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Making Friends With Franklin

Lesson Plan 1
Taking a Page from Franklin


  • Use a model text to practice writing.


  • copies of Franklin’s kite essay
    acrobat format Download here.


  • language arts

    Students might try an exercise based on young Ben Franklin's idea for improving his writing skills. When he was a printer's apprentice, he came upon a volume of The Spectator, an English journal best known for the contributions of Joseph Addison and Richard Steele.

    In his Poor Richard maxims, Franklin showed a brilliance for saying much in little. But he recognized that good writing is not a matter of counting words, that things expressed briefly should also be expressed "fully." A few examples:

    "Be slow in choosing a friend, slower in changing."

    "A brother may not be a friend, but a friend will always be a brother."

    "Friends are the true sceptres of princes."

    "Life's a wilderness without a friend, and all its gilded scenes but barren and tasteless."

    Well, we’ll let him tell it:

    I thought the writing excellent and wished, if possible, to imitate it. With this view I took some of the papers and, making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then without looking at the book tried to complete the papers again by expressing each hinted sentiment at length and as fully as it had been expressed before in any suitable words that should come to hand. Then I compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them.
    For the model text, you might use the passage on the next page. It is from a letter Franklin wrote to Barbeu Dubourg, a French physician and botanist. It shows that his inventiveness (and, more specifically, his inventiveness with kites) began at an early age.


    1. After studying each sentence, set the text aside and jot down notes on the sentence’s content.
    2. Set the notes aside until Franklin’s words are no longer fresh in the memory.
    3. Use the notes to reconstruct the ideas in essay form.
    4. Compare the new work to the original.
    Perhaps students will find that they’ve left out information, or that they’ve used more words to convey the information than Franklin did. Franklin offered this advice to writers:
    Amplification, or the art of saying little in much, should only be allowed to speakers. . . . Let them put an adjective to every substantive, and double every substantive with a synonima; for this is more agreeable than haulking, spitting, taking snuff, or any other means of concealing hesitation. . . . But when a discourse is to be bound down upon paper, and subjected to the calm leisurely examination of nice judgment, everything that is needless gives offense.

    When looking again at the text, students should hold Franklin to his advice: Are there unnecessary words? Perhaps they will find instead that Franklin left out important details, or that he didn’t present them clearly enough.

    They might rewrite the imitation of the model text, as Franklin did in his exercise. You might then ask them to think up a sport of their own and describe it in a short essay.

    Enduring Legacy
    Lesson 2
    Introduction | Lesson 1 | Lesson 2 | Lesson 3 | Resources
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