Sunday, October 20, 2013

Natural Narrations, Silent Narrations, Written Narrations, and Oral Narrations

Narration is a word I never paid much attention to, that is until I started reading up on some of Charlotte Mason's techniques. Narration is basically asking a child starting at about 6 to tell back (oral, written-about age 10, drawn, acted out, etc.) in her own words what she just heard or read or did or watched or .... whatever. There is a very detailed description of narration here Introducing Charlotte Mason’s Use of Narration.

This is complex on many levels. Take a poem as an example. A child must think about the poem, the words of the poem, the meaning of the poem, what mattered to her about it, how it relates to her. Then she must consider her own impressions and how she will put those thoughts into words, and which words she will choose. Then if it is written, the next process is putting those words into a form that can be read by someone else.



This article is an excellent example of a research study that shows that narration helps in the retention of information: Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborate Studying with Concept Mapping. Over all of the most popular methods of studying, narration produces the best recall for a longer duration of time.

One of the things I've read of Charlotte Mason that has stuck me is...we cannot force what we've found most important upon the child, but rather allow the child to take from a learning opportunity what she found there. Narration then from a parents perspective simply allows you to understand what the child has taken from the learning. It is a bonus. Most importantly, narrations are for the child to cements her own thoughts and understandings.



Keeping this in mind, when I ask one of my children to narrate, I try not to ask leading questions, what I want them to see. But instead I tend to ask one question that tends to draw them from what they felt deeply. I simply say, "Narrate that story, experiment, problem, etc. for me."*

Over the course of a few years, we've developed some banned phrases for oral narration like..."It's about" or "I think." In banning those phrases, I've found it necessary to come up with some starters and prompts:

  • It reminds me of
  • Once I read about
  • It makes me think of
  • In my head I saw
  • When it said, I thought
  • Because
  • The words of the poem, book, etc.
  • I could almost hear, feel, smell...
This is one of my favorite oral narrations ever. I stumbled upon it years ago and it has always been a joyful example. For the last several years, I have shared it with the assessment classes that I teach.


Written narrations, for us take on more of a formal version of this. Retelling the steps in an experiment or materials needed. Sometimes it is telling a fairy tale in her own words, not saying..."The fairy tale is about," but truly telling the story. Telling it as the knowledge belongs to the child, not to someone else and we are just playing it back. 

Natural Narrations on the other hand occur without any prompting and can be seen at a very early age throughout life. They can encompass any form of narration; including, oral, written, silent and active, but they are acted on naturally by the child.


Silent Narrations are something we all do. We all silently narrate when we think through something we read, an event, a problem, anything. Nancy provides a great discussion of Silent Narration here: Silent Narration?? It is our pondering, pouring over an idea, seeking understanding in our own way.

Active narrations are those narrations that involve movement. Drawing pictures, recreating a scene from play dough, dolls or children acting out a story, building a place. These are things that my children do without my prompting, without me saying show me. Everyday and in so many creative ways, they take what they've learned and play it again for themselves.

Have you tried narration? What have you found to be helpful?

Wishing you homeschool blessings,


*We save more leading questions, where I'm looking for a synthesis type of response, for exams. I might say, "Compare the Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet to the fable of Pyramus and Thisbe." This narration could take many forms and I leave it up to the the child to choose how she will narrate. To see how we've been rethinking exams check out the link.

Wishing you homeschool blessings,


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2 comments:

Phyllis said...

I love the idea of banned phrase. I have them for writing, but I never thought of it for oral narrations.

Bethany said...

It helps a lot. For some reason banning those and giving them starters helps them organize their thoughts in a way that creates a narration that is full of detail and support.

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