to discover their meaning.

Writing Reference Resources

Exercises in Dictation also contains some very helpful references for writers. With sections on spelling rules, punctuation rules, and figures of speech, writers don’t have to go far for help.

Here’s an example, from the Figures of Speech section:

Metonymy (Gk. meta, expressing change, and onoma, a name,) substitutes
one word for another, cause for effect, sign for thing signified;
e. g.

“Cromwell set up Parliaments by the stroke of his pen, and scattered
them with the breath of his mouth.”

My high school literature students are working on a paper for literature class, and I asked them to use as many figures of speech from this section as they can work into their paper. It’s a nice, manageable list of some of the most common figures of speech.You may want to use Exercises in Dictation as a supplemental resource, or you may want to use it as a primary writing resource to develop some skills with your student (or yourself). I like to combine it with other writing instruction, such as progymnasmata instruction.We love old books, but we aren’t as crazy about old book formats. After a friend of mine tipped me off to Exercises in Dictation, we decided to put it into a nice paperback that we could use. We hope you like it, too.



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