Monday, March 19, 2007

Detailed Narrations and The Summary

One of my children loves to give very detailed narrations. She can remember details so well that when she narrates, she sounds like the author. This is a wonderful natural ability. However, she shows a weakness in her ability to summarize a passage so that just the most important people and events are mentioned. My other daughter has the exact opposite strength and weakness. She summarizes beautifully but doesn't pay attention to details as much as she should. In order to strengthen their natural weaknesses, I teach them the difference between a summary and a detailed narration. I also demonstrate how to narrate a passage using either method. After a few trials, they understand. Now, my three oldest can narrate either way. I believe this is a very valuable thinking skill. It has carried over into their written narrations, as well, developing important composition skills.

If I really want my child to remember a passage, I require this type of narration (rather than a drawn, creative narration, or something else) because not all narrations are equal. Some forms require greater mental work than others, cementing the passage deeper into a child's mind. Generally, our history readings are narrated in this way because I think they are extremely important.

Whenever I ask for an oral narration from a young child, I don't specify what kind I want (detailed or summary). I have found that my child just needs to tell back in her own way for awhile until she is really comfortable narrating. I do, however, correct the 'ums' and any gross inaccuracies after she narrates. If she happens to enjoy giving very detailed narrations, I will warn her ahead of time that I will stop her in the middle of the narration. "...although it is a secret. You will not know when it will happen, so just keep narrating until I say, 'stop.'" So, detailed narrations don't have to have a tidy ending (and I don't have to listen to a huge epistle :- ).

You are probably already familiar with the bead technique (I did not come up with this idea), but I think I should mention it just in case it is new to someone. I like this idea so much. It is wildly popular in our homeschool. If you have two or more children narrating from the same book (maybe mom is reading aloud or both kids are on the same level), then you can give them a small bead of their favorite color. Put them behind your back and have a child choose a hand; whatever color is revealed, that bead's owner narrates for a few minutes until mom says stop. If mom continues reading the passage, or a new passage is read, again, the beads go behind mom's back and a child chooses. If it falls upon the same child who narrated before, then so be it. Never knowing who will narrate is what makes the children very attentive and the game so attractive.

one step at a time...


  1. Mimi Rothschild19.3.07

    Excellent idea! Being able to summarize information in concise and precise fashion is extremely valuable in college and the workplace. It's important not to lose those detailed flourishes for some types of writing.

    You should post samples of your daughters' writing for comparison!

    The Grace Academy Homeschooling News Cafe

  2. Betty19.3.07


    In your second paragraph you say that you use "this" type of narration especially for history readings. Is "this" the detailed or summary narration.

    I'm learning to recognize the natural narrations that I'm being given all day long. Even the 3 yr old is very descriptive and creative in retelling an event or story (though the details aren't always accurate!). I want to devote more time in developing the older kids' narrations.

    My boys and daughter are reading different books for their independent reading time. I have flipped through these and researched them and feel comfortable with them reading these books without me. But how do I know their narrations are accurate? Sometimes I flip through the chapter quickly to get the idea of the chapter before listening to the narration, but I don't always do this.

    My 5th grade daughter is reading George Washington's World by Foster and I usually ask her to jot down any important dates and people as she reads. Because this book introduces so many dates and different people within a reading, she finds it difficult to sort out which are the "most" important. What have you done with narrations with this book? Maybe it's better to require a written narration? I've tried highlightingsome of the chapters ahead of time so that she knows what may be worthy of remembering, but then am I being counter productive in not letting her decide what she wants to remember?

    Thanks so much Linda, again!
    Blessings to you,

  3. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Mimi.

    I am referring to detailed narrations and summaries as the preferred method of narration for history. However, there are always exceptions. For example, my daughter is reading C. Augustus' World by Foster. This is not her main history text this term. She gives CREATIVE narrations from it because she is already doing written summaries for her main history text and I believe that Foster's style, although very engaging, provides many, many people and events. As you said, this can confuse the child. So I just let my child have fun with this book and make creative narrations. I will post about this soon.

    I do not think it is a good idea to have the children read and take notes at the same time for most of their studies. (I teach this skill later, in High School, and we use it sparingly) I require my children to read the passage, close the book and then take notes. This forces them to read very carefully and purposefully. (An important CM principle) If they don't remember all the dates and names of folks but know the general time period (century), know the main characters, and know the events that lead up to and came after the event they are reading about, and they like their subject matter, then I believe real learning is taking place. On the other hand, if I turn it into a factual exercise, the children hate it and lose their love for the book itself. Short term memorization may have occurred, but nothing more.

    How do we know if their narrations are accurate? Well, ideally mom has read these books beforehand. However, I realize that sometimes life gets in the way. When my children narrate to me, I have the passage open in front of me and skim it as they narrate. Generally, I can tell how well they know the passage by how enthusiastically they narrate.


  4. Betty20.3.07

    Okay, I think I understand. I thought in that second paragraph you were referring to either detailed narration OR summary narration as to what you use for history. I see that you use a little of both.

    I never thought of her taking notes AFTER her reading. That's good. That may take some pressure off and make the reading more enjoyable. That's good!

    I do skim the texts that my children are narrating to me to check their accuracy. They are becoming pretty good at narration and enjoy it.

    I do have a hard time keeping up with pre-reading their books. My boys are reading independently: Black Beauty, Little Pilgrim (retelling of Pilgrim's Progress), A Child's History of George Washington by Pollard, Wonder Book (a reader), and a fun Sugar Creek Gang book. My daughter is reading independently: George Washington's World, Burgess Bird Book, A Girl of Beauty by Fiddler, Christian Heroes Amy Carmichael, and Treasures of the Snow. They read one chapter from a different book each day. On top of this, I'm reading aloud to them some history living books (Guerber and Peter Marshall), some science read alouds, and Bible, and Understood Betsy. I just haven't been able to find a way to pre-read their books and read for my own learning (working through the revised CM book 6 and a biography on Elizabeth Prentiss, as well as others in my stack).

    Maybe I'm not doing something right?

    I do look forward to hearing about creative narrations!

    THanks for your help again!
    Like you say, A step at a time!

  5. Oh I just want to jump up and down and say I'm new!! I have found this blog to be so useful and I have only been here for 15 mins! Thank you for sharing for those of us that are new to the CM world. I have 3 children and though they are going to be in 3rd, 4th, and 6th grade at the start of the next school year I will be using all the same science and history and so I had a concern about how to go about getting narration from them. I dreadfully anticipated the latter two repeating what the first one said so I was going to have them each just write their narrations but I could see them getting very bored with that. I love the bead idea! Then again they may surprise me and compete a little bit and try to out do each other and do their own best. I wrote down your idea of different narration so I might try the narration jar as well.