5 Steps to Successful Narration

We’ve been talking about the 5 steps to a successful narration lesson, and today we want to continue that series. So far we’ve discussed the importance of selecting a good living book. Book selection can make or break your child’s success at narration. We’ve also emphasized looking ahead and behind before you begin reading in order to help your child find his bearings and prepare his mind to absorb what you are about to share.

Unfortunately, in many parents’ minds a narration lesson has only two steps: read and narrate. The end. But to have a successful narration lesson—one in which your child’s mind embraces and enjoys living ideas on which to grow—you need all five steps:

  1. Pick a good living book.
  2. Look ahead and behind.
  3. Read the passage.
  4. Retell the passage.
  5. Discuss ideas.

Today let’s look at Step 3. It’s time to read.

Read the Passage

The beauty of the Charlotte Mason method of using living books is that it relieves us of the burden of being the fountainhead of all knowledge. We do not have to bear the responsibility of telling our children everything they need to know about any subject at hand. We can let the great minds of great men and women do that. (And I daresay they will do a better job of it than we could.) All we have to do is read their ideas in the books we have selected. We can allow the book to be the teacher. It’s a brilliant philosophy!

Our concern, then, is with the How: how long and how often. How long of a passage do we read? and How often do we read it?

How long we read depends somewhat on the student. If he is just starting out with this whole narration method, we read a short bit. If he is an old pro, we can read a longer portion. Aesop’s fables are a great place to start with a beginner. They contain a whole story in just a paragraph or two. As the student gains experience and proficiency in listening and narrating, the length of the passage can be bumped out gradually until he is reading and narrating an entire chapter.

But don’t get carried away. Even if a student can narrate a long passage, don’t feel like you need to keep pushing the boundary. He will most likely benefit more from a moderate-length passage that he can ponder over than an epic-length passage that bombards him with too many ideas. When in doubt, too short is better than too long.

Now, for the second How—How often do we read the passage?—the answer is definite: once. We all have the very human tendency to not pay full attention if we know we can get another chance at hearing or reading the information. But such a tendency is the opposite of the habit of attention. And the habit of attention is the teacher’s best friend. You will get a lot more accomplished, and have an enjoyable time doing it, if you cultivate the habit of full attention both within yourself and within your children. Reading the passage only once before requiring a careful narration can be a powerful motivator toward developing that habit!

This is another reason that we are careful not to read too long; the longer the passage, the harder it is to give it full attention. So be careful not to frustrate your students in their efforts to develop the habit of attention. Long passages, read once, are for those experienced and proficient in CM methods and habits. Shorter passages, read once, are your tool for getting there.

If you would like to read more on cultivating the habit of attention, this article on how the habit of attention relates to a child’s will may be helpful. If you are struggling with perpetual interruptions from the children while you are reading a passage, you might enjoy the article, Relating and Rambling.


    • Those are the two biggies, Trish, yes. A couple of others things you might try are allowing the student to read over your shoulder, so she can see the words as well as hear them. Something else that I’ve done with my youngest, who has special needs, is to give her one picture that represents the scene of the reading for the day. For example, when we read Bible stories, I’ve set up a felt scene (Betty Luken felts work well) that she can look at as I read or used a picture from a Bible story book. Only one picture, though. I don’t want her to get distracted from trying to process the story by having the visual overemphasized. Something I tried today is related. We were going to read the chapter from On the Banks of Plum Creek about the old crab and the bloodsuckers. So I found a picture of each creature in an old set of encyclopedias we have. I showed her one picture at a time and we talked a little about it. Then I told her that Laura was going to meet each of those creatures in today’s story. That gave her a mental visual and hook on which to hang what she heard. It seemed to help, because when we got to the part about Laura pulling off the bloodsuckers, my daughter started to smile. She had made a connection.

      Hope these ideas help a bit.

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