Posts Tagged ‘Narration’

Three Big Ideas about Narration

Dear Reader,

I can’t really take credit for these ideas. They are al things I gleaned from the reading for my local Charlotte Mason discussion group. But then again that’s very CM of m, isn’t it? To get ideas from living books (and living blog posts — can you have living blog posts??) is what it’s all about.

Three Big Ideas  about Narration

  1. We don’t teach them to think; we give them something to think about. Charlotte was a firm believer that kind are born fully formed. Unlike her contemporaries, she did not see kids as blank slates or as beings whose faculties need t be developed. They are born able to think and, as they learn to speak, able to narrate. In fact, narration comes quite naturally to kids. When they do something fun or watch a movie they like, they want to talk about it endlessly. That is narration. Charlotte did not invent a new thing with narration; she harnessed a power kids already have. Our job is to provide something meaty for them to chew upon. We give them god materials (living books, fine art, etc.) so that they have something worthwhile to narrate.
  2. Narration is about what you know, not what you don’t know. The modus operandi of schools today is for the adults to decide what it important and then ask to demand the children regurgitate it. Fill-in-the-blanks, true and false, reading comprehension questions all ask kids to tell us what we think is important. And if they can’t, they are deficient. Narration says not “let me look for what you don’t know” but “tell me what you do know.” It values what children do take from the material, even if it is not what we think they should take.
  3. A narration creates something new; narration is interpretation. No two people will narrate the same passage the same way. As we visualize a story, we may see the characters differently. We will get different things from a passage. And as we retell, we will make connections with what we already know and add our own unique spin to whatever we are telling.


Samples of Oral Narrations

Dear Reader,

As a follow up to this recent post on written narrations, I am attempting to share some of my children’s oral narrations. They are audio files in a drop box which you can find here (hopefully this works!). I will add a few more as I get them. It is good to see examples of both; oral narrations tend to be much more complete than written ones, especially in the younger years. If you have your kids’ narrations, in either form, feel free to link to them in the comments or send them to me and I’ll post them so we can all see what narrations looks and sounds like. Share the bad ones too! The goal is not to show off or make others feel their kids’ efforts aren’t up to snuff but to give an accurate picture of what a given age child may do.


Sample Narrations

Dear Reader,

One big question Charlotte Mason homeschoolers seem to have is “What should a xx grade narration look like?” I thought I would share some of my kids’ narrations and I invite you to do the same. Send them to me and I’ll post them. Put them in your blog and post a link. Oral and written narrations from the same child tend to be very different; it is much easier to say a lot than to write a lot so ideally, I’d like to post my kids’ oral narrations as well. Anybody know how I can do that?

To start us off, here are two written narrations from my brand new 6th grader (sorry — I know the picture quality is bad but I put it in so you can get a sense of the handwriting):



“Teddy Rosevelt got married and went to law school. He got really sick and went to a spa for the summer. Then he went to the Wild West to get a buffalo before they were all gone. It took him a couple monthes, but he got one. THE END.”

Obviously, I am giving you what she wrote without editing. That’s part of the point — let’s see what kids are really doing. Don’t just give me their best examples! Let’s see the worst too. Her oral narrations are much longer and more detailed. And the copywork she did on the same day had beautiful, well-spaced handwriting. That has not carried over into narrations yet.

A slightly better example:



“the Cuthberts lived at Green Gables

Mrs. Rachel saw Matthew Cuthbert going off in his carriage, in a suit, and she went over after tea to see why, and Marilla Cuthbert said it was because he was going to pick up an orphan. Mrs. Rachel wondered why Merilla did not tell her. then Marilla said that they had thought about it all winter and decided to get one. It was a boy of ten or eleven, old enough to be usefull, but young enough to be trained up right. Mrs. Rachel told her about some horror stories about orphans being adopted. then Mrs. Rachel went up the street to spread the news. THE END”

I had previously posted some examples of narration from 9th grade and 10th grade. Here’s one from my now 11th grader (16yo):

“The story started out with a lieutenant named Roger Keyes going out for a walk with some men. He had been trying to capture a fort for a while, so he decided to go look at it from a different side. When he approached it he found it to be deserted with the doors wide open. He and his men went in and realizing they did not have enough men to man the fort, they detonated all the ammunition in the fort, making it useless.

That was part of the Boxer Rebellion. It took place in China cause the Chinese were unhappy.”
He types up and e-mails me narrations. It’s rather short for one of his efforts. It was just the introduction to a book.
And the 10 grader (14yo):
      “There was a scientist named Henry Cavindish. He hated people. He wouldn’t even see his servants at all during the day. He did experiments and discovered hydrochloric acid. Hydrochloric acid reacts with metal and when the acid touches metal the metal releases its hydrogen.
      Hydrogen is the lightest element (that was discovered then. Some scientists made a system where the weight of hydrogen was 1 and all other elements were relative to that. Oxygen was 12 and mercury was 200. Now there is a system where carbon is 12 and the other elements are given weights relative to that.
      A minister named Joseph Priestly discovered that if you put hydrogen dioxide in a drink, it becomes fizzy.
      Oxygen is an element that is abundant. Oxygen makes other chemicals burn better.
      Nitrogen is an element used in explosives. It explodes easily. It is also used in fertilizer. Plants suck it from the soil, but not from the air. It is good to also plant something like peanuts, which can pull nitrogen from the air and put it back in the soil.
      One scientist invented an abbreviation system for the elements.  Most elements start with their first letter like Oxygen (O), Hydrogen (H), and Nitrogen (N). Some start with the first two letters like Cobalt (Co). Some use letters from their Latin name like Gold (Au) and Silver (Ag).
Okay– it’s your turn now! Share your narrations with a link in the comments or send them to me and I’ll add them


Sample Narrations (9th Grader)

Dear Reader,

My older two often type up their written narrations. The problem with my 9th grader is she rarely actually prints them out. I told her she had to this past weekend or else she wouldn’t get snack. So I ended up with about a million narrations, all patched together in one long document. Below is a short excerpt covering three subjects to give you an idea of what a 9th grader can do. I haven’t edited it; all mistakes are hers, though I suspect more are typos than outright mistakes.


There is a famous painter named Titian. He has only a half dozen paintings that we know he painted. He is said to be one of the best painters ever.

He has a painting called the Concert. It is a strange painting because you can’t figure out what the people are doing. The two men are said to e in contrast because they are opposites. One is rich and the other is poor. The women are supposed to be nymphs or spirits in human form.

John Wilkes Booth was from a famous family of actors. They were the first real actors in America. He was the youngest and they called him Johnny. He had two brothers named Edwin and Junius Brutus and a sister named Asia. He was a normal child. When he got older he became very anti-north and pro-south. He was extremely racist and hated Abraham Lincoln. His ideas were not strange for the time but he was more firm in his ideas.

He was a very good actor. He was very handsome and women always gathered by his dressing room door. He was pretty famous.

The rest of his family was in favor of the north. Once he said something about the north must fall and his sister said “but we ARE the north.” We know a lot about John Wilkes Booth because his sister Asia wrote his biography after he died.

Johnny had always hated Lincoln, but once Lincoln’s son, Robert, was leaning against a train. The train started to move and Robert fell between the platform and the train. A man pulled him out and the man’s name was Edwin Booth.

Johnny booth had a big group of followers who all wanted to get rid of Lincoln. Originally they jus wanted to kidnap him. Booth had the opportunity to shoot him at his second inauguration. Once they made plans to kidnap him, but they realized that Lincoln had sent another man in his place who was also wearing a top hat because Lincoln didn’t feel well.

When the south lost the war, Booth got angry and decided to kill Lincoln because Lincoln had destroyed his “country.” Booth was not the only one who hated Lincoln. Lincoln was a very unpopular president. All the southerners hated him and a lot of republicans did too. They thought he wanted to make the black people rule over the white people. They trained their children to hate him. One little boy was handed a picture of Lincoln and he threw it on the ground and started punching it.

Lincoln did not do a very good job guarding himself. He often went unguarded. He said that if someone really wanted o kill him then they wound get around a bodyguard and they would do it anyway.

Protoazoas are small things. They are alive. They are footprint-shaped. When they reproduce, they separate into two baby protoazoas. The Zoa part of protoazoa means “animal.” It is like the word “zoo.”

Algaes are in the same kingdom as protoazoas. They are usually in the water, although there are some land algaes. Lichen is algae sandwiched in between two fungis.

The word protozoa is plural. The singular word is protoazoan.

There were tow scientists who discovered protoazoas. They liked to make miroscopes.

The most deadly protoazoa disease is malaria. It is deadly because we don’t have a cure for it.

The protoazoas and the algaes and some other things are in the kingdom of Protista.

Another Example of a Written Narration

Dear Reader,

Since the last one was short, I thought I’d give you another example of a written narration from my 10th grader. What I liked in this one is that he refers to a character from a read-aloud we are doing (that’s the “Lady Ashton”). I also like that he adds a personal tone by giving his own conclusions and opinions. What I don’t like is that he says “had went.” I hope he knows better than that; I know he doesn’t talk that way. I’ll try to give samples from my other kids in the near future too so you can compare how narrations look at different ages. One last note before I give you the narration: this child mentioned recently that he reads differently when he knows he has to narrate. I am not sure quite what that means but I think it is what we are looking for here. I will say that even accounting for age he is by far my best narrator. It is amazing to me what he can remember even from long passages. Though this narration is long, his oral ones can be even longer and more detailed.

Here then is the narration:

     John Brown’s friends who helped him at Harper’s Ferry were rounded up and brought on trial.  Four of them were tried together.  Two of them had no clue what was going to happen after they got the guns.  All four were sentenced to death.  Another man who had taken serious injuries had to wait before he was tried.  He was also hanged.  There was another man who managed to get away from the police for a while, but he was arrested and tried and he was hanged on the same day as the sick man.  But if my numbers are correct, two managed to run away and somehow make it to safety.
John Brown has some rich friends who had helped him get guns back in Massachusetts and were mentioned in a lot of John Brown’s letters.  When they realized Brown had left their letters to him lying around, most of them desired to run.  One went crazy, but he was fine in the end.  Another one gave his full support to John Brown’s ideas, from the safety of Italy.  He had went there on medical vacation, similar to the vacation Lady Ashton wants to go on.  He decided he would give Brown his full support, but he wanted to stay in Italy.  Three of them ran into Canada, but they were informed that they would not be prosecuted they decided they could go home.  One of them hung out in Canada for a little bit longer than the other ones, just to be safe.  Another one went to England and stayed there for two years before he thought it was safe.  And then there was the man who went about his normal business and thought all the other guys were wimps for leaving.
Many legends have come about because of John Brown’s death.  A bunch of southerners did not want Brown to be killed because of what it would do to the press.  Some northerners want John Brown to be killed because they realized John Brown knew how to work the press.  So, the southerners shouldn’t have killed him and they obviously couldn’t have let him go, so they should have put him in some absurdly remote dungeon for the rest of his life where he couldn’t write books or anything.
Many people became fired up by Brown’s death.  He did not end slavery like he wanted to but he cut away some of the roots of the tree of slavery.

Until next time



Dear Reader,

I am working on some longer posts but since I can’t seem to get them out in a timely fashion I thought I’d share with you one of my 10th grader’s written narrations. Feel free to size up your own kids in relation — I know I appreciate that sort of thing; it’s so hard as homeschoolers to know how we are doing. For a bit of perspective, he is narrating from a fairly un-living book and on a fairly short section. Oh, and he emailed it to me which makes it easy to share (I think because he was too lazy to go to a printer).

There are two branches of congress.  The first one we are looking at is the House of Representatives.
The House is the larger of the two branches and it is meant to be directly effected by the common people.  Until the seventeenth amendment it was the only part of the government directly elected by the people.  With two year terms the Representatives cycle in and out very quickly.  It is common to have many terms, few of which are consecutive.  This gives the Representatives time to pay attention their state.
With 435 people in the house it would be rather confusing if no one actually lead it.  Because of that the founding fathers made the Speaker of the House.  The Speaker of the House is elected by the majority party in the house.  Like everything else in the house, majority controls everything.  We will get into the job of the speaker next time.

Brief, I know. He is capable of longer ones. His oral narrations are super long.


IEW and CM

Dear Reader,

Since I had talked about the institute in Excellence for Writing (IEW) in another post, I thought I should actually look at it  a little and form a more considered opinion rather than relying on just what others have told me about it. In particular, I was interested in whether this curriculum is Charlotte Mason-friendly or not.

Having poked around a little, reading many articles on their website and looking at some of the samples of their materials, I do have a more favorable opinion of IEW but I also think that it is not for us.

I like that IEW does not throw children out on their own and say “write something creative.” Instead they do basically what we have been doing, they have children base their compositions on good writing. The end result that an IEW lesson aims for is a retelling of the passage that has been read. This is narration, isn’t it? Narration, first oral and then written, is the backbone of Charlotte Mason’s writing program (if you can call it that). Thus far, IEW does seem CM-friendly.

I had some concerns about the kinds of passages that IEW uses in its lessons. This was based on the remarks of a friend who used the program for a while. But having looked at IEW’s online samples, I think I was led a bit astray in my opinion of it. I believe my friend substituted her own passages and that she did not choose what I would call living materials. Based on the few samples I can see online, it does look like the selections IEW uses are decent. The early ones appear to be essentially fables, something which we have found excellent for early narration exercises. My one complaint about their choices might be that they are all taken out of context. If one were really diligent, I suppose one could use selections from books that were being read already so that it would not feel so much like children are getting a piece here and a piece there.

Where it all starts falling apart for me is in the getting from point A to point B bit. Starting with examples of living materials is great. The end result being the child’s own retelling of those materials is also great. But how do we get there? In Charlotte Mason’s approach, the answer is really just “narration.” The specific steps are not laid out for the child. There is a progression in that they hopefully begin young and narrate simple passages orally (Aesop’s fables again are a wonderful place to start). Then as they grow, they begin to do periodic written narrations. But there are really no steps in between. You read, you narrate. The child is not told to make an outline (though this could be a kind of narration one teaches at some point) or to use certain kinds of words (eg. adverbs). They are not told how to find the key points in a passage because the whole point is that they should tell you what was key or important or interesting to them. There is a lot of trust in the CM approach in the child’s inherent abilities to find what is key to them, to organize their thoughts and to be able to give a coherent narration. Perhaps early efforts will not be so coherent but they more they do it, the more they learn.

In my estimation, both approaches are trying to get to the same place, but IEW does not trust in the child’s abilities as CM does. It does not assume that the child can discern what is important or that they can order their thoughts on their own. I can see that for someone who has not regularly included CM-style narration, that a program like IEW could be really beneficial. If the child has not had practice narrating what they have read, with all the many mental tasks that involves, then they may not take naturally to writing, and IEW could fill in skills that they have not had the chance to develop. But my own opinion is still that it would be better to just begin narration, even at a late date, and to take the time to build skills that way.


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