Language Arts

Language Arts in a Charlotte Mason Education

A good place to begin is by reading pages 199-247 from Home Education (volume 1) by Charlotte Mason.

Reading Instruction: Charlotte Mason's method included sight-recognition as well as phonics. AO mentions a few programs that have worked with Advisory members, but use whatever you like. Once children are able to read, they should be reading many or most of their schoolbooks for themselves.

Transcription: We tend to call this copywork. This means practicing the physical skills of learning to write, first by perfectly forming each letter, and later by copying sentences or paragraphs.

Narration: Another word for this is "oral composition." Each time your child narrates, he is mentally composing his thoughts and communicating through words. Written narration begins around age 10, and if you allow a year or two for fluency to develop, then anything like "creative writing" begins about that time. Creative writing will be an extension of written narration.

Grammar: Charlotte Mason didn't have children doing grammar until Form II, so AO places it in Year 4. You can use Charlotte Mason's own Simply Grammar, or one of the other grammar programs mentioned on the AO site. As far as what is included in English for the Thoughtful Child--you can probably incorporate that information into your copywork/transcription.

AmblesideOnline Scope and Sequence for Language Arts

This may look a little different from the usual scope-and-sequences you will find, but it is based on the methods of Charlotte Mason, combined with the practical experience of Advisory members. No one should feel "locked in" to doing exactly what is in the scope and sequence. You may choose to use curricula not mentioned here to achieve the same goals. However, this scope and sequence provides an overview of the way language arts, as a whole, are covered in a Charlotte Mason education.

Grades 1-3

Phonics/Reading Instruction: (There are suggestions on the AO website, and you may choose any curriculum that meets the needs of your child. Ruth Beechick's methods, as described in her Three R's series, are excellent.)

Oral Narration (oral composition) of various subjects--literature, history, picture study, and so on: This is absolutely foundational to the entire Charlotte Mason method. Allow your student a year or two to develop into a fluent narrator, but do not neglect this part of language arts.

Copywork: (This will expose children to the form of written sentences on a page, and be the beginning of learning to spell, as well as covering handwriting practice. You may choose to use a handwriting curriculum as well, but be careful not to burden young children with too much written work. Less is more, and children should write only as much as they can write perfectly.)

Grades 4-6

Reading: Children should begin reading most of their schoolbooks for themselves during this time.

Oral Narration of various subjects. (This continues to be an important part of "composition.")

Written Narration begun around age 10-11. (Handwritten or typed narrations are fine. You should accept most written narrations without attempting to correct all the mistakes. Becoming proficient with written narration will take a couple of years. Begin with one written narration per week, and increase to 2, then 3, as your child is ready to do more writing. Once a month, perhaps, you may want to edit and correct one narration.)

Beginning Grammar. (Once the child is writing, he has more use for grammar. You may choose to use a purchased curriculum, such as Simply Grammar, but it will also be sufficient during these years to teach more informally, limiting instruction to the eight or nine parts of speech, the four basic types of sentences (declarative, interrogative, imperative, exclamative), and a couple of simple punctuation and capitalization rules.)

Dictation. (This exercise will improve a child's spelling and punctuation, but it does take time. You may choose to use a spelling curriculum, but many parents find that a child's spelling improves dramatically after a year or two of dictation.)

Copywork continues. (Again, children should write only as much as they can write perfectly. Some parents have their student do copywork as practice on a passage that dictation will be taken from later that week.)

Typing (A typing program such as Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing can prepare your child for written narration, and will remove the burden of handwriting from the process of composition. Charlotte Mason didn't advocate this, but she never had the option. If a child learns to touch type--speed is not important--during the year that he is nine, he may find written narration much easier at age 10 or so.)

Grades 7-8

Formal Grammar may be done at this time, preferably with one comprehensive book. (After the course is completed, a grammar handbook will be useful as a reference tool to polish and correct grammar flaws that appear in written work.)

Oral Narration. (Again, this will always be an important part of a Charlotte Mason education.)

Written Narration. (You will gradually be increasing the number and length of your children¹s written narrations during these years. You should also be helping your child perfect the mechanics of writing and begin learning to edit and correct their mistakes. Doing this with one narration per week is fine, and it will reinforce the grammar and punctuation that is being studied separately. )

Dictation (You should expect to see much better spelling and punctuation during these years. If a child continues to use poor spelling, you may want to address the subject separately.)

Copywork, if you desire. (As the child becomes busier with written narration, it is more important to keep dictation in the schedule than copywork.)

Grades 9-12

Grammar: (If you did not complete a formal grammar program, do that in grade 9. Otherwise, use your completed curriculum or a grammar handbook to address grammatical problems that arise in writing. You may wish to do a short review of formal grammar before a child graduates, but most grammar instruction--and there should be some--ought to take place within the context of the student's writing.)

Oral Narration (This is important, even at this age. You may occasionally wish to ask a student to give an oral narration in a formal way, such as a speech or presentation.)

Written Narration/Composition (At this point, written narrations can become more focused, and the student can be introduced to different types of formal writing. In fact, you should make it a point to expose your children to different formats and allow them to structure their narrations in various ways. Books that address the subject of writing and style, such as Strunk and White's Elements of Style and William Zinssar's On Writing Well should be read and applied to the student's writing.)

Dictation (If your child is an excellent speller, and you do not feel the need to work on handwriting, this subject could be dropped, although it would be beneficial to continue once or twice per week, or use dictation in your foreign language program.)

Copywork, only if you desire.

(A discussion about AO and high school English)

This scope and sequence, if followed throughout the school career, will produce children who can write well, because they have something to say. They will learn handwriting, grammar, and spelling, within the context of writing, not as discrete subjects. No formal composition curriculum is recommended here, but you may find one useful to introduce you and your child to various types of formal writing; however, you should be careful not to let a writing program supplant the natural growth as a writer that will occur if oral and written narration are used consistently across many years.

If you are beginning a Charlotte Mason education with an older child, you should allow as much as two full years of oral narration before beginning written narration. If the student is old enough for written narration in general, you may wish to tape an occasional narration, and have the child transcribe it in writing, but the mental discipline of oral narration needs to be established before it can be transferred to written narration.

~ Karen Glass

Suggested Links

A couple of basic grammar sites online:
English Chick

title="">The Common Room blog has a series of posts that provide a detailed look at CM Language Arts for each age group. (We've re-linked these to archived copies.)

Advice on Language Arts from the AO Advisory

Early Word Building

There is more to language arts in Charlotte Mason's plan, but it's not actually doing more, it's how much of what you do with a CM education also contributes toward grammar and composition. Charlotte Mason said that nature study, and teaching the children the right words for things they saw at the time they needed those words is also teaching them skills they will later use in composition. For instance, she talks about a little game she has children play -- the children go look at something, a scene, and come back and describe it, and then Mom asks for a bit more detail. "Yellow flowers, Jenny? Were they buttercups, dandelions, or something else? Describe them to me, please. You can look again if you need to."

Jenny returns, and her description tells you, "Oh, they were on bushes, and they smelled lovely? I suspect you saw some yellow roses. Were there thorns? Did each flower have many, many petals, or only a few?" (I'm making up the example, but Charlotte Mason gives a similar example in her first book, "Home Education.")

And so on. This finding of the right word for the right thing based on a description is part of building skills they will use later. When your children spend thousands of hours reading printed words on the page, you notice that they start talking like their books. They use words like 'jolly' and 'aghast,' words that you never use in every day life. That's because they're internalizing the vocabulary and using it, and they do the same with the sentence structure.

Later you will introduce formal grammar, but at that point you'll be giving terms for things they mostly already know are true. They know that in English, the adjective usually goes before the word it's modifying (the red chair, not the chair red). They don't know that's what those classes of words are called, but they know how to use them properly. They know the verb is not usually the first word in the sentence in English (it is in some other languages) -- even though they have not yet learned what the term 'verb' means. They even know there is an exception or two -- and they use them properly. They just don't know the formal words for what they know and do every day.

Foreign language contributes quite a bit to grammatical understanding as well.

Wendi Capehart

Spelling and Dictation

I took an hour or two to search the archives for what has been said before about spelling and writing Charlotte Mason style. I compiled the information below from my posts, but there were lots of other good ones by other people. If anyone has time, you might try to search the archives to see what else is there.

First of all: Charlotte Mason differentiates between spelling and reading--and I think she's right to some degree. Phonics rules help immensely with reading (and she does talk about this a little in the pages that lead up to her discussion of spelling in volume 1). They help a lot, but not quite as much, with spelling. Think of words like There and their--and is there really any reason why they shouldn't be spelt thair or thare? Think of the 'r-controlled vowels,' er, ir, and sometimes 'or' (word, work)--phonics gets you to a point with those, but a little memorization is necessary after that.

In general, what Charlotte Mason suggested for spelling is that the spelling word be written properly where the child can study it. He doesn't copy it ten times, he simply looks at it with all the focused attention he can muster up. When he thinks he has memorized the way the word looks, ask him to close his eyes and picture it. Then have him spell aloud. When he can do this properly, you might ask him to write it correctly. We use a whiteboard to do this.

Of my four children who 'do school' currently, the oldest was a natural speller. The other three have varying levels of spelling incompetence.=) I nearly despaired of the second girl ever learning to spell. She misspelled words she copied. I began using Miss Mason's method with her when she was about twelve. I do not know if it was the method or the age, but she did begin spelling better, and I now am not embarrassed for us both over her spelling.

The 11 and 12 y.o. Still need to work on their spelling, but I figure it will improve by high school.

You could also use a good word processing program, one that automatically underlines misspelled words (in case you can't tell, I am not using one in this post and since I am typing on a laptop, I have many errors). Then have him use his right click mouse button--this brings up a box with suggested corrections. He then would instantly have the properly spelled word before him (albeit with several other options, but they would all be spelled correctly) and could choose that. He might take a moment to visualize the word carefully before going on.

Here is what she suggests regarding dictation. I think it's possible that the child selects the passage from his reading (I know that she says this for younger children doing copywork). Oh, and she says children of 8 or 9 should do a paragraph, older children 'a page or two or three!' I assume then that the younger children are not doing this at all (I think I know what they do, and it would require a whole other post to explain). Frankly, none of mine have been ready to write a paragraph at 8 or 9, but I'm just passing on what I understand of Miss Mason's suggestions. Then the child 'prepares' the passage himself (this is on page 242 of volume one). This preparation involves having the child slowly look through the passage and anytime he comes to a word he thinks he can't spell he is to look at it attentively, then close his eyes and picture it with his eyes shut. After a bit of this, the teacher or mother asks him what passages he is still unsure of, and at this time may point out others that she thinks might give him trouble.

He looks these over again, using the same method--just trying to look at the word carefully enough that when he closes his eyes he can picture it accurately.

If there are any words still worrying him, the teacher writes them one by one on a chalkboard or whiteboard (this could work in a classroom, but the whole class would be suggesting words, so some words would be covered that some of the children are not worried about). Again, the child looks at the word writ largely on the board, looks until he has a picture of it, and then she erases the word and moves on.

The child decides when he is ready for dictation. Now, where I am very skeptical is that this whole process, she says, should take only five to ten minutes!

Finally, the teacher starts giving dictation. She enunciates clearly, reads a clause at a time, never repeating herself. She does not say 'comma' or give any other indication of punctuation except for her voice inflection.

At this point she is ready with her stick it note or masking tape or label with which to quickly cover any misspelled word.

At any rate, this is dictation Charlotte Mason style, or at least, how she recommended at the time she wrote volume one. She may have changed her practices later, as she did in other areas.

However, it's a very important part of Charlotte Mason that Handwriting is the preliminary step in copywork or dictation. Until a child knows how to make each letter and make it well, with little mental effort or decision (in other words, habit) letter practice is pretty much all that copywork encompasses.

So dictation isn't begun until copywork is mastered, and copywork actually begins as handwriting and letter form practice. Once these are mastered, it is for exposure to the best in writing. Copywork done properly forces a child to slow down and absorb the punctuation details, notice capitalization, and internalize sparkling prose (For this reason, a child's own stories are not the most ideal source for copywork a la CM).

Finely crafted, well written sentences are the best sources. In our home we have a different selection each day of the week. One day is poetry, another Bible, another from their history, another from Science, and one from their literature selection. A copywork selection from the foreign language being studied is also good. Hymns may also be used.

Until you are sure a child can form all his letters correctly, you would not give him a selection to copy, and at first you would still watch carefully to see that he formed them properly--shaping them properly, starting at the right point on the paper, holding his pencil properly.

You could still practice spelling (by the way, Miss Mason recommends spelling practice be based on word families) but with letter tiles instead. You could use magnetic letters, scrabble tiles, whatever--and the child can rather painlessly practice spelling this way (spell the word you dictate, using the tiles, then picture it in his head clearly).

From volume 1 of Charlotte Mason: No work should be given to a child that he cannot execute perfectly, and then perfection should be required of him as a matter of course. For instance, he is set to do a copy of strokes, and is allowed to show a slateful of all sorts of slopes and all sorts of intervals; his moral sense is vitiated, his eye is injured. Set him six strokes to copy; let him, not bring a slateful, but six perfect strokes, at regular distances and at regular slopes. If he produces a faulty pair, get him to point out the fault, and persevere until he has produced his task; if he does not do it to-day, let him go on tomorrow and the next day, and when the six perfect strokes appear, let it be an occasion of triumph. So with the little tasks of painting , drawing, or construction he sets himself--let everything he does be well done. An unsteady house of cards is a thing to be ashamed of. Closely connected with this habit of 'perfect work' is that of finishing whatever is taken in hand. The child should rarely be allowed to set his hand to a new undertaking until the last is finished." Page 160

Value of Transcription--The earliest practice in writing proper for children of seven or eight should be, not letter-writing or dictation, but transcription, slow and beautiful work, for which the New Handwriting [a handwriting text] is to be preferred, though perhaps some of the more ornate characters may be omitted with advantage.

Transcription should be an introduction to spelling. Children should be encouraged to look at the word, see a picture of it with their eyes shut, and then write from memory.

Children should transcribe favorite passages--A certain sense of possession and delight may be added to this exercise if children are allowed to choose for transcription their favourite verse in one poem and another. This is better than to write a favourite poem, an exercise which stales on the little people before it is finished. But a book of their own, made up of their own chosen verse, should give them pleasure.

Small Text-hand--Double-ruled lines--should be used at first, as children are eager to write very minute 'small hand' and once they have fallen into this habit it is not easy to get good writing. A sense of beauty in their writing and in the lines they copy should carry them over this stage of their work with pleasure. Not more than ten minutes or a quarter of an hour should be given to the early writing-lessons. If they are longer the children get tired and slovenly.) 238, 239 (this section of volume 1 in the six volume series is especially useful for the language arts. Pages that follow cover dictation, spelling, composition and more).


Copywork is a very different thing from composition (although the material you use for copywork should also be a model of good writing).

Charlotte Mason's approach to composition begins in the primary years with the skills developed through oral narration (thus one reason for using the most excellent books you can find). The child learns to express himself clearly, to pay attention to detail and sequence, to use appropriate vocabulary, etc. Rather than having to contrive a subject for composition, the subject and material is provided. Original writing (diaries, letters, stories, poems) should certainly be encouraged if the child is interested, but it is not taught formally at this stage.

Older children transition into writing their narrations, and at that point (the junior grades) Charlotte Mason mentioned having them write occasional compositions on such topics as current events and things they had observed in nature. This process (developing writing through narration--which can take many forms, including journal entries, putting something into verse, writing a new scene between fictional characters, writing a news item) continues through the school years. I've also heard that in at least one PNEU school, the reading of Shakespeare on Friday was followed up with a period on Monday when the students (of around 12 and up) wrote out what they remembered and understood from the reading. The high school students of CharlotteMason's day did study composition more formally as well.

The ability to write well was certainly never downplayed by Charlotte Mason; but she did believe that it could be developed in a more natural way than by requiring much original work at too early an age.

Anne W.

This is my own experience with a reluctant writer, poor speller, auditory learner boy of similar age.

We did nothing but copywork up through age nine. My son misspelled words during copywork. When he wrote something (on his own--I never assigned it), his spelling was truly appalling. At age 10, we began written narrations, and I tried working on a few basic spelling rules. They didn't stick. I remember we spent two weeks on one rule. In a written narration soon after, he correctly some big word, but misspelled three words that should have followed the rule he supposedly knew.

I was never consistent with dictation--we rarely did it--because it was a frustration to both of us. A year or so ago, Donna-Jean wrote about dictation being the antidote to bad spelling (or something like that). It really stuck in my mind, and I think she is right. I should have been doing dictation from age 8 or so. I kept waiting for that natural improvement, and I admit that there was some of that.

This child is 11 now. He does written narration several times per week, and we still have spelling issues. We do dictation twice per week (last term it was just once per week), and I am again introducing some basic spelling rules. His spelling will probably never be great--he more auditory than visual, by far, and tells me cannot picture a word in his mind. (He mis-pronounces words to himself in order to remember how they are spelled. I used to do that!) At least you know you're not alone!

I would begin dictation with him. I think it is very important to take dictation from the books your child is reading for himself. Those are the words he is "seeing" again and again, and he will have more success with that than with dictation from a harder, read-aloud book.

When Charlotte Mason said that children "prepare" a paragraph, or whatever, I think she meant that they looked it over and were prepared to write any part of it. But, I still think only a few sentences were dictated. When we do dictation, I have my son read over the paragraph, look at the words, punctuation, etc. . . . but then, I only dictate one or two sentences. For older children "preparing" 2-3 pages, maybe a paragraph would be dictated. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think they really wrote that much. The mental exercise of looking at the words intently beforehand was half the point of the practice.

Oh--one more thing that I have done with my son is let him learn how to type. He types his written narration, and so the physical act of writing is not a burden to him.


How much time should be spent on each facet (penmanship, copywork, phonics, grammar) of language arts?

We're less specific partly because so much of this depends on the needs and abilities of the student, and because we DON'T want to have to say "do this, do ten pages, use this book." The original sample PUS programs (from the 1920's) were not always very specific either; the how-to's came from CM's books and from the Parents' Review magazine, and the sample programs would simply state that Form II children should do pages 40 to 50 in the grammar book over the term, and that they should both work on their handwriting program plus copy two lines of Shakespeare perfectly per day.

Re language arts/English, I'd suggest looking at the goals that you want each of these components (penmanship, copywork, phonics, grammar) to accomplish, and see whether there is in fact some overlap. (Don't forget the across-the-curriculum work that's accomplished by written and oral narration, too.) I haven't used ILL (Intermediate Language Lessons), for instance; but if you already have a grammar program, plus they're doing copywork and regular dictations (say once a week), plus narrating from their history/literature/science, plus reading poetry, then do you really need ILL? Again, I haven't yet had the opportunity to see the Imitations books, but how does that overlap with work you could be doing with the AmblesideOnline books? Would you use the Imitations books mostly for a resource, for suggestions to enrich the narrations; or would it be a whole extra course?

You might also look at the time each child will be spending on school. Of course this will vary, but, for instance, my 9yo is up to about 3 hours per morning and she often has some extra reading. How do you break down your time?--say roughly, 30 minutes for math, 1 hour for reading (together or alone), 30 minutes for miscellaneous subjects like picture study and languages--that might leave you an hour, a third of your morning program, to devote to English subjects (spaced throughout the morning, not all in a block, probably). So that hour might be broken down into 10 minutes copywork, 20 minutes grammar lesson or something of that sort, 15 minutes working on spelling if needed, 15 minutes misc. . . . my point is that you have a limited amount of time, and you want to spend it carefully, on the things that are most needed and most productive.

If you and your child are feeling burdened by having to fit in a lot of misc. English lessons on top of the good books that should be the core of the program, then yes, I would think you should probably cut it down some. Keep your goals for your own children in mind--do you want them to produce neater copywork, to master adverbial phrases, to write good business letters, to narrate clearly?--what are your goals for the next few weeks or months? Ruth's Beechick's advice has always worked well for us--we have to teach the child, not the book.

Anne W.

Writing CM style

I think dictation is the area I have seen the most growth in my very reluctant 9 1/2 year old boy . . . (we've had tears too) I would encourage you to try again because it is the stepping stone to his written narrations. I used Robert Louis Stevenson poems, one stanza only at first and found them very simple, rhyming and manageable. Take it in really small steps and be very encouraging. I also let my son copy his own narrations that I had transcribed from his oral narrations before he ever began writing on his own. It was rewarding for him to see his own thoughts on paper without having to trouble over the spelling etc . . . He is writing some of his own narrations now and I don't worry too much about the spelling. I hope that helps. The Charlotte Mason way works, but it is very different with each child, and definitely takes patience.


Narration is recommended for children of about 6 and up. I have an almost-5-yo who sometimes narrates to me, but I don't pressure her to do so. It's an acquired skill (not an easy one!), and it's best to start out short. A whole Bible chapter is probably too much, for example; one episode, one Aesop's fable, one part of a fairy tale or history lesson, would be enough at a reading if they're just getting their feet wet. It's also fun to use alternate forms of narration, such as acting out a story or drawing a picture, or having the child pretend they are the main character and tell about what happened. Often a discussion question or two can follow narration, and if the books touch their imaginations, the children may ask the questions themselves. (A sure sign of comprehension!)

You'll find that many specific comprehension skills are learned through narration--sequencing, main idea, details--and it's also good practice in listening, in speaking skills, vocabulary, and the more general idea of putting words together and telling a story.

To get down to the nitty-gritty skills such as where to put a period, you can teach those as they do copywork (you can also have them use a handwriting curriculum along with copywork--Charlotte Mason did), and dictation (you can let them "study" for it first). Or have lessons in those things when you feel it's time to teach them. (Example: my 10yo has mastered most of the mechanics such as punctuation, but I've noticed in her own writing that she rarely uses paragraphs. Mental note to spend some time working on that this fall.)

You'll see other things on scope and sequence lists for primary grades, such as homonyms and rules for dividing words into syllables. Again, you can teach those in a few short lessons--we like Ruth Heller's picture books about types of words. (Fred Gwynne wrote a couple of books about The King Who Rained, but I found those went over my daughter's head. Five in a Row uses a picture book called Truman's Aunt Farm.) It's easy to make up word games with things like homonyms--just make it the day or week's challenge to come up with the most interesting examples. Re syllables-my personal feeling is that too many rules about that are irrelevant at this age, except if it's a particular spelling problem that needs to be explained; I did teach my dd what syllables were, and we related them to music, such as counting the number of hand claps as we chanted lines of nursery rhymes. It's something to do while waiting for the bus. But if you want to teach syllables, go ahead.

Hope this helps some.

Anne W.

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