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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   |   6 Comments

Narration is the practice of “telling back” what you’ve seen or heard.  This is one of the easiest and most effective evaluation methods there is. If your child hears something and narrates over what she’s read or heard, you’ll instantly know how well she understood it.   Here’s how to and when to teach narration to your children.

This is what Charlotte Mason said about narration:

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

Along with learning how to teach narration, it’s helpful to understand what kind of books your children should be reading and hearing you read.

The foundation of a Charlotte Mason or classical education is excellent literature.  Ms. Mason and her followers call this specific kind of literature living books

During your homeschooling years, one of your goals is to expose 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.

Alternatively, they’re not dumbed down. Books with no real information, dull stories, or no real plot. Charlotte Mason called these kinds of books “twaddle.”

This reminds me of many movie sequels. Sometimes a movie is a success, so they make three more with the same actors and try to continue the story from the first movie…but there’s hardly ever a captivating plot after the first movie. 

I’m also reminded of this quote about good books:

how to teach narration cs lewis quote



Unfortunately, textbooks are not considered living books, because they can be so stripped down to the facts that they lose their “color.” Generally, they are dry and unmemorable. Textbooks are valuable as references, but with our children, we want to focus on using living books.

Books abounding with stories It’s a fact that both children and adults have trouble remembering lists of facts.  But stories are memorable.  They incite the imagination and they immerse children in faraway cultures and long-ago times. They can strengthen values and build character.

Stories can be life-changing.

But Charlotte Mason didn’t stop at just reading good stories, and neither should we.


What is Narration?

Ms. Mason believed that knowledge is not assimilated by students until it’s 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’s 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 remember 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. Mashow to teach narration -start with Aesop's fableson 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).

Also, short passages in the Bible, especially parables or stories, are useful young children learning to narrate.



How to Teach Narration

Start with a paragraph at a time. Make sure you have your child’s attention and tell him that after reading for a minute or so, you’re going to let him tell you about what you read.

Then read straight through the selection once, without stopping, and ask him to tell you about what you read.  Then listen. Don’t correct.

The next day, before starting the next narration/lesson, briefly chat about yesterday’s lesson, providing your student with 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.


Practice narration regularly

You don’t have to ask your child to narrate over everything that he or you read. But do it regularly, once every day or so, until your student is comfortable with being asked for a narration.

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, if you’re reading a story with a moral component, a few comments after the narration of a story may be helpful. This way you can be sure to identify and emphasize the moral elements of the passage. Especially if your new narrator didn’t quite get that part.


History or Science Narrations

In the case of history or science reading, sometimes it’s helpful to put a tricky name or a new term on a whiteboard or a viewable piece of paper before your child narrates.

And especially in science, you could draw a chart or diagram 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


how to teach narration -mom praising daughter

Expect a learning curve when teaching narration

If narration is a new activity in your home, it is important to allow for a learning curve.

Again, it isn’t necessary for your child to narrate every passage that she reads.

One helpful strategy when beginning narration is to read a chapter or two of a book before beginning narrations.  This builds interest and helps your student’s immersion into the story. And remember to start teaching narration with short passages of stories.

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!

For example, I had one child that was more naturally an auditory learner and one who wasn’t. My more auditory child could effortlessly remember and repeat whatever was said. But not so for the other child!

Take those differences into consideration with your children.  Be especially encouraging with the one who struggles, and recognize and praise this child’s efforts to do a good job narrating.

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 narrations short. Especially in the beginning.


Do I Correct Faulty Information when teaching narration?

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 to make a list of those things on a whiteboard before the narration.


How to teach other types of 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 he just read or heard 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.

The easiest way to start written narrations is to have instruct students not to worry about grammar and punctuation until they have written down everything they remember.

Then afterward or during their next day’s writing lesson they can go back and clean things up.

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, but they may also narrate over artwork and music.

As with all narration, your student can narrate orally, write a narration or draw a picture for his narration.  You can find some ideas for picture narrations here.

Narration over music can be done merely by playing a stirring piece of music and then asking your student to tell about what story they could imagine taking place while listening to the music.  Alternatively, you could also ask they could draw a picture of “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 writing lessons once they reach the appropriate age.

The more exposure your children 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, your students’ recall could amaze you!

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

how to teach narration - dana


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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 | Jun 22, 2019 at 3:24 pm

      Hi Jennifer! Thank you for stopping by and for your kind comment. Please visit again soon. 🙂

  • Christin | Nov 9, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    Wow! This is fabulous! Thank you so much for sharing this. I just recently found your site through twitter. I think I randomly asked for CM homeschoolers and someone sent me your twitter handle and I followed your website here! 🙂 I’m so excited! I’m working on spreading the word about your site here because it’s so excellent! 🙂

  • Dana | Nov 9, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Well, thank you, Christin! I’m glad my site’s helpful to you and appreciate your sharing it with others!

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