Charlotte Mason Answers Your Questions about Narration: Language Arts, part 4

Homeschool language arts

Narration is a cornerstone of Charlotte Mason’s language arts program. She wrote extensively on the subject, giving lots of helpful and practical tips.

In one sense, narration is simple; in another sense, it is an art form. So it’s no surprise that many moms have questions about doing narration.

What better place to get answers than from Charlotte’s own words!

Below are some common questions along with their answers quoted directly from Charlotte’s original writings. (The volume and page numbers refer to the books of her writings published as the Original Home Schooling Series. Printed copies and online copies are readily available.)

Narration Q & A

Q: How much should I read before asking for a narration?

A: “The teacher reads and the children ‘tell’ paragraph by paragraph, passage by passage” (Vol. 6, p. 172). “Form IA ([ages] 7 to 9) hears and tells chapter by chapter” (Vol. 6, p. 180).

Q: Do we just jump right in to the reading?

A: “Before the reading for the day begins, the teacher should talk a little (and get the children to talk) about the last lesson, with a few words about what is to be read” (Vol. 1, p. 232).

Q: How many times should I read the passage before I ask my child to narrate?

A: “Children should ‘tell back’ after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some part of what they have read” (Vol. 6, p. 155).

Q: When I ask questions about what we read, my child doesn’t know the answer. What should I do?

A: “Direct questions on the subject-matter of what a child has read are always a mistake. Let him narrate what he has read, or some part of it” (Vol. 1, p. 228).

Q: So I can’t ask any questions at all? What about discussion type questions?

A: “Questions that lead to a side issue or to a personal view are allowable because these interest children—’What would you have done in his place?’ ” (Vol. 1, pp. 228, 229).

Q: Should I jump in and correct my child if he has something wrong in his narration?

A: “The teacher does not talk much and is careful never to interrupt a child who is called upon to ‘tell’ ” (Vol. 6, p. 172).

Q: If I shouldn’t interrupt, when should I correct any mistakes in my child’s narration?

A: “The teacher probably allows other children to correct any faults in the telling when it is over” (Vol. 6, p. 172).

Q: If I’m not suppose to interrupt or ask questions, what is my job?

A: “The teachers give the uplift of their sympathy in the word and where necessary elucidate, sum up or enlarge, but the actual work is done by the scholars” (Vol. 6, p. 241).

Q: How do I do narration with several children?

A: “Ask the children in turn to narrate, each narrating a part of what was read” (Vol. 3, p. 334).

Q: I know Charlotte recommended short lessons, about 15 minutes for grades 1–3. Does that time limit include the narration?

A: “This sort of narration lesson should not occupy more than a quarter of an hour” (Vol. 1, p. 233).

Q: My child parrots the passage back to me, almost word for word. Is that a good narration?

A: “Narrations which are mere feats of memory are quite valueless” (Vol. 1, p. 289).

Q: It seems like my two children narrate in completely different ways. Is that all right?

A: “They throw individuality into this telling back so that no two tell quite the same tale” (Vol. 6, p. 292).

Q: Can my child narrate in other ways than just writing or telling the story?

A: “They love, too, to make illustrations” (Vol. 1, p. 292).

Q: So they can tell, write, or draw pictures of the story. Would anything else count as narration?

A: “There is no end to the modes of expression children find when there is anything in them to express” (Vol. 1, p. 294).

Q: This is new to us and my child is struggling to narrate. Am I doing something wrong?

A: “The first efforts may be stumbling but presently the children get into their ‘stride’ and ‘tell’ a passage at length with surprising fluency” (Vol. 6, p. 172).

Q: In 25 words or fewer, what are the key points for me to remember about narration?

A: “In short, ‘Do not explain,’ ‘Do not question,’ ‘Let one reading of a passage suffice,’ ‘Require the pupil to relate the passage he has read’ ” (Vol. 6, p. 304).

Next week we will discuss written narration, which is what Charlotte used for composition.

More of What Charlotte Mason Said about Narration

The questions and answers given above are the basics of narration. If you would like more of the fine details, along with more of Charlotte’s actual words, download the free sample of our new book, Hearing and Reading, Telling and Writing: A Charlotte Mason Language Arts Handbook. The sample includes the entire chapter on narration.


  1. Just had to let you know how much I enjoyed your FAQ’s answered with CM’s own quotes.

    Informative, clever and a lot of fun for a CM-mom to read!

    Thanks for the Language Arts series.

Comments are closed.