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Monday, October 28, 2019

The Narration Jar

Narration is an important part of a Charlotte Mason education, and a deceptively simple one. Do not be fooled by its simplicity. Narration is the bones for essays, critiques, and all other sorts of more formal writing later on. Narration seems so simple, but it really gets the brain working on all sorts of complex tasks, reviewing, reasoning, comparing, contrasting, organizing, selecting, and summarizing. Once the brain has done all this work then the child tells back, which is also an important skill in communication. With such a simple, yet complex task, some try to make it more complicated than it is, and others find that their children are surprisingly reluctant to begin. Perhaps these ideas will be helpful to those who wonder where to start.
Beginning narrators typically narrate after listening to (or reading) a single paragraph- or, in some cases, even a single sentence. This is to help develop the habit of attentiveness as well as to gently accustom the child to the skill of narration. Gradually, as the child shows readiness the length of the reading increases. Over a period of years the student makes a slow and steady transition to the point where he is able to write his narrations as well. However, written narrations will never completely replace oral; there is a place for both in the Charlotte Mason method.
The narration itself should not ever be interrupted or corrected in mid-narration. However, once the narration is completed, you may ask questions or point out areas the student might have missed, make corrections, and discuss further.
For those new to narration, the oral narrations generally begin with “Tell me what you remember.” Sometimes, “Tell me what you remember about….” is used. For reluctant narrators I might ask, “Tell me anything at all about something we just read.”
My understanding of how Charlotte Mason applied narration is that in order for it to be a truly effective tool, every book, every reading, and every lesson must be narrated- but don’t despair. You can do this. In Miss Mason’s schools every single reading was followed by a narration, but that didn’t mean that every child always narrated. Because of the dynamics of the classroom setting, the children always knew they might be called on, so they listened to the readings with the attention required if they were going to be called to narrate. Knowing that they stood a good chance of being called on to narrate probably gave an edge to their attention skills.
In the homeschool it requires a bit more effort to help the children gain this same edge, but it can be done. If you have more than one child reading the same book they can alternate narrations. One narrates from the first book, the next narrates from the second book, etc. Their attention will be just a little sharper if they each realize they might be called to narrate at any time, so you could instead simply draw names for each narration, or pick a number between one and ten. Sometimes this may mean the same child narrates four times in a row, but that is fine. You can also have one child start a narration, interrupt him midstream and have another finish. You should _not_ have one child narrate the whole story and then another child narrate the same story. Repetition of narrations is, like repetition of reading, frowned on in a Charlotte Mason education. Repeating narrations from the same reading dulls the attention.
You could have one narrate and ask the next to fill in any missing details. Sometimes you might narrate, asking the child or children to fill in any details you missed. You might also try something we use which has come to be called a narration jar. I have written down a variety of styles of narration individually on slips of paper. I put all those slips of paper in a jar. After the reading, one child draws out a slip of paper from the jar and narrates in the manner indicated- and sometimes he draws out a slip of paper and then several of the children end up narrating.
Here are some things in our narration jar:
Draw a picture of a scene from your reading.
Set up a scene from the story with your blocks.
Model something from the story using play-dough.
Narrate into the tape recorder.
Narrate orally to Mama.
Write down five sentences about what you read.
Tell me about another story or event that reminds you of what you just read about.
Write down three sentences about what you read.
You have 10 minutes to plan a short skit from what you read.
If you were giving a test on this reading, what are three questions you would ask?
Skip the narration today.
Write a letter (or e-mail) to Grandma about the reading you did today.
Tell me what you think is going to happen next, and why.
I do not have the same number of papers for each style- there are several ‘narrate to Mama’ slips but only two play dough and skit suggestions. After the children draw the slip, they return it to the jar, so the next narration has just as many choices. As the children grow more comfortable with narration, more complicated tasks and styles of narration can be added.
The narration jar is not our only form of narration. Rather, this is for when Mother is busy or having trouble thinking. At other times I might ask them questions more specific to their reading (what kind of person is Frodo, give me some examples that show his character; tell me about how Edison made his discovery; Draw me a map of Marco Polo’s travels).
To read further about this remarkable educational tool, try these webpages:
We Narrate and then We Know
Concerning Repeated Narrations
Some Notes on Narration
Thoughts on Narration
If you have suggestions for creative narrations that could be added to the narration jar, leave them in the comments. This article is copyrighted and may be reprinted and shared freely, providing you credit the author (me) and include this notice. AT no time may this article be included in any publication for resale.   I’ve just found bits and pieces of it copied all over the place, without notice, without credit- including over at currclick for sale.  Sigh.  I wish they wouldn’t.
If you appreciate what you read here,  I have some other goodies you'll enjoy.  Take a look below!

$5.00- Education for All, vol 2- the Imagination (and more) issue!- transcript of the imagination talk from the AO Camp meeting, with additional material I had to cut to save time.  

 $5.00- Education for All, a new CM journal,   Feed Your Mind!  This issue contains several articles on handicrafts, outdoor play, nature study and science. See sidebar for purchasing options if you are in the Philippines.


  1. This a an excellent review of how to do narration even for seasoned CM homeschoolers. Thanks, Wendi! :)

  2. Thank you! Narration is a struggle around here, Little Man finds it soooo burdensome. (I think because it takes work on his part, and he tends to shirk work.) Does the child draw from the jar before reading or after?

    I'm reading vol 1 right now and loving it. I keep reading bits outloud to Hubby and various friends. :D

  3. I had them draw after the reading. I would give them a minute to compose their thoughts and then have them draw from the jar. Since I did include one slip that said 'no narration this time,' I wouldn't want them drawing ahead of time. They should always know they have a good chance of being called to narrate. It helps them pay attention better.

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