Literature, Vocabulary, and Comprehension: Language Arts, part 3

Homeschool language arts

If your school experience was anything like mine, you most likely sat through a multitude of vocabulary worksheets and reading comprehension worksheets in every grade. Plus, you probably had a separate class for Literature in junior high or high school.

Charlotte Mason’s approach to those subjects was much simpler and more effective. The three skills were not pulled out and tackled separately. She integrated good literature into other subjects like History, Geography, Science, and more. She believed the children would naturally expand their vocabularies as they read those good books. And she emphasized the necessity of reading carefully for comprehension in all subjects.

Here are some of her key points for covering literature, vocabulary, and reading comprehension as an integral part of your home school.

Good Literature

  • Use the best books you can find.

    Select books with “literary power,” as Charlotte put it. As you use well-written books with rich vocabulary for several subjects in your home school, your child will develop a taste for literature and an ease in reading it.

  • Don’t sabotage your efforts by giving your child twaddle.

    Twaddle talks down to a child, assuming he cannot understand good writing. Don’t make the same false assumption. This article on twaddle will help you bypass books that don’t measure up. And be sure to read the helpful definitions of twaddle that other CM moms posted at the end of the article. They’re great!

  • Enjoy living books.

    Help your child develop a love for good literature by making sure the books you select make the subject come alive in your child’s imagination. Give him living pictures. Charlotte explained, “The object of children’s literary studies is not to give them precise information as to who wrote what in the reign of whom?—but to give them a sense of the spaciousness of the days, not only of great Elizabeth, but of all those times of which poets, historians and the makers of tales, have left us living pictures” (Vol. 6, p. 184).


  • Throw new words into everyday situations.

    As your child learns more about the things around him, he will naturally desire the words to describe those things. Don’t be afraid to branch out in your everyday vocabulary as you have discussions. Your child will pick up the new words’ meanings by the context of the situations.

  • Encourage your child to learn words’ meanings from the context in his books.

    Context will teach your child much about words in the books he reads too. Again, don’t undervalue his ability to deal with language. Charlotte cautioned, “We are convinced that they cannot understand a literary vocabulary so we explain and paraphrase to our own heart’s content but not to theirs” (Vol. 6, p. 75). Definitions and explanations interrupt the flow of the book and “spoil the text and should not be attempted unless children ask, What does so and so mean?” (Vol. 6, p. 192).

Reading for Instruction

  • Emphasize reading with the mind engaged so as to learn something.

    Teach this skill just as you would any habit. Talk about it. Expect it. Model it. Encourage it. Apply consequences to reinforce it.

  • Encourage the habit of reading for instruction by keeping the books interesting.

    Just as you try to make the path smooth for a child who is learning to walk, you can help make the path smooth for a child who is learning to put forth the effort to read for instruction. Your choice of book can make all the difference. An interesting book makes the effort of engaging the mind easier and more enjoyable.

  • Remember that the habit of reading for instruction lays the foundation for self-educating.

    The skill of reading words on paper does not an educated person make. It is the person who keeps his mind engaged while reading—the person who deliberately tries to learn something—who educates himself. Charlotte put it this way: “We must read in order to know or we do not know by reading” (Vol. 6, p. 13).

  • Hold your child accountable to read for instruction by requiring him to narrate after a single reading.

    In its simplest form, narrating is telling back in your own words what you just heard or read. If you require a narration after only one reading, you will reinforce your expectations and motivate your child to put forth the effort to read for instruction.

    Narration is a wonderful tool you can use in just about all school subjects. Next week we’ll discuss it in more detail.


  1. “•Hold your child accountable to read for instruction by requiring him to narrate after a single reading.”
    –I totally agree with this…however, how do you insure this? How do you rectify it if they just don’t pay attention? Do they have to read it again on their own?

    Sorry for so many questions, but I believe this is how they will make the knowledge “their own” instead of me teaching them…but we are struggling a bit in the actual retelling department. 😀

    • A couple of suggestions come to mind, Christine. First, you might try backing off the amount you are reading before asking for a narration. You may need to take the passage paragraph by paragraph in order to cultivate the habit of attention. Once they can listen attentively for a short amount of time, you can gradually increase that amount.

      A second suggestion is to write a key word or two from the reading on a small white board or sheet of paper. Show them the key words and tell them to listen especially for those, because they will need to include them in their narration. Then leave those words in view while you read and while they narrate. The words will act like little mental hooks to help them hang their narration on, plus they will be seeing how key names and locations and such are spelled.

      I hope these tips are helpful.

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