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Curricula and Learning Links
Classical and Charlotte Mason Methods

Narration and Dictation

How do you get your children to narrate a story back to you? I can't get him to tell me what he has read or what I have read to me. He says he doesn't remember or he doesn't know. What can I do to encourage him and help him to narrate stories to me?

Mary Leggewie: I trick them by telling them to tell Daddy about the great story they just read! I don't even let them come close to knowing that it's school. They just tell Daddy about the book we just read for fun.

Mary Kathleen: In K-1, my son did not enjoy retelling stories we had read together. Retelling Dad was one way to "trick" him, but he often would say, "you tell him Mom." But, he enjoyed retelling events that happened to us--retelling where we went today, or what we saw at the bank or the grocery store-- or retelling about something he saw on TV -- I just tried to get him to retell ANYTHING, and he usually enjoyed doing it. Then we did some stories he liked -- not necessarily the Bible stories or Aesop's Fables on Berquist's syllabi. It was especially good when I would initiate the conversation with a "what was your favorite part of the story? Mine was..." or "I thought this [part of the book] was really funny. What did you think?"

Now, at age 81/2 and 3rd grade, he's very good at narrating (he just can't condense and summarize yet, so he recounts every excruciating detail!) My daughter is 4 years old, and a good way to get her to retell is to see if she can tell it before her brother.

Teri: My two oldest sons hated narrating. I would bring it up and would get groaning and complaining. Now they remind me it is narrating time and are on the couch with the book. We are still working on it but things have improved dramatically. I have decided to use a specific book for narrating practice, in this case we use Aesop for Children by Milo Winter. The stories are pretty concise and easier for them to understand. Ones that are heavy on Greek Gods, we just skip. When we finish with this one then we will use another.

I started out reading one sentence and had one of the boys tell it back to me. Even if it came out word for word, I just wanted them to get used to it. Then once they were comfortable telling it back to me that way, then I asked them to start changing a word here or there when they told a sentence back. After that I pressed them to come up with a sentence using their own words for the most part. This process seemed to break the ice with them. We are now starting to go into paragraphs the same way. This is working well for us, maybe this could give you some ideas to try. Most of all, try to have fun with it.

How do you do dictation?

Martha R.: There are a couple ways to do dictation. One can do "studied" dictation in which the child is given the opportunity to study the selection before it's dictated, or unstudied. Obviously when you are first getting started, you want to build the child's confidence and success rate, so perhaps studied would be best. On the other hand, some kids are naturals at this, and you can just blow by the studied method. Always go over the errors afterwards and then do the dictation another day. (I wouldn't do a consecutive day though. Skip a bit to see if the info is retained.)

Luanne: I am considering beginning dictation and narration with my 14 year old. She loves history, but has struggles understanding and retaining the information.

Lorinda: When I started narration with my boys who were older, I began with oral narration for several reasons. First, it let me know what their thought process was. Second, I could lead them with questions, but only after they had been doing this on their own for several weeks. Third, especially with my youngest who has some mild LD issues, I could have him tape what he said and write it down. This way his slow process of writing didn't get in the way of his thinking. With an older child, such as yours, you could probably move a bit faster toward writing, but I found it very useful to "begin at the beginning."

Sheril: I had my older daughter start with writing it herself. We worked towards doing it orally.

Barb: In using the narrative approach, it is okay to have the children write out a short summary once in a while instead of a verbal re-telling? I like to find ways to combine writing skills with other learning and make it meaningful.

Heidi in IN: It is recommended that up until grades 3 or 4, only oral narrations are done as their handwriting and spelling skills may not be ready to write a lot without frustration. During grades 3-5, make the transition-sometimes oral, sometimes written narrations. After 5th or 6th grade-use mostly written narrations.

Briva: If the passage is a descriptive one, you can let them draw the scene or image or person and write the narration underneath it. My daughter enjoyed this, this was during the transition period. Other alternate narration ideas include acting out the passage like a play with dolls or puppets (homemade).

What tips do you have on narration?

Briva: I wish I knew who shared the following tips, I copied this awhile ago. It has narration starters or prompts to get beyond the "I don't know" answers and two cautions that Karen Andreola writes in her book, The Charlotte Mason Companion.

The first caution is to make sure the passage you are reading isn't too difficult for the child. What doesn't work this year may work nicely the next.

The second caution is to make sure the passages aren't too long for the child. She says that for her own children the more complicated the material (science rather than a story) the shorter the passage needs to be.

Here are the narration prompts:

  • Tell me all you remember about the passage.
  • Tell it in your own words.
  • Wasn't it funny when....! Tell me what you remember.
  • Explain how...
  • Describe...
  • Describe anything NEW you just learned from the chapter.
  • Tell me 5 things you learned about...
  • Tell me about (one of the characters). --Analyzing Character
  • How did Character A behave differently than Character B? --Parallel Characters
  • Why did Character A do...? --Character Point of View
  • What did you learn about (character name) in this chapter?
  • Tell me all you know about... --Location
  • Tell me all you know about... --Occurrence
  • How did ...........feel? --Analyzing Mood
  • What makes this story pretend? --Fantasy vs Reality
  • What clues told you that.........was about to happen? --Making Inferences
  • Why do you think.........happened? --Drawing Conclusions
  • Tell me exactly what happened in order. --Sequence of Events/Steps in a Process
  • What do you think of ........? --Making Judgements/Decisions
  • Describe the person telling the story. --Narrator's Point of View
  • Tell the most interesting thing about....... --Fact vs Opinion
  • Describe what happens because of ....... --Cause and Effect
  • Tell me all the ways.......and....... were the same/different. --Compare and Contrast
  • Is the ending/chapter good or bad and why? --Making Judgements
  • Compare the actions of two characters. --Compare and Contrast
  • Compare book with another by the same author. --Comparing
  • Why did the author write the story this way? --Author's Purpose
  • How did the author know about these kinds of things? --Author's Point of View
  • What was the author saying about....? --Author's Point of View
  • What do you thin is going to happen next? Why? --Foreshadowing
  • Is there a hero? Who is it? --Finding the Protagonist
  • What's the problem? Who is it between? --Helps to find the Protagonist

When children narrate ("tell back"), are they supposed to do it "word-for-word" -- they don't remember ALL the words, of course, but they do move through paragraph by paragraph often utilizing the exact words that are in the book -- or are they supposed to summarize in their own words more?

Briva: Charlotte Mason expected not just retelling or summaries but also to be able to explain things like describing character traits or what were the causes and effects of certain actions, to internalize a story and be able to discuss it in your own words.

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