That’s it? That’s all you have to do?
Said my friend who was in her second year of homeschooling. (She started her first year using a textbook curriculum with lots of questions her children were supposed to answer after their reading. And they hated it.)
She couldn’t believe how simple my suggestion was. How much less time it took. And how little preparation it needed.
And you know me…I believe you can bring your kids’ homeschool education to life while still taking care of your other responsibilities. So I am all for anything you can do to maximize your time by making your homeschooling more effective.
My tip? Teach your kids how to narrate. And use their narrations to evaluate how much they understand and are retaining.
If this is new to you, keep reading. By the end of this post, you’ll know exactly how to teach narration.
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.
And not only does narration tell you what your children have learned. The practice of narration HELPS your children learn.
Here’s when and how 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.
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. Let’s start there.
What kind of books should you be narrating from in your homeschool?
The foundation of a lifegiving, Charlotte Mason (or classical) education is excellent literature. Ms. Mason and her followers call this specific kind of literature living books. “Living” books are written by authors who are knowledgeable and passionate about their subjects.
During your homeschooling years, one of your goals is to expose your children to many living books. Books they read individually and books that you read aloud to them. Books that you use to teach them history, science, fine arts, character, and much more.
These are the kinds of books we use in all of Train up a Child Publishing Curricula, by the way!
What’s so special about “living” books?
Living books are special. They’re books that provide children with excitement, inspiration, and new ideas – often heroic ideas, which shape their minds and build their character.
Living books are remembered. My children in their late twenties and thirties still remember books from when they were still in the single digits! That’s a long time!
Living books aren’t dumbed down. They aren’t books with no real information, dull stories, or no real plot. Charlotte Mason called these kinds of books “twaddle.”
Doesn’t this remind you of a lot of 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 not talking about the Lord of the Rings, of course! My son and I love, love, love those!
Have you seen this quote from C.S. Lewis about good books?
Unfortunately, textbooks are not considered living books, because they can be so stripped down to the bare 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 even be life-changing.
But Charlotte Mason didn’t stop at just reading good stories, and neither should we. We should teach our kids how to narrate over their reading.
Practicing narration helps children assimilate information.
Ms. Mason believed that knowledge is not assimilated by students until it’s told back, or narrated. Yo teach your kids narration, begin with short snatches of simple stories. You simply tell your student you are going to read a few sentences to a paragraph one time. And then let your child know that he or she is going to tell back or “narrate” what he just 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 remember information about which they read
- should be used as a primary method of learning across the subjects
Narration is one of the best ways I know to encourage children to truly focus on what they are reading and be able to understand and remember it. Knowing you are going to be asking for regular narrations over their reading will read with a lot more attention than they might be used to!
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…
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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).
Also, short passages in the Bible, especially parables or stories, are useful young children learning to narrate.
How to Teach Narration
Again, start with a short 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. This few minutes of review and anticipatory comments about what is coming is called priming, and it works with the way your kids’ brains are wired and helps them learn. Read more about priming here.
Practice narration regularly.
You don’t have to ask your child to narrate over everything that she reads, or to everything you read aloud to your kids. But make sure you have your kids narrate regularly, once every day or so, until they are comfortable being asked for a narration.
As students grow in age and practice, they may be able to begin to narrate even a short chapter in a history or science book. This might be around age nine.
Note that if you’re reading a story with a moral component, you might want to make a few comments after the narration of a story if it’s evident that your new narrator didn’t quite get that part.
You can also ask children to provide a narration after an event, like a field trip. “What do you remember about visiting the water treatment plant today?” might be a low-key, conversational way to ask for an impromptu narration. And it’s a great way to informally practice narration.
Other types of questions for informal narrations might include:
- What was that movie about?
- Tell me about your friend’s birthday party.
- What happened in Sunday School today?
- Tell me about the most exciting part of that book.
Ideas for history and science narrations
In the case of history or science reading, sometimes it’s helpful to put a difficult 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:
Expect a learning curve when you’re first teaching narration.
If narration is a new activity in your home, it’s 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, please 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 I read. 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. It may never be easy for the one who finds narration difficult, but always praise the effort and reassure that everything gets better with practice. And sometimes the child who struggles will excel with other types of narration: such as written narration over what has been read instead of what has been heard.
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 wrong information when teaching narration?
But what do you do when your 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 particular narration and encouraging a child for his efforts, can you 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’s perfectly okay to make a list of those things on a whiteboard before the narration.
How to teach other types of narration
How to teach 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 you can also occasionally have a younger student draw a picture”showing” what he just read or heard rather than do an oral narration.
Another option, especially for older students (10 or 11 on up) is to provide a written narration over what they have either had read to them or over what they’ve read independently.
The easiest way to start teaching your kids how to do written narrations is to instruct them not to worry about grammar and punctuation until they have written down everything they remember.
Then afterward or during their next day’s writing time they can go back and clean things up.
Written narrations over reading are excellent for middle and high school students, too! In fact, there’s a fantastic benefit to your upper-grade children speaking or writing about what they read about in history, science, math, and language arts! For example:
- Tell me about the steps you are going to take to solve that algebra problem.
- What do you remember about the Battle of Gettysburg that you read about today?
- Tell me what the “setting” is of a story, and then describe the setting of To Kill a Mockingbird.
By the way, I want to underscore that narration is useful in math. If you are struggling to get a student to understand a math concept, work on getting your child to explain it to you. This will help you pinpoint where the problems are so you know how to help.
How to teach narrations over Art and Music
Students can narrate not only from books, but they may also narrate over artwork and music. I know that might seem a little strange to you, but narrating over art and music will help your student really focus on what she is seeing and hearing.
Basically, this is how to teach narration over art and music:
- Tell your child that you are going to have her listen to a piece of music or study a painting.
- Also let her know that after she does that, she will tell you (or write about) about the painting or what she heard in the music.
- Keep in mind you are also doing music study when you choose a composer to listen to for a unit, a twelve-week term, or a semester. You could have weekly focused listening times, but you’ll also want to play this composer’s music frequently in the background of other activities (as I mentioned before) such as chore time, mealtime, etc.
- The same goes for picture study. Just having the artwork of a particular artist displayed for a period of time (a unit, term, or a semester) helps your students become familiar with that artist. Weekly focused conversations will be the time for narrations.
See more details about how to teach narration over art and music in the links below.
As with all narration, your student can narrate orally, write a narration, or draw a picture for his narration. You can also have your younger children simply move to the music!
Another benefit of teaching narration: early narrations help get your children ready to write.
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 teach and practice regularly in your homeschool! 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 might amaze you!
P.S. If you’d like additional tips about how to turn your homeschooling from boring to lifegiving, get my 10 Best Hacks for Lifegiving Homeschooling (without Losing control of Your House)!