Written Narration: The Next Step in Composition (Narration Q & A, part 14)

We’ve been discussing oral narration for several weeks now. It’s time to move on to the next step in composition.

Wait a minute! you say to yourself. The next step? I thought written narration was composition.

So often when we discuss composition, we focus on the writing. Writing is, indeed, a part of composition, but another part comes first: the mental work.

Charlotte called oral narration “oral composition.” All the time that our students are doing oral narration, they are practicing the necessary mental process of composition. When they and their handwriting fluency are ready, they can transition neatly to the next step: writing down their thoughts.

With that in mind, let’s answer some questions.

Narration Question #45: When and how should I make the transition to having my child do written narrations?

Look for basically three signs that the student is ready for written narration: (1) fluent in oral narrations, which shows that the mental process is in place; (2) comfortable in handwriting techniques, so he doesn’t have to concentrate on letter formation as well as content; (3) a good mental storehouse of word spellings from copywork and transcription, so he will be able to spell many of the words he wants to use. Charlotte made the transition when the student was around ten years old.

An easy way to make the transition is to tell the student that from here out you will be asking him to write one of his narrations each week. (That’s not a magic number; it’s just a suggestion.) If he falters and hesitates and shows signs of blank-sheet-of-paper writer’s block, try this little technique: Have him start narrating orally as usual, and you write or type what he is dictating. When he gets near the end—maybe one or two sentences left—stop writing and hand him the paper. Tell him to finish it. The task won’t look so daunting now that most of it is already done and he knows what he’s going to say. Over time, you can stop sooner and sooner until he is writing the whole thing himself.

Narration Question #46: How does one properly correct a narration for errors—both written and oral?

It’s important to keep in mind that narration is an art as well as a natural skill. Allow time for that art to develop over the years. Therefore, approach corrections gently and incrementally. Don’t penalize the student for something you haven’t taught him yet. Encourage him by pointing out what he did well, not just his errors. Some practical specifics are below.

Narration Question #47: Should I be correcting my child’s written narrations?

Yes, once he has settled into the process of getting his thoughts down on paper. You don’t want to discourage his efforts by grabbing a red pen and “bleeding” all over his composition. But you do want to help him improve over time. I recommend focusing on just one or two points at a time. For example, you could start with beginning a sentence with a capital letter. Talk about that guideline, then hold him responsible for it in future narrations. If he overlooks it, point it out and have him make the needed changes in his writing. Continue until he has mastered that guideline, then move on to another point.

Narration Question #48: How do we know what needs to be corrected for our children if we are not that great at writing?

Grab a reference book that has concise, straightforward guidelines that you can use as a framework. Write Right! by Jan Venolia has a helpful section on capitalization and punctuation, as well as some tips on the craft of writing. For high schoolers, I heartily recommend The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White (yes, the author of Charlotte’s Web).

Narration Question #49: Is there some kind of guide you recommend for the teacher to use to help our children improve upon their written narrations?

Look through your reference book and make a list of the guidelines that you think are common (used most often) and are important to communicating clearly. Those will be your base line. Choose one or two to start with and begin the process of incrementally introducing them and holding the student responsible to follow them in his narrations. As he demonstrates mastery, introduce another while still holding him responsible for all the previous ones.

Some teachers find it helpful to make a rubric that outlines the components that the student should be including in his writing. With that tool both the teacher and the student know what is expected and can evaluate whether he is improving. (You can find many rubric examples online. Be sure to customize it with your selected guidelines as you go along.)

Narration Question #50: Do you recommend any specific resources to assist the student’s writing of a narration?

Four resources come to mind:

  1. Good Living Books—Make sure he is reading well-written living books. Nothing will shape your student’s writing more than what he reads.
  2. Incremental Instruction—Point out one or two guidelines that will help him improve his writing. This can easily be done with dictation passages. When reading through the new exercise, take a minute to point out a guideline. Even better, help the student discover the guideline and create his own master list of punctuation and capitalization uses to remember.
  3. Consistent Writing Opportunities—Give consistent practice and encouraging feedback. It’s all too easy to allocate written narrations to the hit-and-miss category of assignments. For steady improvement, the student needs steady writing opportunities with ongoing attention. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it does need to be consistent.
  4. Oral Narrations—Continue some oral narrations. As the number of written narrations increases, don’t abandon oral narrations. Oral narration will give the student continuing practice in that mental process and a nice change of pace to keep variety in his schoolwork.

Next time we will take a look at how to increase the challenge of written narrations as the students progress.


  1. Do you think that a highschooler, transitioning to some CM methods, mainly narration, should just do verbal narration for awhile rather than written? How long would you wait before beginning written narration in this case?

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