Narration and the Non-Auditory Learner

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  • mommyshortlegs

    Is narration (“telling back”) a tool applicable to all learners, including those non-auditory? Is it realistic to anticipate my non-auditory learner will eventually retain (absorb and make her own) what she hears? I dread to think such a foundational part of the CM method may never work for my daughter.


    I think most of the time, yes, narration can be used by all types of learners. I have used it with four kids so far with success, and only one of them is really what I would consider an auditory learner. If there are other issues going on, like developmental delays or other special needs, adjustments probably need to be made.

    Another thing to consider is that if a child has difficulty listening to the material and then telling back, it is also possible to do narration by having the child read the material herself and then tell it back to you. In fact, I do this with all my kids beginning in third grade (this is something that is required in Writing With Ease, which I loosely follow, so this may differ from a CM approach). But it is something to think about.

    How old is your daughter? How long a passage is she narrating from? Maybe you need to shorten the passages? The type of book also matters. It is much easier to narrate a story than, say, a science textbook. Another thing I sometimes do when learning writing skills (narration is a precursor to writing) is to use a book that is a level or two below their grade level. That helps them concentrate on the skill (narration) without having to concentrate on interpreting the reading at the same time.

    I hope something there is helpful, and that someone with more experience than me also replies.

    Karen Smith

    Narration is a foundational technique to help a person comprehend. If you can explain it in you own words, you understand it.

    Narration starts auditory because younger students are usually still learning to read and write. For grades 1-3, all books are read to them, except readers used for practicing their reading skills, and the child orally narrates what was read. In grade 4 the student begins to read some of the books independently and begins to write some of the narrations. As the student gets older, she will read more books independently and write more narrations, but still give some oral narrations.

    Remember to keep the big picture in mind. Listening attentively is a learned skill for most of us. It is also an essential skill for communicating in relationships and jobs. Narration gives practice with restating what was said or read in your own words to confirm that you are understanding accurately what someone has told you.

    You can help a student who struggles with listening attentively by making a list before the reading of any key words that will be in the reading. List names of key people, places, or objects for your child to listen for while you read. You can also have a picture related to the reading for the child to look at while you read. For instance, if you are reading about Stone Henge, you can display a picture of Stone Henge for the student to look at while you read.

    Another thing to remember is to keep the length of your readings short enough to keep your child’s attention. Start very short. Read one paragraph and ask for an oral narration. Once your child is able to narrate one paragraph well, increase to two paragraphs. Eventually, your child should be able to listen to a longer reading from a book before giving a narration. For younger students, a 15-20 minute lesson is recommended. A lesson includes a pre-reading review, the reading, and the narration.

    You can read more about narration in our blog series, Narration Q&A, or in our book, Your Questions Answered: Narration. You will also find more tips in our many articles on narration.

    You may also find Karen Andreola’s article Learning Styles and Charlotte Mason helpful.

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