Monday, January 08, 2007

Yes, there is a time to correct written narrations.

Narration, the art of telling back a story, is, in my opinion, the least painful and most interesting method for a child to learn how to write well. Oral narration is a necessary precursor to writing because it teaches a child to organize his thoughts. As a child retells, he must be able to reconstruct an account from beginning to end, placing the events in correct order. He begins with an introductory statement, sometimes describing the characters, and often ends his little narrative with a concluding statement, simply because the story did so. This oral repetition teaches a child a very important step in the writing process without actually having to spend part of his mental energy on forming correct letters. We save that skill for copywork times, when he can devote his full energy to letter formation and neatness.

Once a child has learned to organize his thoughts and retell them, he can then move on to written narration. Written narration CAN be a very effective means of teaching a child to write well, but it does not guarantee a good writer. If your child has filled a notebook with written narrations, but you have never critiqued them, then his writing will most certainly be lacking in various areas. It WILL improve, no doubt, and this is one of the wonderful benefits of narration, but in order to be an effective writer, the student needs not only a good model, but a guide to help him see and understand that which he, as an apprentice, cannot recognize on his own. He needs YOU.

If you are uncertain of your own writing skills, there is no need to be intimidated about this. You do not have to be a great writer to teach your child to write well. Narrating excellent literature will do much of the job. Your task is to fill in the gaps with simple tips. You will most likely notice many of them on your own, and will be able to find the rest within a simple writer's handbook. I feel that no homeschool should be without one.

IN OUR HOMEAround nine years of age, my child begins writing narrations. She begins with just a paragraph, once a week double-spaced on regular notebook paper. Double spacing helps to keep her thoughts organized and also provides space for little corrections later. The following term, she begins writing two narrations per week and so on if I feel she is ready. I almost always have my child read her narration aloud to me. If she is uncomfortable with this, I gently encourage her and we go to a private place where other family members can't hear. Inevitably, as she is reading, she notices an error or two on her own. I tell her to correct it and I compliment her narration. If I feel that she did her best then I say nothing more. It may be a very sad specimen indeed, but that's okay. My desire is for her to experience success during this initial second stage so that, first and foremost, she develops a sense of pleasure in writing, if not a love affair.

Gradually, I begin to critique her narrations. I usually just point out one or two areas for improvement. I don't use a red pen (yet) but just discuss it with her. For example, if she started out most of her sentences with AND, then I tell her that it is a good idea to use this word only occasionally in this way. Then I might say, "Let's think of another way to begin your sentence." She doesn't rewrite. She just files that little tip away and we go on. I secretly note her misspelled words and may even point out an obvious one to her. I add the words to her individualized spelling list for a quick dictation lesson later in the week, or if there is time, I do it right there on the spot using her mental camera and the dry erase board or a slip of paper.

When my children have had a solid year of written narration, I gradually become pickier, especially concerning the mechanics of writing. I generally use a red pen with my 11 and 13 year olds now, but I make sure that I don't cover the page with red marks, continuing to point out only a few items per narration. Sometimes, I may have them rewrite an awkwardly worded sentence or I may express that I would like to see a narration that is a bit longer next time. However, there are days when I don't grade them at all. Every narration need not be a lesson. In this way, my children gradually learn writing skills in an interesting, enjoyable manner. There are no contrived writing assignments, the lessons are short and the subject matter is something the child is already familiar with. I really don't spend hardly any time going over narrations, but I DO go over them and believe my little quick conferences with the children have greatly improved their writing skills.

Miss Mason recommended the practice of this method exclusively until the high school years. Then she introduced composition as a separate subject. This is when she began to teach the student how to write various kinds of essays. (Informative and Persuasive essays are a few examples.) If you are uncomfortable teaching these more complicated forms of writing, I suggest you buy a simple program for the upper years that is short and to the point such as something like Writing Strands, maybe Level 4 or 5. (But, it isn't necessary if you have your trusty writer's guide.) WS is not perfect, but the lessons are short and to the point, requiring a minimal amount of parental involvement. So many writing programs are extremely time consuming or begin with the notion that very young children must write creative and descriptive pieces when they are not even comfortable with a pencil yet. I do not recommend teaching formal composition until a child is at least 14.

one step at a time...


  1. Teaching writing has always been my weakness so I pretty much have stabbed in the dark with it. I tried a few writing programs but always dropped them after a month or so.

    As time has gone on, I have come to the same thinking that you have. Something happened in high school and my two older children became proficient writers despite my feeble attempts to teach them in the earlier grades. Maturity is so important in this subject and until then they really don't have too many original ideas to write about.

    Narrations, along with outlining, are the real backbones of my writing plan at this point. (both my younger boys are in middle school)They will occasionally decide to write a "paper" on a subject that interests them and I go ahead and let them. They usually do a pretty good job of it. In this case, they are deciding to do it on their own and they are interested in the topic. It seems more natural than to assign them a topic that I feel is interesting and expect them to come up with something to write about.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Harmony Art Mom

  2. Anonymous8.1.07

    what is the trusty writer's guide you referred to?
    thanks! Christy

  3. My 10 year old son is just starting to write short paragraphs. His oral narrations are done very well - a lot of details, language similar to the author, etc. His written narrations are full of sentences like "It was neat." I think this is a normal transition (I hope!), but how should it be handled? Correction? Gentle encouragement? Patience?


  4. I love your straight to the point postings! You give me so much guidance, I feel like you are a dear friend! Thank you!

    Here's an issue I'm having- I would love any outside wisdom you may have. My just barely 8 yods for the most part gives really good narrations, but he becomes uncomfortable about them when I try to write them/type them, which I only aim for doing about once a week. (We've been doing AO for 1 1/2 years.) Should I be writing them more? less? not in front of him? use a recorder? I don't want to be sneaky though, I want him to make the connection that his spoken words are a composition. What do you think?

    Thanks for your thoughts,
    Tiffany in Texas

  5. I'm so excited to see this wonderful post! I picked up Karen Andreola's "A Charlotte Mason Companion" this morning to re-read the chapter on narration so it's nice to hear it really works! Thank you for the tips!

  6. Barb, excellent thoughts. I concur with everything you said. My daughters enjoy keeping a blog for the very purpose of publishing their little essays they make up on their own time. I think having an audience is a wonderful motivator.

    I didn't mention a particular writer's guide because mine is nothing special so I don't have a preference. I've heard Writer's Inc is good and The Little Brown Handbook (it's old) Modern guides often have politically correct, often lame essays, but I use the book for myself, not for my children. I'm saving The Elements of Style for my students to read on their own when old enough. (Next year)

    Rhonda, it is normal for the written narrations to be drastically shorter than the oral ones. Writing is hard work!

    I encourage my children, from the very beginning to try to sound like the author.(I'm not talking about memorization, here, just vocabulary) In fact, sometimes I give an m&m for every vocabulary word used that the author used. Very fun and it really works.

    If my daughter wrote 'neat' I would not let that slide, but ask her if she can imagine the author writing that way. Of course, the author would never speak like that, and my daughter would most likely laugh at herself for using it; lesson learned. (My kids have done the same thing with other words)Gentle Encouragement

    Tiffany, why do you want him to make the connection that his spoken words are composition? Kids don't care. I think writing down the narrations is time consuming. As a newbie with CM years ago, I tried that and my kids did not like it at all. I asked myself why I was doing it. Because someone told me to. Well, that reason wasn't good enough, so I stopped. Miss Mason didn't do this. I think some mothers do this because they want documentation to show to officials. I suppose you would need to do this every once in awhile if you lived in a strict state or country. I only record narrations during exam week. My kids love the POWER of controlling the tape recorder and hearing their voices. It's a treat.

    Oh, and thank you for the encouraging word, Tiffany and Kelli. I'm happy to hear the posts are helpful to you.

  7. Debbie9.1.07

    Thank you once again for a very helpful and informative post. I really appreciate that so much of your discussion of what you do in your own home shows a great deal of thought and reasoning behind it. It is so very helpful! I have not used narration regularly to date, but I believe it would be a helpful reinforcement of learning for my children. Thanks again!

  8. Anonymous10.1.07

    Do you have them narrate after every reading? I have read differing opinions on this. Thank you.

  9. Laura, that's a good question. I remember searching for the same answer. Miss Mason did not have the children narrate every reading. They took turns. I do the same, not only because she did it this way but because I think it would be tedious for the child. My kids do give some kind of output in narrative style for most of their books but the additional reading list is strictly for enjoyment. No narrations required. We do all kinds of narrating- skits, summaries, detailed retellings, drawing, poetic, etc... but the majority of narrations are oral or written retellings. I will try to post about this at another time.

  10. I like to prioritize narrations, too. Usually history and science readings are always narrated somehow because I feel they are very important. Literature is sometimes skipped depending on what it is.

  11. Anonymous11.1.07

    Thank you, Linda. These were my thoughts, as well. Enjoy your day!