Having the opportunity to review and use Lost Tools of Writing: Level One in my homeschool has been so exciting. This is becoming one of our favourite resources of the year so far, and I knew I wanted to share this writing curriculum with you all. So, let’s take a look at why I chose Lost Tools of Writing, what comes with the complete set, and get a peek inside.
Disclosure: While I did receive some of the products in exchange for this review, all of the thoughts and opinions included in this post are my own.
To know me is to know that I am an avid collector of language arts curricula. I don’t even try to hide this fact or apologize for it any longer. I am who I am. One of the reasons that I buy, use, and pull from so many different resources is that I never can quite find one that is entirely what I want.
When I researched composition curricula for my oldest student this year, I could have stayed with what we’ve been using – which works methodically, but slowly, through all the steps of the progymnasmata.
Starting late means we feel as though we would have to speed up to catch up, or we don’t quite make it to the end of the sequence.
When Lost Tools of Writing came across my field of vision, my ears and eyes perked up and I knew I had found a great option to teach my student how to write clearly, elegantly, and most importantly how to formulate his own thoughts on a subject and express them well.
What is Lost Tools of Writing
The Lost Tools of Writing is a classical rhetoric curriculum published by The CiRCE Institute. Instead of being yet another formulaic writing program, Lost Tools of Writing helps the student lay a foundation upon which they can build all of their future writing skills.
Through the writing of eight essays, plus one review lesson, the student will be guided through not just how to craft the usual 5-paragraph essay, but more importantly how to get their thoughts from their brains onto their paper.
The Lost Tools of Writing approaches composition from the idea that all writers, regardless of experience, face the same three struggles: what to write, how to organize their thoughts, and how to make it sound great. In the classical tradition, these three ‘canons of writing’ are: Invention, Arrangement, and Elocution.
Once the student has developed their skills in these three canons, they will have laid a solid base that will help them in any future writing projects or assignments.
Lost Tools of Writing: Level One focuses on the persuasive essay; in Level Two they will build on the skills from Level One when they study the judicial address; finally, in Level Three the student will again build on the skills in levels one and two and study the deliberative address.
By the end of this series, your student will have “developed advanced writing skills, master additional forms of persuasive address, and even begin to practice tools you’ll use for the arts of verse and storytelling. Most importantly, the skills you gain through Lost Tools of Writing Level Three extend beyond academics to your life in the world and the deeper questions you ask in your heart and mind.”
Note to secular homeschoolers: I would also like to mention here, as I did in my recent review of another CiRCE publication – that while CiRCE’s primary goal is to serve educators in the Christian Classical tradition, this particular product is marketed as ‘non-sectarian’. I have gone through most of this resource and other than using bible stories as an example of how to come up with an issue or thesis, this product is definitely one that I feel comfortable using in my secular homeschool. As I always say, each homeschool family needs to decide their own comfort level and in the interest of openness, I want to let you know that CiRCE is not a secular organization.
Writing Across The Curriculum
One thing I have definitely learned in my time homeschooling middle schoolers is that they prefer to do work that has meaning for them. If something feels pointless, then you are not going to get much depth or passion from a middle school student.
Writing, communicating, and thinking do not happen in a vacuum. In my experience so far, the real magic of Lost Tools of Writing is that it encourages students to take the skills they are learning and apply it to all of their writing, across all of their studies.
When we teach writing as its own separate entity, perhaps our students will learn how to fill in someone else’s 5-paragraph essay template – but will they be able to apply that to the writing they are asked to do in other areas?
As a middle schooler who will soon be a high schooler, my 8th grader has a head full of insightful, witty, and wonderful thoughts. The Lost Tools of Writing will give him the skills he needs to translate those thoughts into an elegant, cohesive piece of writing – no matter which subject he’s studying, or in which grade level he is studying.
A Look Inside of Lost Tools of Writing Level One Complete Set
When you order the complete set for Lost Tools of Writing: Level One, you will receive the following three components. They are all necessary pieces, and without one you just won’t get the same experience from Lost Tools of Writing.
The teacher’s guide for Lost Tools of Writing Level One is a veritable gold mine. It clearly lays out the philosophy behind this approach to writing, and arms the teacher with everything they need to help their students to succeed.
For me, one thing stood out to me as I paged through this guide for the first time: none of this felt new. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. When I first read the Lost Tools of Writing teacher’s guide I felt like I finally was reading something that put words to how we already do things.
In fact, they say as much in the guide:
“We want you to discover not only that it is possible to teach writing, but that you already know almost everything you need to teach it effectively. You have been digging up information, sorting it, and using it to express ideas since before you went to school.”
Um, hello! This is precisely what I need, as an instructor and a partner in my 8th grade son’s education. I don’t need to be told I have to take on some complicated new theory that takes me years to perfect before I can teach it.
This teacher’s guide is jam-packed with tips, information, and support, making it almost effortless to use. It includes:
- a detailed introduction
- a year at a glance chart that shows the scope and sequence
- a mapped out lesson sequence that shows a potential flow to your lessons
- lesson guides with plans/samples
- appendices that include essay templates, lesson summaries, and information on how to assess your student’s work.
For kids who need clean, organized, simple workbooks – the Lost Tools of Writing Student Workbook is perfect. The student workbook does not contain anything unnecessary, and the layout is super clean. The font is easy to read, the text is large, there is ample white space on every page.
The student is not bombarded by teaching notes, side margin notes, or frivolous images. The lesson is taught by the instructor and/or the lesson videos, and the student simply has to do the work in their workbook.
Lost Tools of Writing Video Lessons
The third and final piece of the Complete Set are the Lost Tools of Writing Instructional Video Lessons.
I’ve mentioned the video lessons a few times above, but I can’t say enough how much I love these videos. I’ve watched most of them ahead of my student, so that I have an idea of how the content is presented and how the lessons progress.
Although the authors of Lost Tools of Writing recommend that you watch the videos and then bring the lesson to your student – you can also allow your student to listen to the video with you (or in a pinch, independently).
We do a little of both. The lessons are presented simply, clearly, but elegantly. The student does not feel “spoken down to”, and the videos are straight to the point without any gimmicks or unnecessary extra fluff.
Together with the teacher’s guide and student workbook, these instructional video lessons pull it all together.
I like to put together a list of the pros and cons of any curriculum I review, and I’ll do that for Lost Tools of Writing as well.
- Clean, simple design makes it easy to work from.
- Teacher’s guide is full of helpful information
- Price point is very reasonable for the complete set
- Instructional videos that come with the complete set are excellent, allow some independence for the student
- Student workbook is not over-designed or busy.
- Three levels in the whole series make a complete composition course
- Can be modified for any level the student may be, from middle school through to high school
- Students are strongly encouraged to apply their skills to all areas of study
- Loads of helpful resources for parents/instructors
- Can feel slow moving (this can be a pro, depending on you and/or your student, however)
- Seems more ideally designed for a classroom or group learning setting so adapting it to one-on-one instruction can feel awkward at first
- Some of the videos do contain references to bible stories – this is done only in examples, and religious content is not in the instruction guides/workbooks at all other than in examples of issues/theses.
- At first, the teacher’s guide can seem a bit intimidating
Overall, after watching the videos and going through some lessons, the Lost Tools of Writing seems to me an excellent curriculum resource.
Extra Resources to Help Teach LTW
As if the amazing teacher’s guide and instructional videos aren’t enough – there are yet more resources to help you and your student as you work through Lost Tools of Writing.
The Handbook of Types: an extra resource that contains worksheets, outlines, and essays. These offer additional examples to help you as the instructor, and also offer more support to the student.
Lost Tools of Writing Workshop At Home: this is a video series on the Vimeo platform, that offers a deeper look at the Lost Tools of Writing series. These videos are an EXTRA supplement, and do not replace the instructional videos that are part of the Lost Tools of Writing Level One Complete Set. Working through this workshop at home really gave me a richer, deeper understanding of this approach.
Lost Tools of Writing Facebook Group: I always love when a curriculum has a dedicated online space in which we can ask questions and soak up knowledge and experience from others who go before us. This Facebook group is a treasure trove, and really helped me see just how rich this curriculum really can be.
My Own Final Thoughts
After having plenty of time to read through this curriculum, work through a few lessons with my student, watch the Workshop At Home, and spend far too much time in the Facebook group – I feel like this could genuinely be the composition curriculum that finally fits my particular student just right.
Being in 8th grade, my student is pondering the decision as to whether he will homeschool or attend public high school next year – and I am not even exaggerating when I say this: I hope and pray that he will continue to homeschool so that we can work through this entire series of Lost Tools of Writing. Of course, there are myriad other reasons why I want him to stay home, but seeing the progression of this series and where it leads, I know that at least our high school writing and rhetoric path will be amazing.
For now, we are digging in, and absolutely loving our experience so far with Lost Tools of Writing.
Where to Buy Lost Tools of Writing
If you’re convinced that you’d like to try Lost Tools of Writing in your homeschool, you can purchase it (and any other CiRCE publications) at the following places:
- On the CiRCE online store – you can order the complete set (highly recommended) or individual components.
- In Canada, via CiRCE’s preferred Canadian retailer, Classical Education Books
- On everyone’s favourite curriculum site, Rainbow Resource