Topic | Narration – what if they don't understand what they read?


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  • ErinD

    Me again, with more narration questions. 🙂

    Occasionally, my boys will tell me that they can’t narrate from their science or history or whatever, because they don’t understand it well enough to tell it back in writing. Obviously, the lack of comprehension needs to be addressed with further teaching, but as far as narrating goes, what do you do in this situation?

    Do you have them re-read it? Do you go through it with them? Or do you just pick something else for narration that day? Curious as to how others handle this.


    How old are they and what are they reading (number of paragraphs/pages in a sitting)? Usually there are a couple culprits:

    1. The material is simply too hard, above their comprehension level. Pick a different book.

    2. They are reading too much at one time. Especially if it is an information packed book, they may need to read less before narrating.

    3. They are not attending to their reading. They’re getting distracted, hurrying through, skipping words or even paragraphs. Having them read it aloud (even to a pet or stuffed animal) forces them to slow down.

    You’ll have to do some checking to see which of the three it is. Read the assignment yourself, do you think it is #1 or #2? Then make adjustments. If you are sure it’s not those then it is probably #3.


    This is my 15yo and 13yo sons. Usually, it is about science. 15yo is reading The Stargazer’s Guide to the Night Sky, and it does get quite technical in parts, so I can understand his frustration. 13yo is doing Apologia Physical, and I think his problem is probably #2. He often reads a number of pages at a time, and it just might be too much to narrate the whole thing. I should have him focus on just one section of it, or something.

    Great ideas, Tristan! Thanks.


    I think the biggest problem here is that the books aren’t really living books. Narrating text books and other information dense books that are devoid of literary language is very difficult. Narration and living books go hand in hand.

    We use textbooks in our house but I don’t require narrations from them. I may ask my daughter to put a particular concept in to her own words every now and then to demonstrate understanding but I don’t have her narrate entire readings. When we use textbooks, we just do the corresponding assignments. The only way to really narrate textbooks or dry, information-dense books is to stop and narrate after every concept and this becomes very time consuming as the students get older and have larger books to work through within certain time periods.

    We sometimes used narration with textbooks when we first began using textbooks in late middle school but eventually switched to just doing the assignments in the curriculum.


    You are right, Melanie. Textbooks will definitely be harder to narrate from than living books.

    However, I don’t think that means I want to quit doing it. There have been times where they write a narration and then tell me that writing it out helped them to get all the info straight, and learn it better. So I still feel there is value in doing it, especially since we use textbooks for science and history (can’t really avoid them)!

    But it’s still a good reminder that it is more difficult, and I can make the passage shorter for them if I need to, and possibly I should work in more narration from literature.

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