Narration with Auditory and Speech Issues

Boy reading

The art of narrating—telling back what you know in your own words—can be a challenge for most every student. But for those who struggle with auditory processing or speech issues, narration can be even more challenging—for both student and parent.

Doubts can arise: Should I require him to narrate at all? Is he capable of this or am I asking him to do something he cannot do? Am I challenging or frustrating my child?

While each parent knows his or her child best, I can share what my experience has been. My youngest is fifteen, but it has only been in the past few years that I’ve required a narration from her. She has autism and developmental delays that affect her language skills, both auditory and speech. So I waited until she was able to use sentences in spontaneous conversation around the house first. I figured if she wasn’t able to compose a sentence in her own words in an informal setting, she shouldn’t be pressured to do so in a lesson setting.

We’ve certainly had our ups and downs, but I wanted to share with you what has been working well lately. Maybe it will give you some ideas for your own situations.

Steps in Narration with Delayed Language Skills

Here are the steps I’ve been using when we read and narrate from a book.

  1. Choose a short story; only a few paragraphs. We have worked up to a page or two for history selections, but for Bible and science, we are still keeping it at a few paragraphs.

    Ideally, the selection will contain a complete idea or event even when it is broken into sections. For example, we recently read about how Samoset brought Squanto to help the Pilgrims. That large event, which historically covered several days or weeks, we broke into smaller events for the readings. The first reading was about Samoset’s coming; the second reading was about his telling them he had a friend named Squanto, whom he would bring to help them. The third reading was about Squanto’s coming; the fourth reading was about Squanto’s showing the Pilgrims how to plant corn with little fish in the soil.

    Short selections are especially crucial to help our language-strugglers gain confidence and practice the habit of full attention.

  2. Show a picture or object that illustrates some aspect of what you will be reading about. If there is a picture in the book, I’ll show it to her and we’ll discuss what we see. I try to use this exercise to build a sense of assured anticipation but not give spoilers. If there isn’t a picture in the book, I’ll find one on the Internet or use simple objects around the house.

    We recently read a poem about four children standing on the edge of the pond, looking at four waterlilies. So I found a photo on the Internet of four waterlilies floating in some water. It took about two minutes to find it. I drug the image onto my desktop so it would be right there when I was ready for it. Double-click to open it, and we’re off and running with no distractions or delays while I try to find it again in my browser. (This little tip can prevent a lot of frustration. Don’t ask me how I know.)

    Today we were going to read about an oak tree that shed its leaves and covered some flowers for the winter. So before we read, we went outside to look at a tree in the front yard that had shed its leaves on the flowers below it. We talked about how the leaves made a blanket to keep the flowers from freezing, and she made a relation with other objects that freeze that she is familiar with.

    In this step I’m trying to prime the pump and use her stronger visual skills to get her started. Once she has a schema, a mental picture of the context, of what she will be hearing, we’re ready to move on.

  3. Write on the white board two or three key words from the selection. Last week, for example, we read the Bible account of Jesus’ clearing the temple and overturning the money-changers’ tables. I picked the words “Jesus,” “temple,” and “greedy people,” because I knew she understood the concept of “greedy.”

    After we look at the picture, I have her read the key words aloud to me and I tell her that those words will be in the story. She should listen for/look for them and include them in her narration too.

  4. Read the selection. Read at the pace that works best for the child, but be careful not to sacrifice inflection and enunciation. You can read slowly and still read expressively. Then again, be careful not to go overboard and get melodramatic, overdoing all the emotions in the story. Try to read as you would to any other student, just slower as needed.

  5. Ask the student to tell the story, being sure to use all the key words on the board. Since my daughter has slow processing, especially when trying to use language, I have a spiral notebook in which I write each sentence after she gives it. It seems that the extra time it takes for me to write gives her more processing time to come up with another sentence. If, on the other hand, I simply sit and look at her and listen while she’s trying to narrate, she feels pressured to come up with the next sentence more quickly and usually shuts down. But if I nod and smile at her first sentence, then shift my gaze to the notebook, and slowly and carefully write it, she doesn’t feel as “put on the spot” and can usually come up with another sentence or two while I’m busy writing the first one. I consider a two- or three-sentence narration a victory!

Looking over those steps, it strikes me that they are very similar to the steps of a narration lesson that Charlotte Mason gave for all children. How nice that the framework is the same! We can simply adjust a bit here and there as each child needs.

It looks like the main adjustments I’ve made have been in the length of the selection we read; giving pre-reading visual context, even for familiar objects; looking away and giving extra time to compose each sentence without pressure; and the length of narration that I expect.

Those of you who are working with language-delayed children, how have you adjusted here and there to better fit your child’s needs in narrating?


  1. Am using (loosely) with my oldest, who has severe childhood apraxia of speech and a substantial language processing disorder. THANK YOU for posting this. Our son is five but there are so few CM practices we can use because he understands so little. Nature study and (modified) habit training (visual schedules, token system) and learning prayers and how to behave at Mass are the main areas we can cover. He knows his ABC’s and 123’s, but translating those concepts into practice is EXCEPTIONALLY difficult. I often feel left behind by CM, although I would desperately love to use the method, it’s difficult to tailor. Your tips are invaluable.

    Please write a practical book for homeschooling a special needs child through CM. I would buy it in a second!

  2. Thank you so much for posting this. One of my children has receptive/expressive language issues. I do practice narration with her but have to be patient and limit my prompts. My biggest challenge is waiting for her to respond as I always want to jump in and give her more prompts or ask questions. This is the wrong move because I am adding more language processnig to an already over-loaded brain! I like your suggestion of writing down the response in order to give the child more processing time.
    All of my children have learned to read late so reading aloud and narration have been invaluable in our house.

  3. We have three children with autism (9, 12 and 17). CM methods work very well with them in may aspects; art study, music, read alouds and hands on nature studies, etc. Narration and writing are much more challenging. We use PECS and visual schedules for every area of academics and daily living. I made some blank PEC cards laminated with clear contact paper that we use to draw visuals to assist with narration. First I have the children practice putting the pictures in the correct order. This helps to organize their thoughts and processmthe sequence. My 12 year old can then narrate – usually one sentence for each picture. I do not write down the narration but sometimes record it on the ipad so he can listen to his successful narration. We also have a story maker app that allows you to import a photo or draw a picture, then record a sentence for each page. This works best for my 9 year old who has very slow processing. She can play back the narration and hear herself while looking at the pictures (without the 5-10 minute pauses between sentences).

  4. My daughter often has trouble expressing herself orally but she loves to draw so I would have her draw a picture of something from the story and then I would, very informally, ask her to tell me about it. Now that she is in fourth grade she is getting more comfortable with oral narrations and I give her a choice of whether to draw, write or speak the narration. She is also more visual than auditory so it helps her to be able to read along with the passage even if I am reading out loud.

  5. We are new to CM, but not to hsing. I have a few with autism, and though narration is more difficult for those with issues, what could be more important to teach? What good is it if the child can fill in worksheets, take tests, but can’t communicate? The biggest barrier is the parents would think since their children can’t narrate in the same way as others that they shouldn’t use CM methods.

    Using the techniques for younger children as long as needed still provides a wonderful education. In my experience, teaching a child with special needs is challenging, despite the method. Why not use CM methods that directly work on their communication skills, which need the most practice anyway?

    My biggest regret is not starting CM sooner.

  6. Thank you for these suggestions. I have been implementing CM ideas with my second grade daughter since kindergarten. It’s amazing to see the progress! I’ve also been implementing CM in my Sunday School class. I have 26 second graders with a wide range of skill levels and learning styles. This post has given me numerous ideas to help these wonderful children get the most out of God’s true stories from the Bible. Thank you!

  7. Sonya-

    I have a daughter that has weaker auditory processing abilities so I allow her to look at the words while I am reading them to her. Is this okay or is it best to have her use only her auditory skills so they will get stronger? I hope that this makes sense.

    • I’m no expert, but it seems like allowing her to look at the words as you read them aloud would be helpful to her in developing fluency as long as you continue to offer other opportunities for her to use only auditory skills; for example, everyday conversations.

  8. What a great post. I have a 10yo daughter with Down syndrome. This will be very helpful for us when she gets older. She is still putting together 2-3 word sentences.

    Would it be okay to ask her W questions after a reading? That is something we are working on to help expand her vocabulary.

    • Good question, Christi. Charlotte Mason discouraged our using direct questions on the content; they usually tend to squelch a good narration. But I wonder if you could use the W questions during the pre-reading key words step. You could maybe write one word for each W and approach the key words from that angle, having her match the Who to the people on the list, etc. Then once you are sure she is comfortable with the words and understands them, move on to the reading and her free narration.

  9. This post was surely an answer to our prayers! Sonya, even if I break it down to a couple sentences using Aesop’s Fables my dd7 struggles. She needs too many prompts. Do I reread or put away for a later time? If she does say anything it’s usually the last sentence I just read to her. Can I practice with a story she knows and have her tell it to me as an example of what I’m looking for her to do? That would be a memorized story certainly but it would give her an idea of what I’m asking her to actually do verbally. Paying attention is probably her weakest issue. Thanks for your help.

    • I like your idea of putting it away for a season and using that time to have fun telling each other stories. You could also use that time to focus on bolstering her habit of attention in various ways.

      I would also recommend that you continue reading to her, even if she isn’t narration or doesn’t seem to be listening. In my daughter’s case, I read to her “on faith” many years, trusting that it was getting “in there” even if I had no evidence yet. Now, years later, I have my evidence: she often recalls bits from those books that I didn’t think she was hearing or understanding.

      So it might be time to take the pressure off for now. Read to her on faith during school time. Tell stories to each other informally during the week, just for fun. And look for ways to strengthen her habit of attention in other areas of life. Then in a few months, knock on that door of narration again, gently, and see if it’s ready to open a crack.

    • Leslie, Aesop is chock full of inferences, which is extremely difficult for my son with Auditory Processing Disorder to understand. Your daughter might do better with a different (simpler) selection.

  10. I’m so glad I ran into this post! my 8 year old son is dyslexic and articulating himself seems to be a challenge, he stumbles over words quite often. I know he has a lot of information to share but getting him to narrate can be challenging.what’s the best way I can help him tto articulate himself better?

    • I haven’t worked with that particular challenge before, but when you say “stumble” it makes me think he might be trying to talk too fast. My first thought would be to try having you write or type his narration one sentence at a time, which will force him to slow down between them and, hopefully, compose each one before speaking it. If he seems to be stumbling because he can’t recall what he wants to say, you might try writing a few key words on a sheet of paper or little white board to give him those mental hooks on which to hang his narration. Or you could possibly read and then have him write his own key words after the story but before he begins speaking to remind himself of the points he wants to cover. Just a few ideas; I hope they help.

  11. I was wondering if 106 Days of Creation Studies would be a great study for someone with a Auditory Processing Disorder & a Mixed Receptive & Expressive Language Disorder? We are currently studying the creation days, however, it has been a headache finding resources that are free from twaddle and straight forward. I have implemented picture narrations to help with retention. Also, his oral narration has improved a lot since we have been doing home therapy with him. I just want to see if this resource could be of some help, with less headache for me!

    • Great question. It’s a little hard to answer without knowing the child’s developmental level and skills, but my first inclination would be to say the Family activities may be a good fit. The two areas that I would give pause and potentially leave out would be the experiments and the Moody Science videos. My daughter is very literal and concrete thinking and would not understand why we are doing the experiments or pick up on what they demonstrated. Your child might be at a different level, but that is one thing to consider. The Moody Science videos are pretty high-level language lectures and might be overwhelming for a child who struggles with language delays. But I think the creation notebook ideas, nature study ideas, and book suggestions for Family could be enjoyable. I’d recommend you download the free sample and take a look at those first lessons to get a feel for what is included.

      • Thank you for your response and input. You are right about the experiments. We’ve done experiments before and it really hasn’t made any sense to him. He has not been able to explain what they demonstrated. I am going to implement your ideas. I will keep you posted on his progress! Thanks so much!

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