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The beauty of Charlotte Mason narration is that it can grow with your student. Telling back in your own words what was read or heard or experienced is the foundational type of narration. You can, and should, use it with all grade levels. But you also can, and should, level it up as your student gains experience and is ready for more.
In most instances, when you think of narration, you think of “tell me the story in your own words.” And that’s where it all begins. But Charlotte Mason also asked for other kinds of narrations as the students advanced in their skills and grade levels. A narration does not have to be just “tell me the story.”
In grades 1–3, that was the kind of narration the students did. But once they reached grades 4–6, another kind of narration was added to the line up. They still retold the story many times, but sometimes they would be asked to explain how something worked. It really just depended on the passage that was read or the experience that they shared. For example, if you were reading The Swiss Family Robinson with your fifth-grade student, you might ask him to tell you about the tree house that the Robinsons built, what it was like, and how it worked.
Students in grades 7–9 had another expansion to their narration line up. They continued to retell the story or to explain how something worked, depending on what the passage was about, but they also sometimes were asked to describe what something looked like. So they might read a passage about the geography of the northern coast of Africa, for example, and then be required to describe it for their narration.
In grades 10–12, a fourth kind of narration was added to the line up. Now there were four kinds to choose from, depending on which kind of narration the passage lent itself to most. This fourth kind of narration required more critical thinking skills. The student was asked to state his opinion and support it with details from the passage.
If you are familiar with composition, you may recognize those four kinds of narration that I just described: “Tell it back in your own words” is narrative; “Explain how something works” is expository; “Describe how something looks” is descriptive; and “state your opinion and support it” is persuasive. Those are the four main types of compositions that are studied and practiced in the upper grades: narrative, expository, descriptive, and persuasive. Yet Charlotte Mason incorporated them quite naturally and gradually just in the way she asked for a narration through the grade levels.
Here are some of the questions she used.
Narrative (beginning in grade 1)
- Tell the story of…
- Tell what you know about…
- What is a hero? What heroes have you heard of? Tell about one.
Expository (beginning in grade 4)
- Tell the history of [a current item or phrase read about].
- Give a diagram of [a body part that was studied], and explain how it works.
- How many kinds of bees are there in a hive? What work does each do? Tell how they build the comb.
Descriptive (beginning in grade 7)
- Describe the founding of Christ’s Kingdom. What are the laws of His Kingdom?
- Describe a journey in [a geographical area that was read about].
- How are the following seeds dispersed? Give diagrams and observations.
- Describe the condition of (a) the clergy, (b) the army, (c) the navy, (d) the general public in and about [the time period studied].
Persuasive (beginning in grade 10)
- Discuss [a modern political person’s] scheme. How is it working?
- Write an essay on [a current event], showing what some of the difficulties have been and what has been achieved.
- Write a letter in the manner of [an historical person who was read about] on any Modern Topic.
- Write a letter to [a newspaper] on [a current event or topic studied].
- Write a ballad on [a current event that was studied].
- Write an essay on the present condition of [your own country], or on [a leader of another country].
You can do the same. As your student is ready, as he gains experience and fluency in narrating, you can level up the kinds of narration you ask for to include narrative, expository, descriptive, and persuasive.
If you need help with coming up with those wonderfully varied narration prompts at the appropriate grade levels, check out our narration notecards. We have several sets of cards that are book-specific. Each set contains cards that correspond to the chapters in the book, and each card gives three narration prompts to choose from, so you can select the one that works best for your student.
Narration—such a simple and powerful method that can grow with your student. That’s the brilliance of Charlotte Mason.