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How to teach narration

How to Teach Narration – Charlotte Mason Mondays

  |   Charlotte Mason Mondays, Curriculum, Language Arts, Teaching - all grades, Teaching Elementary School, Teaching Middle School   |   8 Comments

Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child’s mind, waiting to be discovered, and is not the result of any process of disciplinary education.   —Charlotte Mason

Before you learn how to teach narration, you have to understand living booksThe foundation of a Charlotte Mason education is exposing your children to many living books.  Books for them to read individually and books that you read aloud to them. Books that you use to teach them history, science, character and more. Living books are special. They’re books that provide children with excitement and new ideas – often heroic ideas, which shape their minds and expand their spirits.

As opposed to textbooks, we want to use living books. Books abounding with storiesBoth children and adults have trouble remembering lists of facts; but stories are memorable.  They incite the imagination and they immerse children in different cultures and times. They can strengthen values and build character. Stories can be life-changing.


What is Narration?

Charlotte Mason didn’t stop at just reading the stories, however.  Ms. Mason believed that knowledge is not appropriated by the student until it is told back, or narrated Beginning with short snatches of simple stories, teachers are to read a short paragraph once. Then have students tell back or “narrate” what they have heard.

Teaching narration and practicing it regularly is the simplest way to discover what your children are learning.

Narration, according to Ms. Mason:

  • is a natural ability inherent in children that is awakened by excellent literature
  • engages children’s minds such that information they read is considered, meditated upon and then is given back with some of the children’s own thoughts (assimilation)
  • helps students understand and retain information about which they read
  • should be used as a primary method of learning across the subjects


When to Teach Narration

When the child is six, not earlier, let him narrate the fairy-tale which has been read to him, episode by episode, upon one hearing of each; the Bible tale read to him in the words of the Bible; the well-written animal story; or all about other lands from some such volume… 


Ms. Mason believed that short narrations should start by age six, over lighter, but classic, short episodes of literature, including the Bible.  Perfect literature for this purpose would be the short episodes of Aesop’s Fables (Stories for Young Children).


How to Teach Narration

Start with a paragraph at a time, and make sure to read through the selection consecutively.

The next day, before starting the next narration/lesson, engage your student in a brief chat about yesterday’s lesson, affording your student a short period of review.  Ms. Mason suggested a few anticipatory comments about today’s lesson as well. This was to encourage your child to be ready to eagerly listen to what be coming next.

As students grow in age and practice, they may be able to begin to narrate a short chapter in a history or science book. This might be around age eight or nine.  At that age, a few comments after the narration may be helpful to identify and emphasize the moral elements of the passage.

In the case of history or science reading, perhaps a chart or diagram might be drawn on the board to identify or clarify the elements to remember from the passage, or to illustrate a scientific principle. You also might write a few challenging words for your student to see while he’s narrating.  For example, if your student is narrating over something you read about the life cycle of a frog, you might write:

  • metamorphosis
  • larva
  • tadpole
  • froglet
  • amphibian


Expect a Learning Curve

If narration is a new activity in your home, it is important to allow for a learning curve.  It is not necessary for your child to narrate every passage that she reads or is read to her. Often it’s best to read a chapter or two of a book before beginning narrations , to build interest and help your student’s immersion into the story.

Also be sensitive to your children’s natural gifts. You might have a child that takes easily to narration and one that struggles.  This is normal.  It  doesn’t mean the one who does it more easily is “smarter” or the other not as smart. For the one that struggles, provide more practice over easier passages, especially in the beginning!

If your child does not want to narrate, well, we all have to do things we don’t want to do, right?  Stay positive, enthusiastic, encouraging, and keep them short. 🙂


Do I Correct Faulty Information?

What do I do when my child narrates incorrectly?  This is a common question!  A few strategies for dealing with this are below.

Most importantly, it’s better not to interrupt a narration with corrections.

  • Only after praising what was positive about a narration and after encouraging a child for his efforts, gently make necessary corrections.
  • If you notice a repeated grammatical error, such as a double negative, incorrect subject-verb agreement, etc., make a note to cover that area later during a language arts lesson.
  • If your student has many details to remember, such as difficult names, dates, or places, again, it may be helpful make a list of those things on a white board before the narration.


Written Narrations

Fortunately, there are other forms of narration other than oral ones as your kids get older and more experienced with narration.  Although it is always best to begin with oral narrations for the younger children. But feel free to have a younger student draw a picture illustrating what was just read rather than do an oral narration.

Another option, especially for the older student (10 or 11 on up) is to provide a written narration over what they have either had read to them or over what they have read independently.  Sometimes the easiest way to start written narrations is to have students not worry too much about grammar and punctuation until they have written down everything they remember. Then during their next day’s writing lesson they can go back and clean things up a little.

Written narrations over reading are excellent for middle and high school students, too!  There’s a fantastic benefit to your upper grade children writing about what they read about in history, science, math and/or language arts!


Narrations over Art and Music

Students can narrate not only from books, they may also narrate over art work and music.  As with all narration, this may be either oral, written or in picture form.  Some ideas about picture study narration can be found here. Narration over music can be accomplished merely by playing a stirring piece of music and then asking your student to tell about what story they could imagine taking place in the music.  Alternatively, they could also be asked to draw a picture over what they heard in the music.

An added benefit of regular narration in those early years is that it helps order children’s minds and prepares them for formal composition lessons once they reach the appropriate age.  The more exposure they have to hear, read and narrate excellent children’s literature, the more prepared they will be when it becomes time for them to write.

Narration is such a powerful teaching tool that I hope you’ll give it a try! It’s never too late to start!  Just remember to begin slowly with short, simple passages.  After a few months of regular practice you’ll be amazed at your students’ recall!

If you’d like to start or you’ve been narrating a while, how’s it working for you? Tell me in the comments!



  • Need educational resources for Martin Luther King's birthday? | Epi Kardia Blog | Jan 20, 2014 at 3:32 am

    […] just a section of the letter and have your children narrate […]

  • Should You Homeschool - 5 Questions to Ask and Answer | Epi Kardia Blog | Dec 24, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    […] expect your homeschooling to look just like public school.  It is okay just to spend time just reading and talking about what is read, especially if your children have had a difficult school experience to heal […]

  • G.F. | Nov 12, 2009 at 5:23 pm

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  • Dana | Nov 12, 2009 at 3:20 pm

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  • Fruitfulvine2 | Nov 12, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    Hi Dana,
    Stopped by to say hi. Enjoy your evening. Very informative posts you have here on this blog.

  • Dana | Nov 9, 2009 at 3:37 pm

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  • Christin | Nov 9, 2009 at 2:57 pm

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