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Narration: The Art of Oral Composition

In my last post I discussed the simplest and easiest tool for building strong writers in the early years — copywork — and today I’m moving on to perhaps the most difficult — narration.

If you’ve spent any time learning about classical or Charlotte Mason education, you’ve no doubt heard narration mentioned. In case you aren’t familiar with the concept though, narration is simply the retelling of what has been read, either to the child or independently by the child.

What does narration have to do with writing?

In the beginning, narration is completely a verbal exercise for the student. So why is it considered an important element in early writing instruction?

Narration plays an important role in learning to write well because it is oral composition. Just as children are able to listen and comprehend at a higher level than they are able to read, they are also able to verbalize at a higher level than they can write.

Writing is a complex process that involves several steps. The first step is simply an idea, but then the idea must be transformed into words, and then the words must be transcribed onto paper. Narration builds the mental skills required to do this with ease by removing the last step and focusing on the transfer of ideas into words. Mental composition is strengthened without the burden of additional writing skills impeding the student (spelling, handwriting, etc.) until writing skills catch up to thinking skills.

COPYWORK, NARRATION & DICTATION: simple and effective methods for building strong writers in the early years

What are the benefits of narration?

  • Builds attention span
  • Helps with learning to order thoughts
  • Teaches to process information, not merely to regurgitation it
  • Helps to make connections with other content
  • Allows you to evaluate the students learning
  • Opens the door to discussions with your child
  • Develops higher level thinking
  • Increases comprehension and retention

Narration Tips & How to Get Started:

  1. Start Small. Begin by using only a short passage, around a paragraph in length. Ask your child to tell you what you just read in their own words. Gradually increase the length of your selections to match your child’s progress and abilities.
  2. Try using guided narration. Instead of only asking them to retell the content of the passage, prompt them to share about what they found the most interesting, most important, or their favourite part. Use these free, narration prompt bookmarks or my fun Narration Cootie Catcher to help!
  3. Use narration in other subjects (science, history) to simplify the curriculum and integrate writing across the curriculum.
  4. Allow your child to illustrate their narrations, act them out, or try these other creative narration ideas from Simply Charlotte Mason.
  5. Don’t interrupt or correct your child’s narration. Wait until they have finished before offering feedback.
  6. Provide assistance when moving into written narrations. Provide a word bank of key words to include, help with spelling, or help your student to create an outline prior to beginning.
  7. Don’t be alarmed when beginning written narrations if suddenly the length and quality of the narrations decrease. This is normal, and your child will gradually increase their skill and proficiency with written narrations just as they did with oral.

Have you got a reluctant narrator? Use this narration prompt cootie catcher!

Narration is a great tool for developing strong writers in the early years, but it is in itself a skill that will build on itself and remain useful for your child throughout all the years of their education and beyond.

It can begin as simply as taking your child and a well-loved storybook onto your lap and letting them tell you the story!

Other posts in this early writing series:

Copywork... a simple yet effective tool for building strong writers in the early years




Building Strong Writers in the Early Years

We don’t do a lot of the typical writing activities and assignments that are popular in public schools (and homeschools!). In case you are over your shock and horror over the fact that I don’t have any assigned reading in my homeschool, I have also never assigned my fourth grader a book report! Neither have I required her to keep a journal or to write a story. We haven’t used any writing prompts either.

It’s my opinion that young writers do not need to be made to be creative — they are creative by nature! Just as a young child will freely build, paint, or draw if given the tools and the media to do so, they are also constantly creating stories and expressing their ideas through words and play.

The trouble with requiring creative writing (in young children especially) is that you are compelling a child to create without having first provided the tools required! Expecting a young child to compose a piece of original writing can actually prove to be quite stressful — the physical act of writing, spelling, grammar, AND the challenges of organizing his own ideas can be overwhelming.

This is why it is essential that the focus be on developing the skills of self expression first. What they need most is mastery of the tools required to properly express themselves.

How are these skills developed? What are these tools?

COPYWORK, NARRATION & DICTATION: simple and effective methods for building strong writers in the early years

The good news is that laying the foundation for good, written self-expression is very simple. You don’t need to invest a lot of money (or even time) to work on these skills with your child. Any good, early writing curriculum will include these three components, this three pronged approach to writing instruction:

  • Copywork: copying from a model
  • Narration: telling back in one’s own words what was heard
  • Dictation: hearing, remembering, and transcribing word for word what is heard

Copywork, narration, and dictation are found throughout the classical and Charlotte Mason models in the early years, and any good writing curriculum will not only include these components but be based on them.

Join me in this series of three posts as I explore the value of these tools, and how we have implemented these early writing methods in our own homeschool:

Copywork... a simple yet effective tool for building strong writers in the early years

Building early writing skills through narration - the skill of oral composition

Dictation: How Memory and Mental Pictures Build Writing Skills