Narration – The Best Way to Learn

by Sheila Carroll

Nine year-old Elizabeth sits quietly listening as her mother reads from a well-written book on natural science. Mother reads a paragraph or two, and then asks Elizabeth to tell in her own words what was just read. The child eagerly relates the content of the paragraphs, often using some of the same expressive language as she has just heard. Mother nods and reads a few more paragraphs. When the lesson is done, Elizabeth cheerfully moves off to her next subject in school. In a few weeks, Elizabeth will be asked to relate what she learned from the book on natural science. She does so with near perfect recall.

Does this scene seem unlikely to you? Not only is it likely, it is happening around the US and abroad with increasing regularity. The process of retelling in one’s on words what is read or heard is called narration. This method is one of the simplest and yet most profound ways a child can learn. British educational reformer Charlotte Mason recommended narration as the best way for a child to retain new learning.

What is narration?

Simply, narration is the telling back in one’s own words what has been read aloud or read silently. Most children enjoy telling you what they know. To have an adult wait for their words with smiling eyes and anticipation is something any child cherishes. Charlotte Mason believed that this love of telling could be used as a foundation for self-education.

Narration as self-education

Much learning in classrooms and home schools today is by rote memorization. This means of instruction is the least effective because the child is committing the information to memory for the purpose of using it in a test, often with little or no comprehension

Charlotte Mason refers to the mind of the learner as having an outer and inner court. The outer court is short-term memory and does not engage the personality; the inner court of long-term memory is the seat of the child’s of emotional and cognitive abilities. When knowledge is engaged at this inner court, information is not only retained it is understood and used by the child.

High-quality literature essential to narration

A child cannot narrate from a textbook or a book with short statements and lots of graphics. They must be given the best of books, the classics, as well as non-fiction works that are descriptive.The author of a high-quality work has a passion for the subject and is able to inspire, delight and educate in a narrative form. In the words of Ms. Mason, it is well-put and well-told.

How to do narration?

A child of six is ready to begin with short narrations. Aesop’s Fables is the best way to begin because the narratives are short and contain few incidents. You can lengthen the amount of material to be narrated as the child progresses. After a few years of consistent, regular narration a student should be able to narrate an entire chapter.

To begin, sit with the child (or children) and tell him gently, that you am going to read (title) one time and you want him to listen carefully and to tell in his own words all he remembers of the reading. After you read the story or passage, pause a moment to let it settle in, then ask the child to tell back to you what he has heard. Listen without comment until the child is done.

If there is more than one child you can let one start and another adds to the narration. Alternately, you can have the first child narrate and then ask the second (or third) if there is anything they would like to add. Taking turns narrating while others listen builds the habit of attention in children.

When should I use written narration?

A teaching parent can begin transcribing a child’s oral narrations from the first. Later, the child can write narrations independently. By sixth grade a student should be doing written narrations each day.

Beginning narration with older children

What if you want to begin narration with a fourth, fifth or even junior high student? The process is the same, only the student progresses faster. Begin with Aesop’s Fables, and move to more and more challenging literature. To begin with, make narration a separate subject. As you see success, bring it into your child’s regular studies, remembering to use writing of literary quality.

Benefits of narration

Just a few of the benefits of using narration as a means of self-education are attention, retention, expressive language, and higher level thinking. Charlotte Mason felt that narration was the means or engaging the learner in his own learning. Begin today using narration consistently in your homeschool and you will see marvelous results.

If you want to learn more about homeschooling and the Charlotte Mason method read my latest guide “Seven Keys of Learning”.

Download it free here:  Charlotte Mason

Sheila Carroll helps homeschooling parents to use living books and Charlotte Mason’s methods to produce outstanding results in learning.

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2 responses to “Narration – The Best Way to Learn

  1. This is my first full year of CM and doing Narrative work was unknown to me at first, but after only using this method for a few months now … I see it working just as it is stated in your post. My son even asked to play what we call “car quiz” on the way to karate class the other night. He likes me to ask him questions from lessons we’ve done in various subjects and I was so surprised to hear him summarize and even give a few direct quotes on either stories we’ve read or could explain very well to me the life of Benjamin Franklin! “It’s working! I’m teaching!” Is all I could think of in my head!

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