Homeschool Tidbits: Narration, or The Art of Telling Back

February 11, 2022

Welcome to Build Your Library’s “Homeschool Tidbits: Episode 5 – Narration, or The Art of Telling Back”. In this weekly video series, I will delve briefly into a topic related to homeschooling and will share some of my knowledge and expertise as a long-time homeschooling mother of 4 children. Three of whom have graduated!

Last month I introduced you to the Charlotte Mason homeschool philosophy and discussed living books. Today, I want to talk about another tenet of her philosophy – Narration.

What is Narration?

Narration, quite simply, is telling back something that you read, heard, or watched. Telling back something is innate. Think about your instinct when you’ve watched a great movie, or read an article that you found interesting. What do you do? You probably told someone about it. Maybe you summarized it into a brief sentence or two, or maybe you spoke at length. Maybe you wrote a lengthy blog article or Twitter thread about it. That’s narrating!

“Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child’s mind, waiting to be discovered…” ~ Charlotte Mason

So, if it’s natural and we just instinctively do it why do we need to do narration? Because practice makes perfect! Sometimes we can ramble on for quite a while with a 2-way, in-depth discussion. But sometimes a quick, concise elevator pitch is all that is necessary.

Narration is a learned skill. It sharpens your child’s listening and observation skills. They have to give their full attention to be able to properly narrate. Narration takes the place of quizzes and comprehension questions. And it can be used in any subject – even math! What a great tool!

Learning to Narrate

The key to narration is to give your child living books to narrate from. Since it requires their full attention, they need to have material to narrate from that is well written and stimulating to their imagination. We’ve discussed living books at length, so you know now how to choose the best books for your child’s studies.

“As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should ‘tell back’ after a single reading or hearing . . . A single reading is insisted on, because children have naturally great power of attention; but this force is dissipated by the re-reading of passages.” ~ Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason did not begin formal narration until a child was 6 years of age. When your child is ready, you’ll want to start small. I really like fairy tales or Aesop’s Fables when beginning to work on narration. These simple stories are easy to narrate because they tend to be short and are easily retold. Read a short passage or story and then ask your child to tell back what they heard. You want them to retell it in their own words. Narration is NOT memorization.

These simple oral retellings are the paving blocks to composition. Your child is learning to structure their thoughts, They are putting ideas that they’ve read or heard into their own words. They are deciding what is most important and choosing which details to include.

Narration Tips

Be careful that you don’t interrupt the process to correct or guide them! It’s so difficult when they begin to stumble to want to give them information or guide them into the direction you think is correct. But refrain! Let them take a minute to process their thoughts if necessary. Be sure that you are giving them your full attention.

Something that I have found helpful, especially if you are reading something that has a lot of challenging names is to write a few notes on a whiteboard before you start the reading. For example, if you were narrating a history passage, you might include on the board the names of the key historical figures, important dates, names of places. These can be helpful when your child is narrating because now they don’t have to waste time trying to remember the names of people or places. They can put their focus on retelling what they heard.

As your child becomes more proficient with writing, you should begin to encourage written narrations. These will be brief at first, but eventually, they will evolve into essays. A child who has been orally narrating all along will find no difficulty transitioning to written essays and literary analysis in their high school years.

Keep it Interesting!

There are so many ways to narrate! It doesn’t have to be simple – tell back what you read. Creative narrations help to keep things interesting. We all need a little spice to keep our homeschool from going stale. Get creative and think outside the box!

Your child might be more artistically inclined, they can draw some of their narrations! Ask them to tell back what happened in a story from a different character’s perspective. Many times secondary characters can have a unique view of what the main characters are doing and don’t always get the chance to express their experiences.

They might want to put on a puppet show and act out the story or play charades and have you try to guess the scene! Let them quiz you – they can write 5 questions about the story or passage and see if you can get all the answers right. They could film a movie trailer based on what they read. They might create a board game based on the story.

There are so many ways to come at narration. It never has to be boring. And the best part? No repetitive simple comprehension questions! No worksheets, and no dull lesson!

Narrating means that your child is taking information in and making it their own. This is real learning! Anyone can memorize a name and date in order to pass a test. But they will likely forget soon after. But to listen with full attention, process that information, and put it into your own words? That knowledge is for keeps.

“He must generalize, classify, infer, judge, visualize, discriminate, labor in one way or another, with that capable mind of his, until the substance of his book is assimilated or rejected, according as he shall determine; for the discrimination rests with him and not with his teacher.” ~ Charlotte Mason

Coming up next…

I hope you found this crash course in Narration helpful! Next week we will pause on the Charlotte Mason series so we can insert another Homeschool Tidbit topic: To Screen or Not to Screen? Technology and Homeschooling!

Until next time, happy reading!

See Also:
Charlotte Mason in the Secular Homeschool
A Literary Education book
About Build Your Library
Homeschool Tidbits: Build Your Library’s Weekly Video Blog Series

Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-12 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full-year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 21 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also make incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books, and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can also check out her author page on Amazon.

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About Build Your Library

Have you been looking for a literature based homeschool curriculum that is secular? How about a way to incorporate narration, copywork, dictation and memory work into your child’s education? Or art study that ties into history?

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