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The Trivium

British author Dorothy Sayers wrote an essay entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning" in the 1940's. In it she calls for a return to the application of the seven liberal arts of ancient education, the first three being the “Trivium” - grammar, logic, rhetoric. Miss Sayers also compares the three stages of children’s development to the Trivium. Specifically, she matches what she calls the “Poll-parrot” stage with grammar, “Pert” with logic, and “Poetic” with rhetoric. Doug Wilson explained the classical method further in his book, “Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning.” Gloria Deo has been committed to implementing this form of education since the school’s inception.


Three Stages of Learning

The Grammar Stage
The Logic Stage
The Rhetoric Stage



Applications of the Trivium

The following material is drawn from the essay “The Lost Tools of Learning” by Dorothy Sayers. It illustrates the applications of the Trivium (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric) we use.


Beginning Grammar

Grade K-2

Student Characteristics

  • Obviously excited about learning
  • Enjoys games, stories, songs, projects
  • Short attention span
  • Wants to touch, taste, feel, smell, see
  • Imaginative, creative

Teaching methods

  • Guide discovering
  • Explore, find things
  • Use lots of tactile items to illustrate point
  • Sing, play games, chant, recite, color, draw, paint, build
  • Use body movements
  • Short, creative projects
  • Show and Tell, drama, hear/read, tell stories
  • Field trips


Grades 3-5

Student Characteristics

  • Excited about new, interesting facts 
  • Likes to explain, figure out, talk
  • Wants to relate own experiences to topic, or just tell a story
  • Likes collections, organizing items
  • Likes chants, clever, repetitious word sounds (e.g. Dr. Seuss)
  • Easily memorizes
  • Can assimilate another language well

Teaching Methods

  • Lots of hands-on work, projects
  • Field trips, drama
  • Make collections, displays, models
  • Integrate subjects through above means
  • Categorize, classify
  • Recitations, memorizations, catechisms
  • Drills, games
  • Oral/written presentations


Grades 6-8

Student Characteristics

  • Still excitable, but needs challenges
  • Judges, critiques, debates, critical
  • Likes to organize items, others
  • Shows off knowledge
  • Wants to know "behind the scenes" facts
  • Curious about "Why?" for most things
  • Thinks, acts as though more knowledgeable than adults

Teaching Methods

  • Time lines, charts, maps (visual materials)
  • Debates, persuasive reports
  • Drama, reenactments, role-playing
  • Evaluate, critique (with guidelines)
  • Formal logic
  • Research projects
  • Oral/written presentations
  • Guest speakers, trips


Grades 9-12

Student Characteristics

  • Concerned with present events, especially in own life
  • Interested in justice, fairness
  • Moving toward special interests, topics
  • Can take on responsibility, independent work
  • Can do synthesis
  • Desires to express feelings, own ideas
  • Generally, idealistic

Teaching Methods

  • Drama, oral presentations
  • Guide research in major areas with goal of synthesis of ideas
  • Many papers, speeches, debates
  • Give responsibilities, e.g. working with younger students, organize activities
  • In-depth field trips, even overnight
  • Worldview discussion/written papers