Taken from various posts on the AmblesideOnline email list

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Question: My child, year 4, is shy and new to narration. What results am I looking for regarding narration and dictation? Any guidelines or suggestions you can give?

Answer: Perhaps narration is just what your daughter needs! Much of the year 4 material is complex for a first-time narrator, so don't be afraid to take it in very small bites. Let her narrate after just one page, or even one paragraph, at first.

Also, you might find it useful to incorporate the Aesop's fables into your school time, even though these are from an earlier year. They are very short and complete, and are perfect to use when beginning narration--no matter what the child's age.

Although you will hear about children narrating at great length, CM specifically said that the length of a narration is not the point. The mental labor involved is what matters. If your daughter can tell you just a few sentences about a chapter she has read, that may be enough--provided the sentences include the most pertinent information. Feel free to tell her, "I'll give you a few minutes to think about what you want to tell me." before she narrates.

It is much easier to remember what you have narrated! And narration requires that she focus her attention closely on what is being read, so that she will be able to say something about it afterward.

Take it in very small steps, perhaps having her narrate only once or twice a day for a couple of weeks, then gradually increasing until she is narrating from everything you want her to.

Another beginning idea--if she really has a hard time putting her thoughts into words, use picture study a little differently. Let her narrate about a picture while she looks at it, so that she only has to think about what she is saying, but doesn't have to remember. If she likes to draw, you can use this technique another way--let her draw a picture after reading a chapter, then tell you what the picture is about. Although drawing can be a valid form of narration, you want to use it as a tool toward using words to express thoughts.

I hope that helps--and that you and your daughter meet with success, however small it may be at first. Narration is one of the most valuable and powerful tools available to us.

~Karen Glass

In Miss Mason's classroom I understand that every reading was narrated upon, but not every child narrated every time. However, the children never knew whether they would be called to narrate or not, so they had to be prepared. In homeschool classrooms we have a different dynamic- and if you have only one student, narrating every single time can grow tedious for both of you. You might try something we use called a narration jar. I have written a different type of narration on slips of paper. The child draws out a slip of paper after the reading and narrates in the manner indicated. Some of the options are:Draw a picture from your reading. Set up a scene from the story with your blocks. Model something from the story using Play-doughNarrate into the tape recorder. Narrate to Mama.Write down five sentences about what you read. Think about another story or even that reminds you of what you just read about. Tell Mama about it.Write down three sentences about what you read. You have 10 minutes to plan a short skit from what you read. If you were giving a test on this reading, what are three questions you would ask? Skip the narration today. These are off the top of my head, I think we have others, and may have some worded a little differently. I also don't have the same number of each--there are several 'narrate to Mama's' but only two play dough and skit suggestions. They draw the slip, and then return it to the jar, so the next narration has just as many choices.


Question: If a child's narration is almost word for word the same as the book, does that mean the child is assimilating knowledge rather than living ideas?

Answer: One of the wonderful things about narration is that the children make the language of good books their very own. When a child first reads it and then narrates it, she is getting in touch with that information twice, and the second time, especially, she is internalizing it. This is fine. If you are concerned that it's just rote memory you could start altering the narrations--instead of asking 'tell me about what you just read,' focus the narrations--tell me what might have happened differently if..., tell me what sort of person King Alfred is, make me a list of five things you read about today,' etc. Once she writes her narration it is perfectly in keeping with CM's methods to ask a couple leading questions, to direct the discussion toward the paths you want her to do, to discuss further.

You can also try something Miss Mason did with older children. Around once a week she would give them a composition assignment on a book from which they had already narrated. This need not be difficult--'tell me something about the character of the oldest brother in Swallows and Amazons," or "describel a room in Laura Ingalls Wilder's house," or "tell me something you might have done if you lived in King Arthur's time." It could be oral.


One thing about narration, though-we really do need to remember that the primary purpose of oral narration, especially, is not the external production, but the internal action. The attention required for narration, the mental process of ordering and selecting what to "tell," and finally the communication itself. We should not expect every narration to be a finely-crafted presentation any more than we would expect an Olympic athlete to skate the 1,000 meter race in record time every time he practiced. If he's thinking about form, he might let his speed slack off. If he's pushing for speed, he might be a little sloppier in form. Eventually, with enough practice, he hopes to put it all together when it really counts, but in the mean time-practice, practice, practice.

I know how this is supposed to work, but translating that knowledge into real, working, performance is another kettle of fish. Which brings me around to the difference between information and knowledge. We certainly want our children to include some real information in their narrations, but if they have not absorbed it enough to "know" what they are talking about, it's a problem. CM says you cannot narrate what you do not know...and I think this is true. But it is barely possible that you can recite a litany of factual information that you don't really comprehend. I suspect, in such cases, we either need to choose other books or slow down.


Charlotte expected more from children than just narration in the form of simply stating the facts in order. In Book three of the Charlotte Mason series she expands upon her meaning of 'narration' under 'Other Ways of Using Books' (besides simple narration) where she makes it clear that she expects more of students:

From Book 3, Other Ways of using Books: --But this is only one way to use books: others are to enumerate the statements in a given paragraph or chapter; to analyze a chapter, to divide it into paragraphs under proper headings, to tabulate and classify series; to trace cause to consequence and consequence to cause; to discern character and perceive how character and circumstance interact; to get lessons of life and conduct, or the living knowledge which makes for science, out of books; all this is possible for school boys and girls, and until they have begun to use books for themselves in such ways, they can hardly be said to have begun their education.

Charlotte, it seems to me, expects us to incorporate other types of narration into our studies through character study, cause to consequence and consequence to cause, etc. The way I interpret this and apply it here to the AmblesideOnline books is by varying the form of the narration; sometimes asking for a synopsis and other times asking for narration on a particular topic, such as why a character might have acted the he did, or what he learned, or how he changed during the story. That interaction with the characters we meet and the books we read is what makes it so memorable and personal, I believe.

Someone on this list had a wonderful related suggestion about a narration jar that we now use here as well. I do think it is important, though, to keep the age of the child in mind and to remember that she also emphasizes the use of caution and restraint so that we don't spoil the enjoyment and unique experience that all of the wonderful literature the AmblesideOnline curriculum provides. Our children are blessed by Charlotte's philosophy still!

Alicia in California

I shared a few weeks ago that I have one son, 8, that narrates reluctantly. Sometimes, he narrates readily and sometimes he looks at me like:"Why do I have to tell you about what you just heard me read or read yourself?" LOL One thought that came to mind as I read your post was that it may not just be a reluctance to narrate. It may be an attention problem. There's a difference between racing through a novel, as I confess that I did for the majority of my life and am still very prone to do, than focusing my complete attention on something, concentrating and telling myself back whatever I read. When I began to read about CM, I decided to try narration myself.

For someone like myself, and many others, who love books, but tend to "gobble them up" instead of focusing my full attention on the reading, narration is hard work. I still catch myself, for instance, reading the CM original series, I'll be focusing my attenntion and then suddenly, I discover I've been drifting and not really retained anything from the last few paragraphs. Part of my problem is that I never developed the habit of attention. So, last year, I spent a lot of time, focusing on developing the habit of attention in my children. The year before I always asked for narrations--though it was just kindergarten for my now 8yos.--but I really concentrated on it more last year. In the beginning, he and my youngest, now 6.75 might just narrate a paragraph or a few paragraphs. Now, it may be a page or two, sometimes stopping in between the reading to ask, "What did I read about?"

Now, I hope I don't sound too rigorous. Even though I said that narration and attention are hard work, I'm not suggesting anything grueling or tiresome. The key for me was making sure that I had their attention. I'd give your son bite-sized readings, ask for narrations and accept whatever he narrates back to you. You can make a mental note of things you realize that he didn't grasp, but I would greatly limit summarizing or discussing the material in great length. Concentrate instead on developing his attention and focus on what he does know--not what he doesn't. For instance, when I read TCOO, I give a brief, five min. summary of what we read the last time. Then, I read a few pages and ask for narrations. When I read this book, I always break up the chapters over a few days. Other stories I may read in one sitting. It depends on the material.

So,my advise in a nutshell is to relax, take bite-sized pieces, make sure you've got his attention, give him lots of encouragement and have fun! You'll be surprised at how well he will begin to narrate in a few mos.

God Bless, Lynn D.

We read Pinocchio chapter 1 and 2 while we were at our place of business waiting for their dad to finish work. First I told her she needed paper so that she can draw the characters I will be speaking of, I didn't tell her what I was going to read and prefaced it with you better make sure you listen so you can know what to draw (said this in a very nice way). As I began to read she began to draw the piece of wood but did not get very far--she was complaining of a stomach ache and later I realized it wasn't an excuse because she really did get sick. After I read 2 chapters I asked her what she drew and she said she wanted to draw the king and the kids but didn't have time--if you've read Pinocchio you might know what I'm talking about it's in the first sentence, very insignificant to the story. Anyhow I thought arghhh... it's not even part of the story! Is this all she heard? I kept my compusure and said to her please narrate it for me. She said I can't and began poorly. So I simply said it is part of our schooling that you narrate so I suggest you think about what we read because I want you to tell me about it. As we were all in the vehicle on our way home she narrated it well! She did not remember the names of the 2 men and I'm not sure if she realized we were reading about Pinocchio but at any rate she was listening.

My encouragement to you is to try not to get upset with your kids and just keep at it--I can relate to your frustration. If you have to read just 1--2 paragraphs and ask for a narration then do just that. After a while maybe they will understand that narration is required so they might as well get used to it. Someone correct me if I'm wrong but per CM, you are not supposed to repeat what you've read cuz they need to learn to listen the first time, so if they don't get it read the next paragraph and ask again for a narration. Since we are new to this I thought of reading a story to them and then narrating it myself so they get the gist of it--I think that maybe they think they have to tell the whole story with every detail. Also, in my opinion listening is a skill that has to be learned--I know when my husband reads aloud to the kids and I listen in, after about 3 minutes my mind wanders. That is why when I'm listening to a sermon I'm writing and taking notes constantly because it's how I keep my focus--not suggesting that kids should be doing this I think since they start young they will learn the skill whether they are auditory learners or not. By the way my daughter is definately an auditory learner and yet tunes out at times.

Hope this helps some--as you see from my post I'm not an expert, just starting and really want this to work for us.

God Bless! Row

A fourth grader needs to be prepared to narrate all his subjects daily. He may not do this, but he needs to be prepared. I handle this by writing down various narration techniques on pieces of paper and putting them in a jar. Daughter pulls a paper and does what it says. One piece says 'no narration.' Some say 'narrate to mom.' some say 'draw a scene from the story.' Some say 'you have five minutes to plan a skit of a scene from the reading. Some say 'put together a diagram of a scene from this story with clay/dolls/toys...' You get the idea. There is a full article on this in the archives under 'narration jar.'

When I had two reading the same book, I kept two beads in my pocket. Red for Bear (one child's nickname), Green for Doodlebug (another child) I would reach in my pocket and pull one out and whatever color I drew is the child who would narrate. This meant that sometimes the luck of the draw led one child to give five narrations in a row. So be it. They both knew they could be called on at any time.

The first grader is only just beginning to learn narration. I would start with something short, like Aesop's Fables. I would ask for narrations after only a sentence or two. My memory is so feeble these days that it is sadly affecting my 'diva' status, but I think CM did not expect full narrations until about age 9. So go slow, keep an eye on the child's frustration level, and occasionally take turns giving narrations, so he can see what you're asking him to do (I had one who thought we wanted a word for word recital of what we had just read, and we didn't figure this out until I narrated for her, and she quit howling 'I can't do it. It's too hard!" and instead smiled through her tears and said 'That's ALL? I can do that.')

Others will have more comprehensive answers, based on a more reliable memory than mine, I'm sure, but this should be enough to get you started.=)


Transitioning from oral to written narrations

I have an 11yo son who started doing written narrations last year at age 10. I can only share our experience, and I while I suspect it is typical, I don't have much hard evidence to prove it.:g:Like most boys, mine doesn't much care for putting pencil to paper, either.

Last year, when he was only just 10, I had him doing one written narration per week. Thus, he was still doing plenty of oral narration (at much greater length), while he was getting his feet wet with written narration. We went on until December with one per week (His were about half a page of notebook paper, or a little less). Then I assigned written narration twice per week. These narrations were short, and displayed all the errors you can think of--poor spelling, lack of proper capitalization and punctuation, and incorrect sentences. I think he invented the run-on sentence. At about this time, I introduced the idea of a longer paper-1-1/2 to 2 pages. I narrowed the topic of his narration so he could focus on development of one topic at greater length. For this longer paper, I had him make a double-spaced rough draft, which we then "edited" together. I wanted to introduce the idea of editing in general, and also gently instruct him about senctence structure. It took about a week for him to do one of these papers, and I let him off doing copywork in the meantime.:-)

He turned 11 as we began this school year. I think I had him doing two written narrations per week for the first term, and then increased it to three times per week the rest of the year. His typing skills had improved enough to allow for typing the written narrations, so he is doing that now, and it really takes the pressure off of having too much pencil and paper work. He can produce a one or two page (typed, double-spaced) narration in a day or two, so the extent of his written narrations have caught up to his oral ones. This has taken two full years.

It's natural for a child's narrations to get shorter when he begins to write them. It's hard to give up that detail we are used to in narrations. You might listen to an oral narration at first, then ask him to go into more detail on just one aspect for the written narration. However, the length of the narration is of less significance than the thinking that goes into it. If your son is able to narrate the basic events succinctly because he doesn't want to write a lot, that doesn't mean he hasn't sifted through a lot of detail in his mind to cull the vital parts for his narration.

Be consistent and be encouraged. I have put a lot of faith in CM's methods since my son was about 4yo. Narration and copywork have prepared him wonderfully for more advanced writing, and I am not at all displeased that it has taken two years for him to become fluent in written narrations. I don't believe there's a writing program on the market that would have put him in a better position than he is now.

Hope that helps! Save those written narrations, so you will have a record of his progress over time! When you think he needs it, don't be afraid to push a little. Ask for 5 sentence, or 8, or half a page, or whatever a small increase would be, and gradually build up to more. Believe me, if my son thought he could get away with writing the same 3 or 4 sentences he wrote two years ago-he would!


Did you have your son write his paper over with corrections at this point?

NO. And neither did Charlotte Mason. For several months, the goal was just to get him comfortable writing his thoughts on paper. Once he was okay with that, we went on to the editing idea (remember, we only did this with one paper per month for a while).

Do you teach the student editing? How?

Well, I happen to have my degree in English. That helps. <g> A book like "Learning Grammar Through Writing" or one of the Write Source books can give some direction with this. Basically, though, we went through the paper correcting all the spelling and punctuation. My son was allergic to capital letters (I guess), and tended to write run-on sentences-"and" "and" "and" with never a period in sight. Then I read the sentences aloud to him, so that he could "hear" them. He's very auditory, and he often wanted to change the wording to make them sound better. Finally, I read the whole paper aloud to him, and asked him to pay attention to the ideas-to make sure everything flowed together, and there were no major gaps. That's a bit abstract, and I didn't make suggestions or criticize the final product. I just wanted him to think about it. Then he re-wrote a clean copy with these corrections.

When I say "teach him editing," what I really mean is that I was introducing the idea that a writing project is not "finished" just because you got some words down on paper. I was trying to instill the idea that a piece of writing could be worked on and improved, while giving him just a little taste of how to do that. Nothing really scary or grandiose here.


Question: How do I teach good narration and writing skills?

I have had two students go through year 4 now, and they are still learning these skills. These are just suggestions, take them as you need and adapt them to your child.

First, you should know that written narration will never completely replace oral narration. So begin with oral narrations, and gradually introduce written narrations.

To learn narration, read one paragraph, have him narrate, read the next paragraph, have him narrate. If this is the first year in the PUO, you might also go ahead and include Aesop's Fables, as these short tales make excellent narration practice.

Oral narrations generally begin with "Tell me what you remember." Sometimes, "Tell me what you remember about...." is used. In Miss Mason's classroom I understand that every reading was narrated upon, but not every child narrated every time. However, the children never knew whether they would be called to narrate or not, so they had to be prepared.

In homeschool classrooms we have a different dynamic--and if you have only one student, narrating every single time can grow tedious for both of you. You might try something we use called a narration jar. I have written a different type of narration on slips of paper. The child draws out a slip of paper after the reading and narrates in the manner indicated. Some of the options are:

Draw a picture from your reading.
Set up a scene from the story with your blocks.
Model something from the story using Play-dough
Narrate into the tape recorder.
Narrate to Mama.
Write down five sentences about what you read.
Think about another story or even that reminds you of what you just read about. Tell Mama about it.
Write down three sentences about what you read.
You have 10 minutes to plan a short skit from what you read.
If you were giving a test on this reading, what are three questions you would ask?
Skip the narration today.

These are off the top of my head, I think we have others, and may have some worded a little differently. I also don't have the same number of each --there are several 'narrate to Mama's' but only two play dough and skit suggestions. They draw the slip, and then return it to the jar, so the next narration has just as many choices.

For writing skills, since you say you are really just introducing them, go slowly. Use copywork regularly. Choose one grammar or punctuation skill at a time to work on and only focus on that skill in proofreading his writing. Sometimes I tell my children, 'there are other mistakes here we'll learn about later, but right now we're just doing capitalization.' That way I know they won't assume they do it all correctly and then get frustrated when they are told something new.

An important tool for you to have is a good English handbook. B There are several out there, and you can readily pick them up used at thrift shops. But don't push it. The narration is the most important thing, as it is the bones for essays, critiques, and all other sorts of more formal writing later on.


Question: Is narration to be oral after a single reading? Or is any reproduction of info--a picture, a skit, a book cover, etc.--valid in place of narration? Do alternate activities use the same capacities and give the same training that the plain narration gives?

Charlotte used both sketching and skits in her schools. I remember reading about sketching a scene from the reading in one of CM's books (can't recall the volume offhand). Charlotte does explain that many of the same processes so important in the oral narration occur in choosing which scene to sketch ( it is important to let the child do the choosing for this reason) and in determining how best to illustrate that scene. Furthermore, when my children sketch a narration, they still have to tell me something about it--or at the very least write down a caption of their choice. So yes, many of these activities use the same capacities and give similar training, much the same way two different exercises might help strengthen the same area of the body, but in different ways.

I have a copy somewhere of the actual school schedules for one of CM's schools, and one of the scheduled activities for the older students is to sketch a scene each week from the reading of that child's choice.

I first read about skits being used as narrations in Charlotte's schools in an article from one of the old parent's reviews. The teacher writing the article explained that she'd tell the class that the next day one student would get to put on a short skit of that day's reading in a particular subject. They all needed to think about how they would do the skit, as she might call on any of them. That night they would all go home and plan. The next day she would call on one child and let him direct the others in acting out his idea of the skit. Not only did they all have to think through the reading, considering events and their sequence, and give thought to how best to portray them--but they also would often discuss the reading all the way home as they debated how one scene might better have been staged.=)

As homeschoolers, we may not get this aspect of the skit plan--but doing a skit was an acceptable form of narration in Charlotte's schools.

Staging the reading with blocks is simply using some props to aid in narration- it distracts a reluctant narrater from his fears or frustrations and he ends up narrating more fluidly. When he has done this a few times you can surprise him by telling him he's been narrating all along.

I hope we do all understand that these are supplements to narrations as we generally understand them--a retelling after a single reading--not complete replacements. Oral narrations should continue through all of the school years, even on into high school. But other methods may help to prime the pump of a reluctant narrator or vary the day of a homeschooled student. Not all of Charlotte's students narrated after reading, but every reading was narrated. We can't narrate from every reading unless our homeschooled student does all the narrating. Varying the style is a way of avoiding tediousness.

So while these alternate forms of narration are not to completely replace oral narrations, they are very compatible with Charlotte's principles, often actually used by her.


Question: Is the main idea to simply read the required passages together and have them narrate them back to me? And I do this with all the books listed for each week?

As soon as they are able to, they should be reading as much of the material as possible on their own. We tend to get more out of work we do for ourselves. And they should narrate in some form after each reading (to vary the day, their narrations can include sketches, skits, models set up with blocks--but should always include some oral narration as well).

You can also spend a few minutes a week looking up places on the map and putting events they've read about into a timeline.

There are other aspects of a CM education, but I do think this is the basic building block--good books and good narrations. You can also vary the readings (don't do two similar subjects back to back, for example), keep it short (this sustains interest), introduce a reading with a 'leading idea' (mention something interesting or exciting they are going to read about), and ask them to sum up where you left off before.

Nature study and picture study are for the purpose of developing observation rather than gathering facts--there's more, and I'm sure you'll pick it up from browsing here,--so don't fret over it.

Reading good books and narrating them is a wonderful place to begin.=)


Question: My really big hurdle for the coming year is to start narration. Any suggestions on how to get started with this?

Begin by simply asking them to tell back what you just read. Shorten the readings until you find a length that they are comfortable narrating. You can gradually lengthen them again as they improve. You can read a paragraph, narrate, read a paragraph, narrate, etc. Hmm, as I type this, I think I did answer this part of your question before.


Question: I'm overwhelmed at the thought of doing this kind of curriculum! Where do I start?

Do your children regularly narrate? If not you may want to use an Aesop's Fables book to help teach them narration. There is one recommended in year 1, but other versions are available. I find the year 1 book recommendation lively and well written (not all translations have these qualities). These stories are useful for teaching even older students to narrate.

Leslie Smith

Question:  my 7 year old daughter is very resistant to giving me narrations from our readings even though she absolutely loves the books. Any ideas or suggestions?

You could try using Aesop privately with the 7yo and ask her to narrate privately. These stories are perfect to practice with and she should be able to gain confidence with them. The private reading and narration may help reduce any comparison she makes with her older sister as well and any fears she may have of criticism as well.

Aesop is helpful even with much older students who are new to narration.

You can also try other forms of narration which make allowances for different learning styles. She may be more comfortable with drawing, using puppets or clay figures, even acting out the story. Just make sure she explains the drawing or sets up the play and explains the action. There are many other ways of narrating. Using another narration method may help your daughter get her feet wet. Again, you may want to try the alternative narration methods privately.

Leslie Smith

Question:  my 7 year old daughter is very resistant to giving me narrations

Oh, we've been there!! My daughter is nine now and she would still skip narration gladly. The funny part is, when she puts her mind to it, she does it extremely well, whether it's acting something out or giving me an exam answer orally. (We haven't really started written narration yet.) Some things I've found with her: I warn her when I'm going to be requiring an oral narration (no, you can't act it out this time); I do keep the selections short or sometimes break it up into two or three parts--read some, narrate, read some, narrate, etc.; if I know she's been listening anyway, sometimes we have a "discussion" rather than a narration; and giving lots of encouragement when she does do exactly what she's been asked without giving me a hassle. The tape recorder does help sometimes too.

Anne W.

Question:  How do you preserve this info for your records?

I don't preserve all of their narrations. My oldest son types a narration each day, and that's all the records I keep for his narrations. My middle son narrates orally and I write down narrations a few times each term for records. When we do exams, I write down all of those for our records. They do copywork every day and that's what we keep for records rather than narrations.

Leslie Noelani

Question: Can someone please define narration and dictation for me? Exactly what are you supposed to do? How exactly are these done/approached? How is it organized?

I can refer you to some good articles on this, besides Charlotte Mason's own writings: you might want to look at Penny Gardner's CM site (search by her name) and at Karen Andreola's article "Narration Beats Tests" (search by that title and it should work).

Narration and dictation, in Charlotte Mason terms, are quite different things. Narration is telling back a story--not as memory work, but as something that the student has visualized, grasped both the main idea and the most important details of, and is able to tell about clearly. In the early years, it may be as simple as "Tell me what you know about bears" (after reading a book about bears), or drawing a picture of his favourite part of the story. In later years, written narration is also added, and the questions asked could be more complex (both for written and oral narrations)--listing the points of an argument, making a journal entry as if you were a character in the book, etc. There was a Parent's Review article called "We narrate and then we know"--in other words, this is not just to show Mom that he was listening, but an actual part of working through the reading and making it his own.

A child's narration can be written down (i.e. he dictates it to you), but this is not necessary and can be difficult if he wants to go on at length. (My daughter, usually a reluctant narrator, fell in love with a biography of Handel and started giving me narrations that were about as long as the chapters. I didn't want to discourage her, but my hand did get a little tired.)

Narration is valuable not only for the reasons I've given, but it also takes the place of much of what we think of as "language arts" work, comprehension questions, etc. It's not only good training in paying close attention, but also in using language, increasing vocabulary, sequencing, main idea, all that.

It is very important to keep the readings short, especially at first and for a young child. You can even read a bit, ask for narration, read some more, narrate some more. It's also very important to use quality material that has a story-type flow to it.

Now, dictation in CM's terms is different from the way many homeschoolers use it--I'm thinking of Ruth Beechick/Learning Language Arts Through Literature methods. That is NOT to say that Beechick/Learning Language Arts methods are wrong or not useful--I've actually been using a homemade version of Learning Language Arts Through Literature this summer with my daughter, based on Bambi. But in Charlotte Mason's vocabulary, dictation was more or less a spelling exercise--not something to be used later during the week for grammar or other lessons. A student would be given a short passage to study, and then write part of it (say a paragraph) from dictation. We do that about once a week.

Don't forget about copywork. Again, Charlotte Mason's version of copywork wasn't as complicated as we sometimes think--it was done for handwriting practice, from the words and sentences in the child's reading. She also used a handwriting curriculum which seems to have completely disappeared, but it had cards with handwriting models for the students to copy.

Hope this helps.

Anne W.

Question: How often do you all require narrations from your little ones. Do you have students narrate every subject? Once a day? My child is 6 years old.

At six years old, one narration a day from Aesop's fables may be good. You can increase that next year, perhaps, when she's used to narrating. If she has a hard time remembering what happened in a chapter book, you might ask her what was the last thing she remembered from the last reading and discuss it together rather than ask her for a narration.

Leslie Noelani

Question: Do you read the section of book, have the child narrate the section and then move onto the next book?

Basically, yes. In our homeschool, we do try to vary the readings. This means that I try not to have two science or two history books back to back. I try also to alternate reading with other activities for school--some of these might be math, handwork, music practice, foreign language, singing, drawing, nature study, picture study, music study, or even ten minutes on the rebounder.

Question: Do any of you do practical applications (projects, crafts, worksheets)?

This is where the Charlotte Mason difference really shows, I think. Narration is practical application, more practical by far than worksheets. Think about it--I am often asked for my opinion of a book, to relay telephone messages, to summarize a letter from Grandma, to communicate symptoms to a doctor or to relay doctor's instructions to a family member, to share information about how we homeschool, to give directions, to write an article, to teach a ladies' Bible's class, to explain how I parent, to help somebody else homeschool... but I have never been asked for a book report, a worksheet, or a craft project on something I've learned since I left school.

There can be a place for some projects and crafts--as part of the afternoon's handiwork in certain cases. And sometimes narration is done by drawing first and then telling about it, or by modeling a scene with clay or bricks, and then telling about it.

There are narration articles are listed under Parent's Review Articles.

Narration seems so simple, but it really gets the brain working on all sorts of complex tasks, reviewing, reasoning, comparing, contrasting, organizing, selecting, and summarizing--then the child tells back, which is also an important skill in communication. Here's something I've tried--I read something to myself, and then I tell it back to myself--this was much harder than I expected the first few times I tried it! This is a very complex task we're asking of our children! I would suggest you begin very slowly--when first narrating, read only a paragraph at a time, then ask for a narration, then read the next paragraph.


Question: Do you read the section of book, have the child narrate the section and then move onto the next book? Do any of you do practical applications (projects, crafts, worksheets)?

I think I know what you're asking; I asked the same thing myself once on the Charlotte Mason VegSource Education board and got some good responses. The whole thing sounds like just reading, no hands-on of any kind? But that's only part of it. For one thing, don't forget that the book lessons are to be alternated with more hands-on activities, table work, moving-around things (and with young children, some traditionally quieter subjects can BECOME moving-around things. One advisory member practices French phrases with her son while tossing a ball back and forth; my oldest learned phonics while jumping up and down the stairs). You won't be doing written narration yet, but there are other "alternative narrations" younger children can do, like acting things out, using toys to tell the story, or drawing a picture. Also don't forget about science experiments, nature drawings and "collections". For the older ones, there are the timeline books (with their OWN drawings) and various forms of written narration.

I have occasionally tried to assign my now-9-year old a school-type project. A teacher friend of mine who uses many Charlotte Mason ideas in her classroom told me that, for instance, when they did Paddle-to-the--Sea, she had each child do a large collage poster illustrating some aspect of the province of Ontario (where we live). My daughter was about 7 at the time, same age as the kids in this class, but she just wasn't ready to handle that much independent work. I would have ended up doing most of it myself, so I dropped the idea. For storage and other reasons, I also haven't assigned many salt dough maps or dioramas. One thing we've done several times, though, is to have an "Egypt night" or whatever we were studying at the time--that seems to be a way to incorporate several small projects--food, decorations etc. --plus various forms of dramatic narrations. (We had a puppet interview about finding King Tut's tomb.)

We also use maps a lot, follow along with things we're reading. When we read Minn of the Mississippi, I pasted a large map of the US (freebie from old National Geographic) on poster board, we made a small paper turtle for Minn, and stuck it on with sticky tack to show where she ended up each week.

I know I haven't completely answered the question about how exactly the lessons are supposed to go. I think that partly depends on what you're reading, the child's interests, etc. Charlotte Mason would not have said not to do hands-on and followup activities, but I think she would have hoped that much of that would come out of the child's interest in the story, rather than being assigned and marked. (Yes, I know that's idealistic, so sometimes homeschool moms have to help that along, particularly when it's your oldest child who isn't very old yet and always wants to know what to do next.)

Anne W.

An article on narration

Question: What do you do when your child consistently gives poor narrations?

I would say shorten the reading, but you already did that. Another thing CM did is begin by introducing something called the 'informing idea.' You might introduce a reading on the Pilgrims, for example, by saying something like, "What would you do if the ruler of your country wouldn't let you worship God the way you wanted? Listen and let's see what one group of people did." Or, "What would it be like to cross an ocean on a raft? What kind of dangers might you run into? Let's read this and see what happened."

This helps focus their attention. Another possibility is to write down the names and large words that might give trouble. Write them down and pronounce them together before you begin. Leave this list out for use when he narrates back.

Question: How do you grade narrations? I don't know how to evaluate narrations!

I don't grade them. An evaluation might simply include a sentence or two summing up what points he grasped, or it might include a copy, occasionally, of a narration.

Question: What do you do if your child completely misses the entire meaning of the reading (he's narrating but you don't know what he's narrating!)?

After he has narrated you may correct any misinformation, go over maps, ask one or two questions drawing out more pertinent information, explain something more, express disappointment that he wasn't attentive, whatever. Just so long as he narrates first.

Question: Is 10 yrs the time to start written narrations? Should you require a certain length?

Written narrations never completely replace oral ones. I would start Slowly--a sentence or two or three.

There is a gold mine of information on narration in our shared files under Parents' Reviews.


Question: Do we just read the book selections aloud and then have them narrate immediately after the reading??

That's most important. Narration is a deceptively simple activity. But narration will provide your child with far richer learning and reviewing than a dozen workbook pages, six projects which take up the dining room table, 20 'creative writing assignments' or a bazillion true false tests. Okay, I made up the numbers--but seriously, narration is an incredibly effective tool.

You can also do mapwork and timeline activities--simply spend a few minutes making entries from the reading for a timeline or century book. Look for places on the map. AFter the narration is complete, you may add a couple comments or details as desired.

There is more on narration in our some Parents Review articles. Check these sources out for further detail on this powerful little activity.=)


Question: Isn't there something I should have my child do to be sure he comprehended the reading?? Didn't Charlotte Mason do other kinds of comprehension things?

It is my understanding that she had the children merely read and narrate. That's it. If that is the case, it will be easy to tell whether a child has the information or not. Slow and measured digestion comes with the narration.


Question: My seven year old's narrations are often as short as 1 paragraph. How do I improve his narrations?

If this is orally, I don't consider that a problem. Oral narration in a CM education does not begin before age 6--and some children take a *very* long time to get the hang of it (many boys, especially, really don't "click" with oral narration for some time after 6). A paragraph or longer on a section of a chapter or a short story is, in my humble opinion :-), very good for a boy this age.

I am assuming you don't mean written narration. Written narration typically comes much later--not until ages 9 or 10 (in a child who has adequate reading and writing skills), or until a child (even an older child, new to CM) has at least a couple of years of oral narration under their belts. The time period in which a child transitions into written narration (although oral narration never should actually end) typically produces short narrations.

My own experience is that of a now 16 year old daughter who has had a CM-styled education since she started. She did oral narration, then transitioned over to written, and now still is required to do written narrations and oral narrations. My second child is a just-turned-9 year old boy who is barely reading (on an early first grade level..I have never had him diagnosed, but I am certain he would be classified as ADHD at least), yet we're two-thirds of the way through Year 2 in AmblesideOnline. I read all the passages aloud to him--and he narrates them back to me in a variety of ways...

He is given a choice: he can "tell me," "ask me questions" (he asks me several questions from the material), "act it out," "draw it" (in which case he tells me about what he has drawn, so that the oral skills happen without him being aware of it), or "lego it" (using his playmobil guys or legos to act it out). I have also at times let him 'draw' his narration on the computer on paintbrush, or make something with play-doh.

My youngest, 5 1/2 yod, is not yet in AmblesideOnline year 1--I will start her next year (she can already read ahead of her brother, but I expect to do the vast majority of the reading for her). However, she is listening in on her brother's read alouds, and she sometimes pipes in with a narration comment or two. I do not require it of her, however.

Hope this is helpful to someone! :-)

Love in Christ,
Donna-Jean Breckenridge

I am learning more and more to respect the process of narration. Yet I think everyone struggles with this. Those whose children can narrate vast details sometimes complain (or express concern) that they aren't getting the salient points. Those whose children give very brief and sparse narrations are also concerned they aren't getting it. And while we worry over them learning the process of narration, material is being read and completed (and 'done with') that we wonder if they really got and if it needs to be reviewed and drilled into them....

If I come across a particularly complicated passage (or hard to follow) such as in This Country of Ours, I will tell him ahead of time, "Remember what happened yesterday? (pause and see if he does) Well, that general is going to try and get the other side to do such-and-such, and to do that he will do such-and-such--let's see how it turns out!"

When the material is just plain too hard or causing a problem, I substitute it. What comes to mind is something about the Cavaliers in This Country of Ours. It may have been the material, it may have been just a bad time in our house or with my son and me, but I was looking at this one day and thinking I never heard of this, why on earth does this child who's doing a backflip off the rocking chair need to hear this?? (Come to think of it, maybe I was the one having the bad day! :-)

So I canned that chapter or two in the book, read some extra children's books from the time period to him (I think it was near the Pilgrim time, or maybe John Smith, I forget) during those weeks, and picked up the schedule when that part was over. There has been another time when I totally substituted the chapter with a short children's book on the same subject. (Other times, I have read a short book in addition - such as this week, when I read a children's book on Martin Luther, which is what we're up to in A Child's History of the World).

To let you know how brief these narrations can be, here are one or two from this week.

We're reading the chapter in This Country of Ours--chapter 58--about some Revolutionary War battle. I read him two pages (about a third of the chapter) because the narrative fit (to break it up there would have been illogical). I gave him a narration option, and he asked me questions--only two! "Why did the Americans lie? Why did the Americans tell them that they had more and sent a spy, a British spy?" That was it. Then he proceeded to run back and forth in the room, acting like the British spy who was sent back to the Brits and the Indians to say the Americans had this huge army. It was a lot of running and panting, and acting like being the next spy, and the next...

Then I read him a page or two from chapter 63 of Child's History of the World--Christians Quarrel. (I only have the paperback edition from Sonlight--I don't think the chapters correspond with the hardback). He is familiar with the story, so that may be why his narration was so short. But this was what he said. "He nailed the rules on the church door." ("How many?") "95." ("Who?") "Martin Luther." ("Why?") "So they'll obey the right rules." (As you can see, it was not a chatty day...)

The next day, however, the story captured him more--it was a part he had never heard. Even then, though, it was not extensive. I had read another page from the book, with a logical story portion. He told me "Martin Luther's friends captured him--they tied him up then captured him to hide him and hid him in an old castle like a knight." (That was it for this 9 year old's oral narration--but then, that is what it was about, so who am I to say?) Little sister (5 1/2) piped in, "They dressed him like a knight."

I felt he was missing the point of knowing how to define the reformation, so I then asked him "What is the Reformation?" and he said "When Martin Luther nailed the thing--the paper--upon the door, about trusting in God." Little sister added, "about believing in God."

And then when we read chapter 19 of Pagoo yesterday, he suddenly (when I said you have to narrate this) reached his arm out for his popcorn, ate it wolfishly, then hurled the plastic bowl across the room. While I went livid and started to scold him, he brightly announced "I'm the octopus! I just threw away the shell!" and I realizd he was acting out how the octopus ate the snail by grabbing it with its tentacle and then how it threw the snail shell away.....(never a dull moment...)

Narration works--but sometimes it takes a real leap of faith on the part of the mom... :-)

Love in Christ,
Donna-Jean Breckenridge

Question: How often do we do narration?

My understanding of how Charlotte Mason applied narration is that in order for it to be a really effective tool, every book, every reading, every lesson must be narrated.

Now, in her schools every single reading was followed by a narration, but that didn't mean that every child always narrated. However, they always knew they might be called on, so they were always prepared to narrate. Knowing that they stood a good chance of being called on to narrate probably gave an edge to their attention skills.=)

At home this is a little harder, but there are ways around it. If you have more than one child reading the same book they can alternate narrations, or one can start, you interrupt them midstream and have another finish (you should not have one child narrate the whole story and then another child narrate the same story).

Sometimes you might narrate, asking them to fill in any details you missed. And you can do a search of our archives here, looking for 'narration jar' for more ideas.

We also have two or three articles from the original Parents' Reviews, written, most of them, in Charlotte Mason's time. Feel free to print them out to look them over.


Question: I need some suggestions on getting my son familiar with the idea of narration. He is not yet in year 1. We are reading through Charlotte's Web right now. Should I scan the chapter ahead of time and go over unfamiliar words with him in advance?

You didn't say how old your ds is, but I'm assuming he's not yet 6, right? With a child that young, you can introduce them to one or two new words before the reading and they may have a fair chance of being able to piece the definitions to the words when they come up in the reading later. But if you introduce them to more than a couple, they will very likely lose track of the definitions by the time you come to them. I often just read the word, pause, look at the child and say a synonymous word, and then go on as seamlessly as possible. To help the child absorb the word, I sometimes say it with a little punch, and then repeat its phrase after offering a synonym: "The chipmunk found himself in a most precarious -- or 'dangerous' -- in a most precarious situation." Kids love big words, and I always found that glossing the word with a little drama quite often led to it immediately being tossed about at the dinner table and in the back yard. That's what we're after.

Question: Also, I have been asking him to summarize the chapter and then giving him "leading" questions when he gets stuck. Any thoughts?

If he's younger than six, he's probably too young for formal narration... but it's a good age to have Daddy ask him over dinner to "tell me what happened with Wilbur and Fern and Charlotte today!" Telling Daddy stories over dinner is where my kids learned to narrate!

Lynn Bruce

Narration with an older (Year 7 and high school) student

I don't see myself as an expert on narration--but perhaps what we've done can provide some perspective.

I have three children--age 15, age 8 1/2, and age 5. We've always homeschooled, and always in a Charlotte Mason style.

Creating a CM-styled high school program was a challenge. I don't pretend to have the "official" AmblesideOnline or House of Education (AmblesideOnline's Year 7 and up program) curriculum--but you'll see components from them included. On our website below my signature, we have linked the material Bethany completed last year for grade 9--and the plan for her in this 10th grade year.

In reading Charlotte Mason's material and noting the importance of narrating every lesson, I've determined that every subject or course of study must have some sort of "output."

I have attempted to vary these significantly. For instance, my 15 year old daughter is reading through the entire Bible over the course of 4 years. Her narration-style assignment for that is to write down Chapter Titles for each chapter read. (In this way, when she completes high school, she will have her own collection of chapter titles for every chapter of the Bible.)

Also for Bible, she is reading parts of Lewis Sperry Chafer's Systematic Theology. For that, she is to write what I called Narration Notes--she writes down in note-form (not necessarily complete sentences) a narration from the passage assigned to that week. She also does Narration Notes for her reading of HomeSchool Legal Defense Assoc's course "Introduction to Argumentation and Debate." Her daily Current Events assignment is narrated very briefly, and could also be called "Narration Notes" (a short paragraph each day--they are often more in complete sentences, though).

For history, she has three assignments per week: pages from Churchill's "The Great Democracies," a speech or writing of Abraham Lincoln, and a chapter or a speech from another person of the time we're studying (1815-1900). For each of those, she must write a short Written Narration (hand-written, usually one notebook page, sometimes less than that).

For literature, she has one significant work per term. This term, it's Herman Melville's "Moby Dick." I don't ask for any narration through the term. Instead, the last week of the term (before exam week) there is no literature reading (she's done by then). She uses that time for a Creative Narration. We talk ahead of time of how to do this, and then she does the writing. (It counts as her exam for that subject that term.) Some examples of her Creative Narrations are on our website. (We need to update this, and add some from last year.) In the past, she's done things like writing a one-act play (she did that with Jane Austen, and it's on our site), writing a letter as though written by the author of the work (last year, she wrote a letter as though from Jonathan Swift to a new publisher, telling about his work "Gulliver's Travels, accompanied by some illustrations), re-telling the story in a character's voice (last year, she had Hester Prynne as an older woman writing Pearl and telling her about their shared past) or re-telling the story in a different setting (last year, she re-told Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities" in a Civil War setting).

Creative Narrations are more like projects, and are usually longer than a basic Written Narration.

For poetry, we read aloud one poem (or part of a poem) per day--from the same poet for 4 or 5 weeks. At the end of that time of 4-5 weeks, she must write a Poetic Narration of that poet's work (She narrates the poetry in poetic form, either as a sonnet, or in a style reminiscent of that poet).

In other subjects, we do Oral Narration. For her reading of Robert Louis Stevenson's Art of Writing, she tells me orally what she read in her assigned section for that week. The same is true for her reading of a

particular composer in "The Gift of Music," or her assigned reading for the week in Van Loon's "The Arts" (which is being spread out over four years).

There are subjects in which the standard "output" is regular testing. We do that for Math-U-See and for Apologia's Chemistry. However, we do have once a week times of Oral Discussion for chemistry, and that way I'm able to gauge further her level of understanding of the material.

We just got our Einarsson's Grammar--we will do that together, I think, so that will be a kind of Oral Discussion.

For French, when we read a passage or a story in French, she narrates it orally in French. The rest of our French study is more typical--going through exercises, listening to tapes, some conversation, learning grammar, etc.

Once a week, she is required to do a Drawn Narration--which can be of anything she has read during the week.

At the end of each term, she does exams--which I suppose could be called Exam Narrations, since they usually take the form of what we think of as essay questions.

I don't ask for a certain number of narrations per week. Instead, I go through each subject and decide what kind of narration output best fits that subject, and adjust the frequency of those narrations accordingly.

Love in Him,
Donna-Jean Breckenridge

Question: Where do you stop in the reading for narration?

This depends on your child. Based on what you've said before, I would suggest that you begin by asking for a narration after a single paragraph or event. It doesn't matter how slowly you go. What matters is learning to be an attentive listener and becoming familiar with the language.

Question: Every couple of paragraphs, every couple of pages? How do I make sure he understands? Sometimes he says, "what does that mean?"

If he asks while you are reading you go ahead and stop for a moment and explain. The explanation should be short but clear. When you pick up the reading again ask him "Now, where were we?" Let him give you a sentence or two to 'help' you find your place.

Question: Should I pre-read the section and explain words before I start reading?

I do this sometimes with the harder books. I did it for my 12 y.o. when she was ten and first reading Plutarch. What we did is used the 20 minutes or so immediately prior to our Plutarch reading for dictionary study. I would pre-read the Plutarch selection and make a list of words I thought most likely to give her trouble. This wasn't just the harder words, but also words that had the fewest contextual clues. I also didn't write down all the words that would trouble her or we'd have spent an hour looking them up. Keep it short. Then we'd look up words together and she would summarize the definition. I wrote the words and short definitions on index cards. Later, she did this herself.

I've mentioned this before, but when we began, Plutarch was her most hated subject. She cried sometimes. We persevered and by the end of that school year it was her favorite book!

I would also suggest two other things.

When you are about to begin the reading, ask your child first to sum up where you are now. This isn't a entire narration of all the reading thus far, just a brief account of the very last part of the last reading.

Also, when you preread the section try to make a note to yourself of some important or interesting point in that reading (it need not be earth-shattering). Then when you are ready to begin the reading, introduce this idea--usually by a question--I'm trying to think of a good example here. Umm, maybe 'Have you ever wondered about ________? Today we're going to read about one person's idea.' Probably still not clear. It's been a long time since I read Pilgrim's Progress. How about, "Christian was given specific instructions. Today we're going to find out what happened once when he didn't follow them." Or "One of the problems Christian encounters along his journey is despair, or being discouraged. Let's find out how he handles that."

You could also wrap up a reading by asking what your child thinks might happen next, or what should happen, or what he wishes did happen.


I thought I'd add a suggestion or two for oral narration, especially for the "physically active" kind of kid.

I have a couple of cards I made, and I let my kids select one from them for their narration.

One has a ? mark on it--and that means they can ask Mommy about 5 questions. (Using questions as a form of narration requires the child to still process and analyze the information in their own minds.) They enjoy this way of being the "teacher" even though they're still the ones learning!

Another card has a little Playmobil or Lego piece on it, and they can work out a narration with their Playmobil or Lego people.

Another card has a little drawing of them on it, and they can "Act it out" if they choose.

One more card has crayons on it, and it means they can do a Drawn narration.

The last card simply says "Tell Mom" on it, and they can do the usual "tell back" narration.

Yesterday, my 8 year old son (who does not read yet, past a very beginning level, so I read aloud the passages to him) asked if he could narrate Pagoo using Paintbrush on the computer. As he made his "drawing," I jotted down his ongoing commentary. Here's what he said (this was for chapter 9, I believe it was):

"The LandLady's on the bottom, and this is Pagoo's shell that he's strying to squeeze out of. Here's the LandLady--but then she saw the gull! And here's her shell. I'm making her legs--making her feelers. There's Pagoo--there's his eye, his feelers...Pagoo's banging on the walls, right Mom? There's somethng I can make on Pagoo -look--his twisted tail!....this is the opening of the shell--you can't get to it."

Allowing my kids to select which form of narration they will use has helped a bit with the reluctance and even the hostility toward narration that we sometimes encounter.

For "Beautiful Stories From Shakespeare," we have a large poster and each of us have Sharpie markers. We add stick figures or little identifying actions as we sort of "chart" the portion of the story we read each week. (This idea came from Vanessa awhile back.) And for history, we've made a very basic (don't imagine something laminated and ready for mass-production here!) rolled-up timeline chart (made of "butcher paper" and that is the length of a long room). B.C. and A.D. are marked off, along with basic century areas. Sometimes we've photocopied a little picture from Child's History of the World and taped it on, but usually we've just made a little drawing. I'm learning to just roll this out on the floor once a week--say, on a Friday--and we can mark off what we've learned in This Country of Ours and Child's History of the World for that week (as well as any other reading, such as our night-time reading of Childhood of Famous Americans).

Hope that helps someone!

Love in Christ,
Donna-Jean Breckenridge

Question: What if my son is reluctant about narrating?

I don't know--mine all chatter like magpies to me, sometimes to the point where I want to cover my ears and shout "enough!"

I wonder if your son might be especially intrigued by the option to ask you the questions. This is a very valuable form of narration. Deciding what questions to ask involves going over the material internally just as a more routine oral narration does, and accessing which is important, which isn't. It's also, for those who are interested, one of the higher levels of thinking in Bloom's taxonomy of thinking skills.

Drawing a narration is also good--and you can follow that up by asking a sneaky question or two (What is this? What is happening there? How come you drew the sword that way?).

And maybe narrating into a tape recorder in the privacy of his own room is something your son might do.

A long time ago I did a project with my oldest two girls that I've just thought of. Maybe you could adapt it somehow to narration (I'm just thinking off the top of my head here).

I made out various assignment cards for Bible study and wrote them up on index cards. I put each one in a manilla envelope and on the envelope I wrote "Secret Mission # 1" of course changing the numbers for each mission.

One of the assignments was to copy a list of verses into the backs of their Bibles, and for that one I included a new pen each. Another was to read a certain story in bed under the covers at night, and for that I included a small flashlight.

I'm wondering if some hitherto reluctant narrators might not be drawn in by making up secret mission assignments--they might have a card saying something like "You are a reporter smuggling out a dangerous report on the activities of the Greek army at Troy. Dictate your report to your secretary (mom)." "You are a famous artist and you have been given a commission to paint a picture showing the events at Marathon, how would you paint it?" And he could either paint a picture or just tell you how he would do it.

The trick would be not to make the glamour of the assignment over ride the actual narrations, but doing something along these lines might ease some bashful narrators into narrating as they act a part outside themselves. And, of course, this is a little extra work for you, which is another good reason not to overdo it.

Perhaps just doing this sort of narration every once in a while would be enough to peak interest and get cooperation in more everyday narrations?

Just a thought,


Someone asked about writing paragraphs (during narration) and whether or not we should stress all the paragraph writing rules that teachers use (begin with a topic sentence, then the main body, use a concluding sentence, etc.). I wanted to share this short paragraph that my 9yo did this morning (it was a narration of a section from an old non-AmblesideOnline book she's reading, Our Plant Friends and Foes).

"Guess what family the apple comes from? If you said fruit or tree, you're wrong. Apples actually come from the rose family. The rose hip is really a tiny apple. Think about the difference of the leaves. Not much."

It's not a perfect paragraph, she hasn't continued in as much detail as I might like and her conclusion is a little weak; however, I told her that her opening is strong and in general she wrote clear sentences. My point here is that she handled this on her own without being told to shape her paragraph in a certain way; she was retelling what she read in a natural way, and that's what I wanted.

Anne W.

Question: I'm starting my 10 year old on written narrations. I was just going to start with one of her literature books and gradually work up to several books. She usually reads a chapter each week from the book. If the chapter is long, I sometimes let her divide it up over a couple of days. So, should I wait until she finishes the chapter every wk. before I ask for a written narration, or should I just ask for a written narration from that day's reading while she's in the middle of the chapter?

I'm having my 9yo write about one narration a day, from a short reading in one of the assigned books (that is, usually a different book each day). If you're having her do it all from one book, then I'd definitely have her do it after each reading, not when she finishes the chapter.

I think one problem you run into if it's always from the one book is that you do have to keep the readings short, particularly if they're slow readers and/or writers; and that means you can get behind schedule. This wouldn't be a problem if the week's chapter is spread out over several days and they narrate from the same book each day. I was having my 9yo do written narrations this fall from It Couldn't Just Happen, along with a couple of other books, as I said, on other days; and I found it took about a month just to get through one chapter. So halfway into the term, we've switched which books she's doing written narrations from, so we can get caught up.

Anne W.

I'm having my 9 year old (Year 4) read from a book called Armed with Courage. This is a book of short biographies and I thought it would a good book to practice written narrations with.

Anyway, my daughter finished the first two sections (Florence Nightingale and Father Damien) over several weeks, and produced written narrations that were not bad but fairly sketchy in detail. Today we started the third section (George Washington Carver) and I decided to do a complete switch: she read three pages out loud to me and I gave her an oral narration. Of course she has to pay attention to my narration to see if I missed anything...<g>

Anne W.

Question: Is it appropriate to require a written narration from a book that was read-aloud to the child?

Sure, we do that too, and I think it would have been done many times in Charlotte Mason's day, in classroom situations where there was only one copy of the book and the teacher read aloud.

Anne W.

Question:  My six year old has trouble telling back the moral of Aesop's fables. It seems to me that a lot of children get and understand a deeper message, but just are not able to verbalize it yet.

My memories of my own childhood also lead me to the same conclusion. I vividly remember knowing something deep down, but being unable to articulate what I knew and understood. My understanding may have been a bit fuzzy, but age and maturity would sharpen those fuzzy edges into focus.

I also suspect that stories like Aesop's fables are so memorable that a child may have a 'feeling' about the story and its moral, but be unable to articulate it or define it at 6. Then at 8 or 9 in his reading he may be reminded of the story and suddenly recognize more meaning, or words to give that nebulous feeling he had expression--and a few years later, get even more understanding. But it starts with just being able to read and narrate the story.


Charlotte Mason believed narration was valuable for students to give them an opportunity to review the information in their own minds, to process, reflect, and most importantly, to communicate what they know.

When they know that they will have narrate something, in some way, after every reading, they attend to the reading with sharper attention. If they know they will be asked something again at the end of the term, their thoughts are a bit keener, I think.


Question: What is narration for? Especially as it relates to written narration?

Narration is your child/student connecting with the material, getting in touch with the facts clothed in literary language, getting to know an artist, a poet, a general, a mythological story, a brave young girl, a foolish animal, a truth....and then relating those ideas articulately. The articulate part will develop and grow (though it is often evident in beginning narrations.... I think I mean the articulate part will get more "polished"), because this is teaching composition skills!

Do you remember writing a first draft? Well, written narrations are like that--they are written with the intent of writing, of expressing.... with one exception--they are not meant to be re-written over and over and over. That would kill the spirit of the child to have to correct and re-write every narration (assuming you are requiring somewhat frequent narrations).

I have read of some parents really doing this to death, missing the point of narration entirely. They go over a written narration, have the child re-write it again and again (in some perceived lesson on penmanship), then they use that same narration for dictation and for copywork. That is not how CM teaches! Narration is about the art of writing--and by writing, I mean 'composing' if you will, not spelling and handwriting, etc. (They will learn that better from copying works that are already established as great! :-)

To me, listening to my child's written narration is listening to their heart. I can "hear" what they understood and valued--and I can offer respect to their composition by listening.

Love in Christ,
Donna-Jean Breckenridge

Narration is deceptively simple (I suggest reading the Parents Review articles on narration on AmblesideOnline's webpage). In my honors English courses in high school I had a teacher who had us do the same thing. This isn't what she called it, but it is what we did. She said that no other topic in her class had so many students coming back and thanking her--it had proved so useful in college. She was right.


Question: We aren't supposed to correct a narration?

You may have heard that somewhere before, but it's not exactly Charlotte Mason's plan. It's true that we don't want to interrupt a narration in any way, but when it is finished, there is no problem with correcting information, or asking another child to add something that may have been left out. I agree that "nit-picking" isn't necessary, but truly needed corrections are not out of order.

For example--when my then 6yo daughter narrated that Columbus sailed across the Pacific ocean, I waited until she was finished. Then we got out the globe and located Spain, America, and the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, so she could "see" which ocean he crossed. It was really just a slip of the tongue for her--she knew the names of two oceans, but really didn't have a clue as to which was which or where they were. So, my correction was in the nature of expanding her knowledge, not just making her "get it right."

Check out the Parents Review articles on narration (Charlotte Mason was the editor of the Parents' Review until her death)--they really give a lot of great examples about the way narration was used in her schools.


Question:  Can we do a Question: discussion after a narration?

Yes - discussion after narration is just fine, and it is very CM.=)

The main point is to have the child narrate first, without interruption, and have discussion, if you want discussion, afterward. As long as the discussion of what she read comes after the narration, it's fine.

The point of not interrupting is so as to not distract her train of thought --even her train is derailing. The first step should be her narration from start to finish. THEN you do all the discussion you want.

When she thinks she's done it's fine to draw out more ideas, to help her clarify, to correct, to share more insight of your own, whatever. If you've not been to the Parents' Review articles on narration, you might want to check them out--fantastic stuff there!

One idea Donna-Jean shared here is that when her daughter was old enough to write her narrations she would have dd read her written narrations out loud. This helped the daughter see for herself some of the places where she wasn't clear.


Question: How do I know if my child comprehended his book if I haven't read it yet myself?

I think Charlotte Mason and her teachers had read the books. Charlotte Mason had no family to care for, her teachers usually didn't either, and in the case of mothers at home teaching their children, well, those mothers generally had all kinds of household help that we don't. Though it would be ideal for us to read the books, if we can't, we can't. Some things to do that might help:

Skim just the section the children are reading each week.

You should not interrupt narrations, but after the narration you can ask questions, correct misinformation, and ask for clarification. This is a good way to find out how well they are understanding the material in many instances.

We occasionally share our childrens' narrations here on this list. This does many things--shows other parents what children of a certain and year are doing, gives your children an audience, and gives you a forum for input. You can ask what others who have read the book think of the narration.

Look online for summaries of the book or lesson plans. Use the lesson plans only as a reference for you to help you see what kinds of things your child might be narrating about.

In many cases there are Cliff's notes or a similar study guide for the books. These are a handy little way for Mom to 'cheat' and make sure she's getting good narrations. You read the study guide, your child reads the book.=)

In general, their narrations themselves will give us a good idea of how well they're understanding the books--but there are occasions where a child will give a confidant, articulate narration, and be eloquently wrong about what they've read.=O

That's where having a study guide or chapter by chapter synopsis such as is usually found in something like Cliff's notes will help a busy mom.


Oral narrations do not have to be written down at all unless you want to do so. I've heard "you have to write down their narrations" from a few people describing Charlotte Mason methods, but I have never read anything in Charlotte Mason's books or in Parents' Review articles that supports that idea. I transcribe exams done on tape, but that's all.

Anne W.

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!)

Anne W

Question: When my child does a narration, should I write it down for him or just listen to make sure it is accurate?

You'll be listening to way too many narrations to write them all down! The only time I keep a written record of an oral narration is at term exam time. I tape our exams, and try to type them up later (though I have two terms backed up waiting for time to type them!).

When my younger dd was seven, she developed a big thing for George Washington that went on for over a year. She read stacks of books about him, and narrated all of them (whether we wanted her to or not ;-))). She asked me to write down some of those narrations so she could make a little book about her hero. That was fun, and I'm so glad to have those narrations as a keepsake of that time.

But other than special things like that, I just listen.

Lynn Bruce

Question:  after I read to my child how does the child record the session since there are no worksheets?

Narrations! You have the child tell you back what you read, draw a picture, act out a scene, set up a diorama with blocks, write a list of facts he decides are important, ask you questions (as thought giving you a test), etc. If you go to our website and look up the articles on narration from the Parents' Review articles, you can find out more.


Question: My 8 year old daughter doesn't stay focused if I read aloud to her and therefore cannot form even a simple narration of what I have read. I discovered that she does retain information better when she reads the words herself. But I think the AmblesideOnline books may be too hard for her to read on her own. Should I break down the reading into smaller assignments?

I am giving you this straight from the mouth of my 10 year old reluctant narrator <g>--her opinion is that shortening the readings probably wouldn't help if your daughter is reading them well enough already. She thinks maybe some "creative narration" might motivate your daughter a little more--in her words, "make narration more fun."

My own opinion is that you might want to shorten the readings too, along with providing some narration alternatives. My experience (after all these years) is that some kids (mine) will continue to say "I don't like narrating," and all you can do is keep working both on the narration and on the attitude. Don't let yourself get too frustrated.

Anne W.

Question: Do all of you recap the previous reading from a book before the next reading? Did Charlotte Mason recommend that the children recap the previous day's reading before starting the next reading? I usually have one of my children tell me about the previous day's reading, but the more proficient they become at narration, the longer it takes!

Chuckle --sounds like your kids are great narrators! Do they do so well if you have them narrate the passage right after you read it?

If it is taking too long, though, you might try saying, "Now, where were we?" to start things off, and then getting right into the story.

Anne W.

For both of my children, I consider narration to be an integral part of Language Arts. That is their composition, their reading comprehension, their creative writing, their sentence structure and their grammar understanding.

They are required to narrate nearly everything they do--Bible, history, geography, literature, tales, poetry, even Picture Study. That's a lot of narrating. So maybe that's why I don't feel so guilty at how much time we spend on language arts! :-)

Love in Him,

More from Donna-Jean about narration

CM says in the introduction to volume 6, "the whole intellectual apparatus of the teacher, his power of vivid presentation, apt illustration, able summing up, subtle questioning, all these were hindrances and intervened between children and the right nutriment duly served"

What a topsy turvy view we tend to have--that we must slice and dice and pulverize the material and present it to the children arranged carefully on the plate of our choosing, and then they must repeat our recipe and answer our questions.

My husband is fond of saying that the one who asks the questions is the one controlling the conversation--he tells me this to advise me in another circumstance, but I think it applies here, too.

When we are asking the formal questions, asking for the formal, workbook style responses to our questions, we are controlling the conversation, but more devastingly, I think, we are controlling the children's thought processes, and blocking off trains of thought that might have proved profitable to them.

CM says again, "What, then, is knowledge?--was the next question that occurred; a question which the intellectual labour of ages has not settled; but perhaps this is enough to go on with;--that only becomes knowledge to a person which he has assimilated, which his mind has acted upon."

Which is why we need to be very, very careful to give the children time to let their minds act upon the material.


Before I give you a description of narration in our house, I'd like to say a little more in the way of background. Just know that some of my thoughts and methods are informed by CM and some by my training as an English major.

The first step in knowing a book is becoming familiar with that book--what it actually says, its structure, style, time period and so forth. You could even liken it to getting to know a person. You must, firstly, find out basic, relevant things. I have found that in my various work of dealing with many kinds of persons, there are many ways to glean knowledge of a person. Some say I'm a 'people person'. Those who know me more intimately agree I am more of an introvert. When I was young, my mother liked to engage me in the pleasant pastime of people-watching. We would tell one another what we knew about the person by simply watching. Over time I became at adept at noticing. Attending to dress, gait, carriage, expression, body-language.

I've never thought much about this before but as I was considering narration and how it is like getting to know a person, I remembered this activity. My mother perfected my people skills with narration! My point is that attending is a skill that can be gained regardless of one's disposition. Narration is the way to build this skill and it is also regardless of disposition.

It begins with building up the attention to the most basic things. Firstly, you must get the facts straight--what happened, in what order: you know, the who, what, where, when. Gradually, one begins to notice more detail. In this noticing, the mind begins to ask itself questions. Why is this told first and that later? Why this word of description and not another? Why is this worth mentioning? And so on.

Without following this course of 'knowing', we lay ourselves open to many misinterpretations. Because we have observed carelessly, the foundation of our knowledge is suspect and, at its best, cursory. Also, this habit cannot be secured secondhand by attempting to guide the child through the hoops. No doubt, there is merit in a well-asked question, but it is not the modus operandi. The child's mind itself must walk through the process: again and again and again. That is how the tracks are laid.

So, in our house, the older is more reflective and the younger is more voracious. According to their disposition that is how they deal with the inflow of information. Both, however, need the same foundation of 'attention.' Depending on their condition on any given day, there is generally one or two narration sessions which I would describe as demanding. As they listen to the reading (sometimes given by me, them or audio), they are not allowed to pet the dogs, lie down, look out the window, tap, fidget. As they give their narration, no 'um' or 'like' or other verbiage is allowed. I slip in a quick reminder as needed. Clear enunciation is required. They must tell me what the words tell that is, they must use their own words to tell what they heard without adding comment, interpretation or a word that carries a different meaning. Sometimes I may ask for something less than a complete retelling. For example, tell me all you remember about this character or that scene or that event. Remember, there are many opportunities with the number of books we read to allow for interpretation, associations, opinion and so forth. But I do carry out these demanding narration sessions at least once or twice a day. How long or short depends on them yet I am mindful of their condition or capacity for it.

I feel History and Literature, in particular, lend themselves to this kind of training in narration to build healthy 'intellectual habits.' Accuracy, thoroughness, right and straight without distortion, are the standard. For us, Bible study involves much more discussion. Over time, I believe they will apply themselves in the same way to their reading of the word. The skill, of course, is transferable.Also, the little one (5yob) participates more. My approach, of course, is VERY different with the little one. The older ones are 9 and 10. I hope if any mothers of younger ones read this they don't think this is simply a way I'm advocating. This is something the olders have arrived at over many years (although we haven't always used AO).

Regards, Laurie Dixon

I believe that Charlotte Mason would say that narration is oral composition. So, in effect, every time you ask your child to narrate they are composing on a selected subject. When an AmblesideOnline student starts to write narrations, starting about year 4, we hope that they will be able to transfer their oral skills to the written page. We hope that their developing sophistication with oral storytelling will also transfer, though from what I have observed from my own children, it takes a while because they tend to simplify and shorten their storytelling if they know they have to write the story down.

Copywork or transcription is a method of teaching handwriting and reinforcing spelling and grammar usage. It does not really teach composition, though it should provide good examples.

I don't have any experience with Writing in Excellence, so I can't comment from my own experience with the curriculum. It does sound like it could be quite compatible (possibly with modifications) with the Charlotte Mason methods of teaching, and may also provide some valuable input to the teacher. I do have some comments on what was shared, however.

I have a concern that requiring that children to select words from some material they are about to narrate from, and then requiring that they narrate using these words or covering those topics may direct the attention away from the flow and meaning of the story as a whole. It may also serve to squash a child's enthusiasm about telling a story about a particular reading. Enthusiasm is precious, and in storytelling it gives our words power and style that really is very difficult to teach. I believe that Charlotte wanted to harness enthusiasm and use it to help teach good habits of composition. Children more readily provide detail and color their stories through careful word selection when they have some enthusiasm for telling the story and an attentive and appreciative listener.

However, not every child narrates enthusiastically (though I dare to say that they can narrate about something enthusiastically), and some children and teachers may profit from more guidelines or structure. I just don't know enough about this particular curriculum to say any more.

Leslie S.

Question: "I know that Charlotte Mason states in Book 6 that narration in Form IA and B was mostly oral, however she also says that children in Form IA from ages 7-9 have more copious composition, implying that she gradually added composition in the:form of written narrations."

Just a point of clarification here--Charlotte Mason was still talking about oral "composition." Just beyond the note about "more copious," she says, "All their work lends itself to oral composition and the power of such composition is innate in children and is note the result of instruction.":

Question: "At what point should we expect our children to make:the transition from mostly oral to mostly written compositions?"

Compositions begin to be written somewhere between 9 and 12. That's not much of a guideline, and probably most children will be ready between these ages--at 10 or 11. But even at this age, "composition" is simply written narration, and does not involve instruction about paragraphs, etc, . . . Not until Form III--jr. high level--does composition become a matter for direct attention.

Written narration never completely replaces oral narration, and I'm not even sure it ever surpasses oral narration in quantity. Common sense tells us that children cannot write as much or as fast as they can tell. Also, as you move into the high-school level, the pupil's written narrations become more complex and thoughtful, not just factual re-tellings, and no one can write like that for several subjects every day.

I really think there are no hard and fast rules for this. There are no doubt children of 8 and 9 who are truly ready to write narrations (in fact, I remember one AmblesideOnline child of 6 who did so voluntarily). And there is no reason to hold them back if they can do this. The average child will be ready by 10 or 11, anyway.

I began written narration last year with my then 10yo son. By the end of the year, he was doing one written narration per week, plus one longer, more focused written narration once per month. This year, he is typing well enough to use the computer for his narrations, and he writes about 3 times per week, plus does the occasional, longer narration. Most of this work is not spectacular, and at this point, he is still building his skills and getting into the habit of getting his thoughts "on to paper."


"Composition" is not taught as a subject; well-taught children compose as well-bred children behave--by the light of nature; it is probable that few considerable writers have been taught the art of "composition." [from a Parents' Review article by Charlotte Mason]

Here are a few tips (just my own opinion, not wanting to sound like an expert here) for being the Mom when your children do their written narrations--especially early ones!

1) Don't read them.

Let me repeat this one:

DON'T read them.

Have your child read them to you!

My editing-eye catches every misspelled word, I sigh (even if not out loud, I sigh inwardly) and go off on a mental tangent about why this child can't spell and what I'm doing wrong and what she's doing wrong and how they'll never succeed in life if they can't spell and how bad this makes us both look if she can't spell--and meantime, my astute child is reading my face for reaction and knows I am disappointed in something she has worked on with diligence, enthusiasm, and eagerness.

So my second point is like the first, just said positively:

2) Have your child read aloud their written narration to you!

I can't tell you the number of times my dd has read her narrations aloud to me and suddenly said, "Oh, wait! I spelled that wrong!" or "Oh--wait! That didn't make sense--I forgot to put this word in . . ."

It doesn't mean that her then-self-edited version is perfect by any means . . . but our relationship is preserved for yet another day! :-)

Here's an important point--what is narration for?

Narration is your child/student connecting with the material, getting in touch with the facts clothed in literary language, getting to know an artist, a poet, a general, a mythological story, a brave young girl, a foolish animal, a truth . . . and then relating those ideas articulately. The articulate part will develop and grow (though it is often evident in beginning narrations . . . I think I mean the articulate part will get more "polished"), because this is teaching composition skills!

Do you remember writing a first draft? Well, written narrations are like that--they are written with the intent of writing, of expressing . . . with one exception--they are not meant to be re-written over and over and over. That would kill the spirit of the child to have to correct and re-write every narration (assuming you are requiring somewhat frequent narrations).

I have read of some parents really doing this to death, missing the point of narration entirely. They go over a written narration, have the child re-write it again and again (in some perceived lesson on penmanship), then they use that same narration for dictation and for copywork. That is not how CM teaches! Narration is about the art of writing--and by writing, I mean 'composing' if you will, not spelling and handwriting, etc. (They will learn that better from copying works that are already established as great!:-)

To me, listening to my child's written narration is listening to their heart. I can "hear" what they understood and valued--and I can offer respect to their composition by listening.

Two added things--1) I do then look at the written narration. I make gentle comments like "Next time, you might want to remember to make breaks to show where the paragraphs go." I also note (sometimes mentally) the misspelled words--to use in dictation of other material, and to watch to see when they improve.

2) There are written narrations that we correct and do over. These are ones my child wants to save in particular, or ones that reflect a larger 'project.' (My 16 yod is at this moment writing a narration of a book assigned to her on the Cycle of American Literature. She is writing lengthy narrations on two American writers discussed in the book, Emerson and Poe. She typed one up and e-mailed it to me--she no longer reads them aloud to me!--and I noted right away that she misspelled the writer's name in every instance. Of course, she was required to re-do this correctly--but I still read her work and gave her my evaluation of it, despite the misspelling.)

Writing a narration is hard work (for all who think it is not, stop and narrate orally a chapter you have just read in a book. And try to write on it. It is very difficult!)

Love in Christ,
Donna-Jean Breckenridge

Transitioning from oral to written narration should be taken slowly:

"I do think this improves with time. I also choose one problem area at a time and work on that. It might be run-on sentences, or it might be passive sentences. Use your word processor to help you. I have mine type with the spell check and grammar check on. With the grammar check, they are supposed to ask me before they make changes, as this is more prone to computer error than the spellcheck.

My 17 y.o. was a terrible speller when she was 11. She started to improve at about 14 or so. That's when I started really implementing Charlotte Mason's method of having the child just look at a word from a spelling list, trying to visualize the way it looks. I think that practice helped her develop her own skills and start paying some attention to what she was writing (prior to this she would misspell words she was copying). My 11y.o. is also a very poor spelling. Recently she's been motivated to exchange e-mails and letters with a friend in another state who is a fellow Lord of the Rings nut. She's been using the spellcheck and she commented to me today that she thought her spelling was improving because of this. I know the word processor may not seem very CM, but I think it fits with Miss Mason's principles perfectly.

Writing Strands is one good program. Children around 11 or 12 are about the age Charlotte Mason recommends beginning some more formal grammar and composition instruction. The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, is also useful for composition.

HTH, Wendi

Kelly G. created two narration cubes. There are two narration cubes on one page. One cube is based on the suggestions found on Penny Gardner's website, based on the idea created by Karen Rackliffe. The other cube is based on topics that are in literature evaluation essays written in high school and college. Download the single-page .pdf file.

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