How to Read, Write, and Think

The Lost Tools of Writing teaches the Deep Logic of every subject.

You can see this if you watch how it teaches students to reason through an essay.

I have always tried to emphasize how the essay question should come from the student and that it doesn’t really have to be all that brilliant a question. The topics themselves will drive the students into the heart of the text or event, especially when they start making comparisons or looking at circumstances.

So let’s say you are reading Julius Caesar and you need some essay topics. Pick ANY character in the play and ANY action that character did and ask: Should he have done that?

Examples from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (which I refer to because you can get it online for nothing, it’s Shakespeare’s shortest play, and it is sitting beside me):

                Act I, Scene 1, line 1: Should Flavius have told the common people to go home?

                II, 2, 2: Should Caesar have paid any attention to Calpurnia’s dream?

                III, 3, 3: Should Cinna have “wandered forth of doors”?

                IV, 3, 4 (no scene 4 in Act 4): Should Lepidus have consented to his brother’s death?

                V, 5, 5 Should Clitus have heeded Brutus?

You can see that I have arbitrarily chosen to ask questions about whoever was acting in a given scene. But I guarantee you, if you use the topics of invention to think about each question, you will

  1. Teach your student to read better
  2. Teach your student to write better
  3. Teach your student to think better
  4. Guide your student into the heart of any text you are reading.


LTW liberates teachers from the oppressions of the curriculum. It provides tools that you can learn how to use on your own. But you must not worry about coming up with “good enough” questions.

The depth of insight arises naturally out of a mind that is activated and trained. Be careful not to ask your student to do something he doesn’t have the training or experience to do. Under those circumstances you run the risk of producing a student that simply wants to please the teacher instead of learning how to think independently.

In short, don’t worry too much about the issue question or the “so what.” Those will arise from the thought your student practices using the invention topics.


8 Responses

  1. I am homeschooling and very excited about the potential I see in LTW. I have also taught writing to homeschoolers for several years with Pudewa’s materials. At what point should I get LTW? It sounds like teacher prep that could be applied early on, even if the program is geared toward older students. My oldest is in first grade. LTW will be a substantial chunk of our educational materials budget, so I’m wondering when it would be most beneficial to take the plunge and just get it.

    • Mystie,

      For you as a teacher and writer, LTW is worth getting from the beginning. You will be able to use elements in any situation where you want to think about something or discuss something. Literally.

      The program is geared to older students, however, so you won’t want to try to teach it in any formal way before around third grade – and then only slowly and concretely.

      I hope that helps.


  2. I have a question about a question, Andrew. (I’m considering purchasing LTW in the future for my homeschool and am trying to figure out the whole ‘should’ question thing through your blog and a few other users of LTW.)

    Yesterday, during an informal Current Events moment, my 11 yo and 9yo looked at a picture from the newspaper, one in which angry farmers in Belgium were spraying their fields with milk to protest against the EU for not providing tougher production quotas. I asked my children, “Should the farmers be dumping that milk in their fields?” Their answers were very revealing to me in as far as how they view the role of governments.

    As I read my question, it seems very much like Leslie’s question about the colonists dumping tea in the harbor…

    My 11yo might have been able to write out a short paragraph of two or three reasons explaining her answer. Would that have been sufficient for now?


    PS. I’m so very pleased with my Circe CDs.

  3. Have you studied the classic text of Sister Miriam Joseph called Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language? If so, what are your thoughts about it?

    • Idler,

      We have used that in our apprenticeship and I love it as a museum piece of schemes and tropes along with fine explanations of the use and meaning of each device.

      The danger in a book like this, which caused I A Richards to denounce it, is that it can turn writing into an overly analytical exercise.

      But a right understanding of the stages of the trivium prevents that.

      So I love it, if it is used wisely – like any tool.


  4. I have my students thinking through the question, “Should the colonists have dumped the tea in Boston Harbor?” this weekend. I can’t wait until Monday. LToW has made my job as a teacher a joy every day.

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