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language arts lessons from living books

15 Creative Language Arts Lessons Using Living Books

  |   Charlotte Mason Mondays, Curriculum, Language Arts, Lesson Plan, Teaching - all grades, Teaching Elementary School, Teaching High School, Teaching Middle School, Teaching Writing   |   6 Comments

If you homeschool the Charlotte Mason way, you’ve often heard that narration is the activity to do after reading books.

Narration is great, but did you know that there are many other ways to make creative language arts lessons using living books?

Yes, narration is probably the easiest thing for you to assign. And it’s one of the most profitable activities for most students. But in Volume 3 of the Charlotte Mason series, Charlotte offered us several other ideas for teaching language arts using the books you are using to teach history, science, and literature.

But this [narration] is only one way to use books: others are to enumerate the statements in a given paragraph or chapter; to analyse a chapter,  divide it into paragraphs under proper headings,  tabulate and classify series; 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 Mason, Volume 3, Chapter 16


Oh, if you’re going to need to read this post if you’re new to the whole narration thing.



15 creative language arts lessons using living books

You might have a child who has a tough time with auditory memory. (Yes, that’s a thing.)

Or maybe your kids would enjoy more of a variety of assignments than just oral narration.

In either case, here are fifteen creative ideas to change things up a bit. And even better, you can learn or review language arts concepts at the same time. Most of these ideas are appropriate for elementary school, but a few are perfect for middle and even high school.

  1. Have your student take reading notes over a passage. The length of the passage is determined by the age of your student (and the difficulty of the passage). Start with simple passages if you are teaching your child to take reading notes. Have her simply write down the important statements in the passage.  (Example: each step in the lifecycle of a butterfly or frog for elementary)
  2. Choose a well-developed paragraph with a clear topic sentence. Type the passage in large point size, one sentence at a time with a few lines in between. Print and cut out each sentence.  Mix up the order of the sentences and have your student choose the topic sentence of the paragraph and put the sentences in order. Compare it with the original and discuss it. Use the paragraph for copy work. This practice is good for elementary or an older student who has a difficult time writing solid paragraphs.
  3. Find a sentence with many adjectives and prepare two versions for copy work:  the first as it is in print and the second leaving out the adjectives. Ask your student to describe the differences in the two sentences. Talk about describing words, or adjectives, and discuss different examples.  Have her use the sentence for copy work with the adjectives. Another day have her circle the adjectives in the initial sentence, and then copy the sentence inserting her own (different) adjectives.
  4. Choose simple sentences of text and write/type each sentence on its own line with spaces in between.  Leave out either the subject or the predicate of several sentences.  Look at the original complete sentences in print with your student, and after a short verbal lesson (an example of this kind of lesson, and a week of these lessons is here) on subjects/predicates, have your child tell which part is missing and create an appropriate subject or predicate.
  5. For your kindergarten or primary student: Prepare a sentence of text for copy work.  Point out capitalization and end punctuation. Have your student copy the sentence. Another day have your student create her own sentence using the original sentence(s) as a guide.
  6. Choose and prepare sentence(s) from your science or history books for copy work to reinforce a history/science concept. Have your student use the sentence for copy work.  Later, use the same text for dictation. A few days after, check to see if your student remembers the concept without looking at his copy work/dictation.
  7. Decide on a punctuation skill that you would like to reinforce, such as commas in a series, quotation marks, apostrophe usage, past or future tense, etc. Find a short passage in one of your literature, history or science books that exemplifies that skill.  Use the passage for copy work one day and dictation later.
  8. Choose a paragraph that includes a part of speech that you are teaching, such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, prepositional phrases, etc.  Using a colored pencil, have your child circle all the <nouns, for example.>.  For older children or for review, have your student use different colors to mark different parts of speech and circle some, put a box around others, etc. Make sure to give clear instructions and have your student create a “key” at the bottom of the page.
  9. For extra practice, use the copy work above but have your student use different nouns, etc. Discuss how this changes the sentence(s). For late middle and high school students, discuss the ‘mood’ of a piece and have your student create a different mood than the original by their choice of adjectives.
  10. Have your student find ten interesting adjectives in the newspaper or a magazine and cut them out. Have her write additional sentences using those adjectives. (Elementary or middle school, although I probably would just have a middle schooler write them down on a running list.)
  11. Type a paragraph of text, joining some of the sentences to make run-on sentences. After a short verbal lesson on run-on sentences, have your child identify them, and then write correct sentences. Use the corrected piece for copy work. (Elementary or middle school, if your middle schooler has trouble with that concept.)
  12. Using a literature book, choose a passage with examples of several precise verbs. Use this passage for copy work. Another day, use a previously written passage of your student’s. Have him circle the verbs used and discuss ideas for improvement with more precise verbs. Have him rewrite the passage. (All ages)
  13. Using a well-written book, have your middle or high school level student take a chapter or more, and create an outline. This type of lesson is especially helpful for helping your older student learn how to organize his writing.
  14. Copy a paragraph/passage of text. Change it: misspell words, make the punctuation incorrect, or leave it out, make capitalization errors, etc.  Have your student correct.  Then have your student do the same thing above for you to correct. (Sometimes fixing someone else’s “work”  is much more interesting than creating one’s own.)
  15. Copy or create a passage of text with “tired” words such as good, nice, bad, really, said, big, small. Have your student rewrite the passage, using “wow” words. (Example: tiny vs. small) Use a thesaurus to find more words as necessary.


These creative methods are powerful and productive ways to teach language arts using living books.

Especially if your kids are used to worksheets, you’re going to be amazed at how well these methods work.  Kids can figure out how to do worksheets in a snap. But in my experience in teaching writing, worksheets do not improve students’ actual writing.

On the other hand, these types of exercises are powerful and productive methods for teaching language arts. And that’s why we use them in our curriculum.

Do you see how using one or more of these ideas would give your language arts lessons more variety and/or more depth?

Which of these 15 ideas for using literature in your language arts lessons sounds intriguing to you?


Happy teaching,

setting homeschool goals



This post was recently updated and republished.

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language arts lessons using real books

  • Heidi Miller-Ford | Jul 18, 2019 at 2:32 pm

    I love these alternative ideas! My son had a horrible time with narration and these would have been wonderful! I am starting narration with my girls this year and am going to keep this for reference.

    • Dana | Jul 22, 2019 at 8:03 pm

      Thank you, Heidi! Not everyone narrates easily. I was so surprised when I reread CM’s passages about narration and found she had listed so many alternatives. I’m so glad my post was helpful to you.

  • Melinda | Nov 27, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    These are great ideas! I had never thought of any of them. I just always did copy work and hoped my boys made the connection. I did not know how to join L.A. And copy work together. Thank you for this blog post.

    • Dana | Dec 3, 2014 at 3:16 pm

      Hi Melinda,
      You’re welcome! Glad to have added some spice to your copywork lessons. 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  • Literature is essential to learning | Sep 2, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    […] Literature supports all areas of your language arts curriculum. […]

  • Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival – School Books and How to Use Them | Train up a Child Publishing Blog | Jun 18, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    […] other methods to use as alternatives or along with narration, see 15 Creative Language Arts Lessons Using Living Books, also on this […]

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