Who’s ever heard of the 5 Common Topics and who cares?
They started way back in Aristotle’s time and are a great way to organize, plan, implement, overcome, understand and approach the world. In other words, the 5 CT’s are tools for the person who is interested in learning, thinking well and gaining a deep understanding of the world.
What are the 5 Common Topics?
Definition– How do I define X? Naming was one of the first tasks of man and brings clarity and vision.
Compare & Contrast– What is it I defined and how does it compare to something else. What are the similarities and differences between X and other things.
Circumstance- What is going on in the world during the time of X?
Relationship– What causes X? What precedes or follows X? What are the effects of X?
Authority -What have others said about X?
From a classical pov, the 5 CT’s allow us to think widely and deeply about any subject area.
From a in real life pov, the 5 CT’s allow us a starting point of understanding.
This past year I made a poster for my class and referred to the 5 Common Topics in almost every seminar throughout the year. For instance, I had a Math Discussion sheet, based on the 5 Common topics- that allowed us to talk about Math problems, across 4 math curriculum and with kids in math programs varying from Saxon7/6 through Algebra. They might not have known how to do the Math itself, but they all knew how to dissect the math problem, understand what they did know and deduce solutions from there. They were often surprised at how much information they knew, even while being unfamiliar with the actual problem itself. We coupled this with really memorizing for understanding (long term vs short term) the definitions for Math Laws and Formulas and all became math stronger as a result.
How to Implement?
If you are not familiar with the 5 CT’s, write them out and put them where you’ll see them every day. I wrote them on the large chalkboard in my kitchen. I also made laminated bookmarks for my students to use. I asked them to bring them to class and we referred to them often. We also, as I’ve mentioned before, wrote 5 & 5 on the whiteboard at the beginning of our Community Day every week.
Use them in your discussions with your students. I make a point of talking about historical anachronism with my students every year especially in light of Circumstance, Comparing & Contrasting and Authority. One of my pet peeves as a writer, reader and intelligent person is when the past is presented or vilified based on our current pc times (case in point- the smear campaigns against Columbus, the Founding Fathers along with how women or marriage in past times are often portrayed to reflect the current climate). The important lessons are trivialized and we are left with a weak, watered down scorn for those who went before us.
Apply them yourself as you write, teach, read, discuss, think.I often stop those who I discuss things with- especially when it’s say, politics, or religion or education, and ask for definitions.
What’s the Benefit?
The ability to think logically; to present an argument with fluidity and with nuance of meaning. It brings width and depth to what you do, what you are creating, what you are engaged in.
For even more info, check this out: Aristotle’s Common Topics in detail.