Free Writing Versus Written Narration Writing

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

The Positive Impact of Written Narrations and the Negative Impact of “Free Writing”

Charlotte Mason loved living books. Living books are page-turners; they are the books you just cannot put down. They beg to be shared, both in conversation (oral narration) and in writing (written narration). When children connect with something, they long to share that connection. Narration, whether oral or written, provides a natural way to share those connections with others – namely, with us! Their homeschool parents! Young children begin their narrations in an oral format, but they soon move on to sharing their narrations in a written format. When our children write written narrations, they begin to develop their own writing style and learn important editing skills. Unfortunately, “free writing” teaches neither of these things. Let’s see why!

Free Writing Versus Written Narration Writing

Free writing is popular in some public schools. Children are encouraged to free write on any topic that strikes their fancy. I am all for creative writing! But, free writing, well, that belongs in your private journal tucked away in your room for your own personal record of your random thoughts. To really develop your own writing style, nothing beats reading excellent living books and sharing what you remember. Why? Well, authors of excellent books have some pretty amazing writing styles! Somewhere within the meshing of all those incredible writing styles, your children’s own personal style will emerge. Maybe there will be a little Jane Austen mixed with a little Shakespeare, or a little Ben Franklin mixed with a little William J. Bennett. There is much to be learned from timeless authors of living books. How exciting to see our own children’s writing styles emerging with shades of the ‘greats’!

No to Little Editing Versus Daily Editing

Teachers don’t usually edit free writing. Why? Well, random thoughts are hard to edit. Not to mention, free writing can tend to go on and on, with no real stopping point. Often, children are encouraged to let their thoughts flow. Writing with proper punctuation, capitalization, and mechanics and usage is not really emphasized as the ‘flow’ might be lost. The result is lengthy free writing that unfortunately often flows with ample spelling errors and meager use of capitalization and punctuation. Written narrations, on the other hand, are shared and corrected immediately (ideally, that is). This encourages the use of proper punctuation, capitalization, and mechanics and usage. It also encourages pausing to really ponder what you want to say and how you want to say it.

Free writing isn’t all that freeing because no one really wants to read it.

Most children don’t find free writing all that freeing. Why? Well, it often seems no one really wants to read it. In fact, children often don’t even want to reread their own free writing. Can you imagine a daily assigned free writing time? Every day of the school year? Your blank pages of your lined composition book stare up at you. What will you free write about today? Oh, the pressure of finding a worthy topic! In contrast, Charlotte Mason removes that pressure. Children know the topics of their written narrations; the topics are the amazing living books they just read! Likewise, children know we, as the parents, will read and help edit their written narrations.

Written narrations beg to be read. They are a window into our children’s hearts, souls, and minds. They have depth. Never underestimate the power of the written narration. Free write on the side. Written narrations? They craft the future ‘timeless’ writers, and who knows? That could be your child.

In Christ,


Editing Using the Marker Board Method

From Our House to Yours

Editing Using the Marker Board Method

In last week’s From Our House to Yours post, I shared the ‘sticky note method of editing.’ I like to use the sticky note method of editing written narrations before using the marker board method of editing. The sticky note method works well because errors can be noted directly next to the line in which they occur. Using the sticky note method also helps me train our kiddos to follow basic proofreading marks to make corrections. Finally, the sticky note method makes it easy to see if needed corrections have been made. I just look at the sticky note to check if each correction has been made within each noted line of the narration. I love using the sticky note method of editing! However, I also enjoy using what I’ll call the ‘marker board method of editing.’

Try the marker board method of editing with children who are older, who make fewer mistakes, and who write longer narrations.

The marker board method of editing works well with children who are older, who make fewer mistakes, and who are writing longer narrations. As my children grow, so do their narrations! The longer and longer their narrations grow, the smaller and smaller their writing gets. I love Heart of Dakota‘s recommendation to have students read aloud their written narrations with pencil in hand. As they read, students make any corrections they realize they need to make. This encourages self editing, which is one of the end goals of writing as students mature! It also encourages legibility. If they can’t read their own writing, they immediately realize they need to correct it without me even having to say it!

There is one drawback to using the sticky note method of editing that causes me to switch to the marker board method of editing.

As my children’s written narrations get longer and their writing gets smaller, I find one drawback to using the sticky note method. I find I want to edit as they read aloud their narration. However, this is not possible with the sticky note method, as it is cumbersome to keep stopping them for me to lean in and jot the errors on the sticky note. I also find it difficult to edit directly within the written narrations in the notebook. As children mature, their fine motor skills improve, which means their writing (as it should) naturally shrinks. They write so small there just isn’t space for proofreading marks. So, because I wanted to edit as they read aloud rather than me having to reread the written narrations to edit them later, I began using the ‘marker board method of editing.’

How to Use the Marker Board Method of Editing

To use the marker board method of editing, I put small pencil marks along the left margin of their written narration. Directly on the notebooking page’s box, I put a small mark/dot dividing the box into fourths. This sections the narration into 4 parts. Then, I use my dry erase marker to divide a handheld marker board into 4 parts. As my children read aloud their narrations, I either sit next to them or peer over their shoulder, so I can clearly see their written narration at they read it. Then, as they read, I jot the needed changes in the right section of the marker board. I use the same basic proofreading marks from the sticky note method.

For example, let’s say they need to capitalize ‘Federalist Papers’ in the first 1/4 section of the written narration. As they are reading, in the first 1/4 section of my marker board, I write Federalist Papers with a capital ‘F’ and ‘P’ with 3 lines under the letters. Or, let’s say they misspelled ‘campaign’ in the next 1/4 section. In the next 1/4 section on my marker board, I write ‘campaign’ spelled properly with a circled ‘sp’ next to it. Or, let’s say in the bottom 1/4 of the written narration they missed a comma before the conjunction ‘and.’ On the bottom 1/4 of my marker board, I write a comma with a circle around it and a carot mark under it with the word ‘and’ after it. Then, after sharing what I loved about their narration, they use the marker board to make corrections.

Phasing Out the Marker Board Method of Editing

As my children become better and better writers and make fewer and fewer mistakes, I divide the written narration and the marker board into just 2 sections. So, there is just a top half and bottom half. As there are fewer errors, it is easier for them to find them in bigger sections. Then, after awhile, I don’t divide the written narration or marker board at all, so they are each just one big section. Finally, I move to just editing directly in the written narration. If a word is misspelled, I just underline it. It is now their job to look it up and fix it using the (history, science, etc.) book they read for help. If a punctuation mark is missing, I just put a carot with the mark. This is easy, as there are only a few mistakes!

In Closing

So, in closing, editing written narrations can be done in many different ways. When children are young and are writing short narrations, it is easiest just to edit directly within the written narration. However, as children grow older, write longer narrations, and write smaller, you may want to try either the sticky note method or the marker board method of editing.  See if you like either one or even both! Then, editing can come full circle, and you can return to just editing directly in your high school student’s written narration again!

In Christ,



Editing Written Narrations Using the Sticky-Note Method

A Heart of Dakota Life

Editing Written Narrations Using the Sticky Note Method

When children write a written narration, they tell back in their own words what they have just read. This Charlotte Mason-style assessment helps children begin to develop their own writing style. We encourage individual personality, spirit, and originality. However, we also strive for accuracy, both in content and in editing. Children begin writing 1-3 sentences for their written narrations in Heart of Dakota‘s Preparing Hearts. However, by the time they graduate high school, they are writing 4-5 paragraphs. Obviously, the length increases through the years! No matter what the length may be, students should always read aloud their written narrations after writing them. With pencil in hand, they can self-edit as they read aloud to you. But, what’s next? For today, let’s chat about using the sticky note method to edit!

A Quick Reminder of the Importance of Using the Appendix 

In the Appendix of Heart of Dakota‘s guides, you will find Narration Tips for both the teacher and the student. These are super helpful for understanding the narration process from before, to during, to end! You will also find Written Narration Skills for both the teacher and the student. These are super helpful for understanding the editing process! In general, students work through these one at a time. Once they do the first thing (indent each paragraph), they move on to the second thing (make sure the first sentence is on the right topic). Once students have moved past these first few skills, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling are next. This next level of editing is the purpose of this blog post!

The Sticky Note Method

For younger students, for students new to narrating, and for students who make many mistakes, I like to use what I call the ‘sticky note method.’ Basically, this involves sticking sticky notes along the left margin of the written narration. While kiddos read aloud their narration, I just listen without interrupting. When they finish, I start with some positive comments. It is incredibly important to be encouraging! Then, I edit the narration with a pencil using the editing marks below. If something needs to be capitalized, I put 3 lines under it. If a capital letter needs to be made lowercase, I put a slash through it. Misspelled words have a circle around them with ‘sp’ above them. Then, on the sticky note, I write the proper spelling of the words they missed next to the line they are in. This helps them easily find the errors and fix them!

The Sticky Note Method for a More Advanced Writer

For a more advanced writer, I use the sticky note method, but in a slightly different way. After they have read aloud their narration, self-edited, and I’ve given some compliments, I put sticky notes down the left margin. But, instead of writing directly on their narration, I just make notes on the sticky notes. My  notes are all next to the line the error(s) are found in.

So, for example, if the word ‘you’ should have been capitalized in line 3, next to line 3 on the sticky note I write ‘you’ with 3 lines under the ‘y.’ Or, if ‘Versailles’ is misspelled in line 10, I put a circle with ‘sp’ next to line 10 and write ‘Versailles’ spelled correctly. If a comma or period is missing in line 15, I put a caret (the ‘add something’ editing mark) with a comma or period next to line 15. This way, they are taking their self-editing one step further because they have to locate where in each line to fix their errors.

In Closing

In closing, the sticky note method is just one way to edit written narrations. I will more than likely share other ways to edit in future blog posts. However, for beginning writers and for writers starting to be a bit more advanced, I have found the sticky note method works well.  Though there are many editing marks, I use the shorter list I shared above. I find using too many proofreading marks gets confusing. Likewise, I find too many editing changes gets depressing. So, while I always note errors in capitalization, spelling, and basic proper punctuation, I might not note every single comma, quotation mark, or apostrophe error at first. These can be added later, as children’s basic writing skills improve. Give this sticky note method a try! Who knows? You might like it!

In Christ,


Five Simple Steps to Help Your Student Become a Strong Writer

From Our House to Yours

A Trend in Writing to Ponder

Each day I get to help families with placement in Heart of Dakota. I’ve enjoyed doing this for over a decade and consider it an incredible blessing and a privilege! I see a trend for many students who come to Heart of Dakota from other curricula.  They are often placing lower on the placement chart in writing, spelling, and grammar.  They have done much work orally. But, now that they are getting older, parents are looking ahead to middle school and high school work. They are concerned their students won’t be ready.

Impact on Spelling and Editing Skills

Since much of the work was done orally by students, their spelling has also been impacted. They just have not written enough to form the habit of spelling well. Likewise, they have done little to no editing of their own written work. The parent has not been editing either, as students have been doing their work orally. This leaves the parent with all of the responsibility of editing a larger volume of work, as students should be writing more as they mature.  So, a responsibility that should be shared or shifting more to the student has landed soundly in the parent’s lap!  Not what we busy homeschool moms need, right?!?

How Reading Aloud Everything Can Impact Students’ Writing

When older students are combined with much younger students and therefore everything must be read aloud either by them or the parent, their writing is impacted. Seeing the text on the page as you read in your head fixes proper spelling in your mind.  This in turn helps you have a better chance of spelling words correctly in your own writing.  Older students who have not read independently often do not write well independently for this reason. This is why Charlotte Mason advocated students at the age of 9 be responsible for their reading. Can you think back to yourself as a 5th grade student? I know, for some of us, this is going waaaaaay back.  But, thinking back, how would your teachers reading everything aloud to you have impacted your writing?  Probably significantly, and not in a way you’d like.

The good news – Heart of Dakota’s plans are designed to help students improve their writing!

Students incrementally become stronger writers using Heart of Dakota’s plans!  Simply following the daily plans and using the writing helps in the appendix of each guide helps students gradually improve.  However, what do you do if you are coming to Heart of Dakota later?  Or, what if you did Heart of Dakota from the start, but you altered the plans so work was done orally instead?  Well, take heart!  Students can and will improve given time, as they create new writing habits.  So, here are 5 tips to help your children strengthen their writing skills and be on the road to writing well!

#1: Follow Heart of Dakota’s plans by requiring all writing in assignments to be completed.

Start small if need be!  Students assigned to write 5- 7 sentences for a written narration should start with 5 good short sentences.  Quality trumps quantity to begin with!  Students should use proper spelling in all copywork, written narrations, and formal writing assignments. However, editing writing in all subject areas helps as well.  So, if you see a word spelled wrong in science, for example, try to help them fix it. Though work need not be perfect, spelling is something to try to edit in all subject areas as much as possible.

A word on this poster had to be fixed because it was misspelled. Not fun to fix, but in the end, he was happier to share his work knowing it was spelled right!
#2: Use the editing tips in the back of the guide.

Take time to edit to help your student become a strong writer! Working through the list following the directions in the Appendix will help students form good editing habits.  The responsibility for editing will gradually shift more from you to your students.  As this happens, your kiddos will learn writing carefully from the start equals less editing at the end. Keep in mind, students write one draft for written narrations.   A parent should not require a student to rewrite an entire written narration in a second or third draft.  Rather, students edit their first draft to the best of their ability with a parent offering help and encouragement as needed.

Riley’s Written Narrations in World Geography
#3:  Do dictation every day you homeschool.

Heart of Dakota’s plans assign dictation 3 out of 4 days a week.  Struggling spellers can see more improvement in their spelling by doing dictation daily. Be sure to follow the directions at the start of dictation carefully, as they follow Charlotte Mason’s tried and true methods.  For one of my sons who struggled with spelling, we did dictation daily.  It took his scores on standardized testing from below average to above average.  He didn’t become a stellar speller overnight, mind you!  But, slow and steady consistent dictation and editing helped him improve greatly!

#4:  Students should read when assigned to do so.

Carrie wrote Heart of Dakota’s plans to include living books. She chose these books specifically with reading roles in mind.  Students placed properly in a guide can independently read what has been assigned or quickly grow into the reading.  Carrie didn’t forget parents’ love to read aloud either! Parents always get to enjoy reading something too.  I love the books I get to read aloud with my sons!  But, I also love my sons enjoying reading on their own too! Keep in mind not all living books function best as read alouds.  Likewise, the reading assignments vary in length.  Some readings are long!  Students are meant to read them more quickly independently. As Charlotte Mason advocated children 9 years or older begin doing their own reading, Carrie chose books with this in mind.

#5: Teach students to shrink their writing to fit on notebook paper.

Students who are new to writing often write quite large.  They also often do not know how to write with proper spacing.  Writing on lined notebook paper for subjects such as R & S English, science questions, Common Place book entries, etc. can be a challenge.  You can help by pointing out the left and right margins.  Likewise, you can draw their attention to spacing between words.  Helping them visualize a dotted line within the wide line also helps with writing lower case letters.  Students can skip lines, as this helps them better see how to edit their written work.  They can also experiment with various pencils and grippers, until they find what they like best. Parents can jot editing notes in the margin for easy reference.

Emmett’s Writing on Notebook Paper and My Editing Marks in the Margin

I use these tips with my own sons each day!  I have seen such improvement in writing, spelling, and grammar through the years with Heart of Dakota.  My job as editor decreases and shifts to my sons’ job as they mature.  This is what helps them be able to write well without me!  And that, in my mind, is the final goal for writing!  Hope this helps as you encourage your own kiddos to become the best writers they can be!

In Christ,


P.S. For more on written narrations as a form of assessment, click here!

P.S.S. For more on dictation as a way to teach spelling to struggling students, click here!