I remember when we first started homeschooling our oldest. I, fortunately, didn’t know any better than to just pull together those materials I thought we needed. One of these gems was the first book in the Writing Strands series by Dave Marks. This little book focused on writing — “oral writing.” It was much later that I learned about Charlotte Mason and the benefits of narrating. And later still when I learned the role narration plays in a classical education.
Narrating, for those who are too young to write, employs all of the skills that we use in writing — but without the pencil — and is the second step on the road to language arts via the natural route.
The Benefits of Narrating
- Encourages us to think and to meditate, rather than to read passively.
- Forces us to organize what we have read (or what has been read to us).
- Develops our sequencing skills.
- Puts us in a mind-to-mind relationship with the author — his words become our words, his vocabulary becomes our vocabulary. Over time narrating develops our writing style.
- Covers critical thinking, reading comprehension, vocabulary, and other elements of reading.
- Is one way of interacting with what we have read — invaluable when it comes to owning the material.
- Encourages a child to learn for himself. There is no force-feeding narration! In fact, the opposite is occurring as the child is digging for the information himself.
With living books a child gains knowledge through his own effort. He digs out facts and information, and he expresses what he has learned by clothing it in literary (conversational) language — in short, by telling it back to you in his own words.
How to Use Narrating
There are multitudinous ways of approaching narration. But the easiest and most natural is to simply let a child tell you what he knows. So often, if we give our children our full attention, make eye contact, show a joy and appreciation for what they have to say, we won’t be able to stop the stream that pours forth! The best narrations are those that bubble up out of a child carried forward by his own exuberance. And these usually result from a child simply enjoying what he is reading.
He uses his memory, and he is attending deeply. But his own reactions and expressions are involved. It is a total human activity…. The child has acquired knowledge, and having expressed it creatively in his own words, he will be able to remember what he has learned.
If your child is new to narrating, begin by asking him to tell you about something he is very interested in — something that he has spent time investigating or reading about. We all find it much easier to tell someone else about something that we know well rather than something with which we are less familiar. In fact, we frequently judge how much someone knows about something by how much they can tell us about the subject.
As children get older, they may find narrations of various books, essays, and other material more difficult. Rather than asking them to tell or write a narration we can ask for something more specific or in a different form, or learn what their questions are. The result will be the same. As the mind works through the material, a writer is being formed.
- Make sure that a child that is required to narrate has quality literature to read.
- Don’t expect too much too soon. Narrating an entire book may be too much for a young child. On the other hand, asking a child to glean every detail from a paragraph or two would serve no one.
- Not all narrations have to be formal. As mentioned above, the best narrations are those that happen spontaneously. If your child can’t wait to tell you what happened in what he just read, listen up — and consider this the narration of the day!
- Don’t interrupt a narration. Our attitudes are important to the success or failure of future narrations. Instead listen attentively.
- After a narration has ended, rather than pointing out mistakes, ask clarifying questions. In this way, points of confusion can be cleared up by a simple discussion (and without negative consequences).
- If your child is “stuck,” think of alternative ways to ask for a narration. He can:
- Give an example.
We are looking at narration strictly from the point of view of its usefulness to developing writers and communicators (the goal of language arts in the curriculum). Down the road, narrations will lead to discussions. And those discussions will end up forming the backbone of an education that educates the whole child.
30 Narration Ideas
Simple ideas for mixing it up.
“Iron Sharpening Iron”
Yes, getting ahead of ourselves, but love this essay by Jeff Baldwin from TheGreatBooks.com! So many things here to relate to. Hope it gives you a vision for where things can go down the road.
6 Ways to Get the Most From Literature-Based Studies
A natural progression beginning with narration.
16 Prewriting Activities
Ideas that go right along with “oral writing.”
Narration: Tapping into the “Talking Resource”
Wonderful article from Karen Andreola that explains the in and outs of narration along with ideas for narration requests. Lots of inspiring ideas here!
The Charlotte Mason Approach
A bit more on narration.
Writing Strands: Level 1: An Introduction to the Wonders of Verbal Communication
Mentioned above, this small book is very different than the rest of the books in the Writing Strands series. Geared to ages 4–8, this book is full of ideas for interacting with your child including making up words, recognizing sounds, rhyming, finishing sentences, describing, finishing stories, recording conversations, and other fun oral writing activities. Ages ago, we enjoyed working through the activities one per week. (I would try to find this used so that the cost doesn’t exceed the benefits! The CD is not necessary.)