Classical rhetoric broke down the building blocks of creating arguments (“invention”) into five common topics, or topoi. From these five topics, teachers can facilitate lively discussions on any book, issue, or subject. They can also form the basis of writing prompts, or, if a student is having writer’s block, using one of the common topics as a jumping off point or frame can help get them started. The five topics are:
This document contains twenty-five Socratic stem questions that can be used during the course of book discussions, history lessons, or other lessons in other subjects. The best ways to use them are 1. to incorporate them constantly into whole-class or small-group discussions; 2. to use them to build writing prompts more specific to whatever materials the class is currently learning; and 3. to mix subject areas together.
Informal discussions, quick writes, and journals using prompts like these can help break writer’s block in students, and can help them to create (“invent”) better ideas in their thinking, and, therefore, better material for discussion in their writing.