If you homeschool using Charlotte Mason methods, 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?
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Yes, narration is often the easiest thing for you to assign. And it’s one of the most profitable activities for many 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
So you have lots of options for creating language arts lessons using real books that don’t include standard oral narration.
And if you are going to bring your children’s homeschool education to life, you need to vary their assignments instead of just relying on one method to evaluate your kids’ learning.
How to teach 15 Non-narration language arts lessons using living books.
You might have a child who has a really hard time with auditory memory. Yes, that’s a thing. One of mine was excellent at narration and one had a harder time with it, especially orally. That’s one reason I used other types of learning evaluation with this student other than just oral narration.
Do you have one child who has a really hard time with oral narration? Or maybe your children would just enjoy more of a variety of assignments than just narration.
In either case, here are 15 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.
- Have your student take reading notes over a passage (length of the passage is determined by the age of your student and the complication of the passage), writing down the important statements in the passage. (Example: each step in the lifecycle of a butterfly or frog for elementary)
- 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 your child’s version with the original and discuss it. Use the paragraph for copy work. This is good for elementary or an older student who has a difficult time writing solid paragraphs.
- 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 your child use the sentence for copy work with the adjectives. Another day have your student circle the adjectives in the initial sentence, and then copy the sentence inserting different adjectives.
- 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. Examine 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.
- 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.
- Choose and prepare sentence(s) from your science or history books for copy work to reinforce a history or 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. We have science and history memory sentences like this provided in our Daily Lesson Plans.
- 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.
- 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. This is a fantastic review exercise for students who need to brush up on the parts of speech. (In other words, practically everyone.)
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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 student 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.)
- 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 your student wrote. Have him circle the verbs used and discuss ideas for improvement with more precise verbs. Have him rewrite the passage. (Fourth grade on up.)
- Using a well-written book, have your middle or high school level student take a chapter or more and create an outline. This is especially helpful for helping your older student learn how to organize his writing.
- 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 it. Then have your student do the same thing above for you to correct. (Sometimes correcting someone else’s “work” is much more interesting than creating one’s own.)
- 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. If you’re using our Unit Program Tools, you’re used to keeping a list of “Tired Words” with their “Wow Words” substitutes.
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 language arts lessons using real books work. My kids could figure out how to do worksheets in a snap without really learning anything, it seemed! In fact, in my experience teaching writing and in my own homeschooling, worksheets do not improve students’ actual writing.
On the other hand, language arts lessons such as the examples above are powerful and effective methods for teaching writing and grammar. 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?
Narration is great, but if you’d like to vary your lesson plans a bit, try using one or more of these Creative Language Art Lessons using the great books your children are reading for history, science, and literature.
So if you only do oral narration, change it up. You’ll be glad you did!