Retaining knowledge by “telling again”

A Charlotte Mason Moment:

“Education which demands a ‘conscious mental effort’, from the scholar, the mental effort of telling again that which has been read or heard. That is how we all learn, we tell again, to ourselves if need be, the matter we wish to retain, the sermon, the lecture, the conversation. The method is as old as the mind of man, the distressful fact is that it has been made so little use of in general education.”

(Home Education by Charlotte M. Vol. 6, p. 159-160)

Oral Narrations: An Integral Part of a Charlotte Mason Education

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Oral narrations are an integral part of a Charlotte Mason education!

A Charlotte Mason education is literature-based and full of living books that you just can’t put down!  Think about the best book you’ve ever read. As you were reading it, if you were asked to respond to it each day, would you have delightedly chosen to take a pop quiz about it with fill-in-the-blank, true/false, or multiple choice questions? Or, would you have much rather just told a friend about it, sharing all you remembered in a narrative way? Chances are, you’d prefer to tell someone about it over taking a quiz.  Even if you happen to be a rare quiz-loving person, which response would you be more likely to remember? Good books are meant to be shared, and Charlotte Mason knew that when they are shared, they are remembered – long after any quickly forgotten quiz. That is why oral narrations are an integral part of a Charlotte Mason education.

A Charlotte Mason education is based on using narration as the primary method of comprehension.

When children orally narrate, they tell back in their own words what they have just read or heard. Oral narration allows children to share their own version of the passage with accuracy, individual personality, spirit, and originality. In Charlotte Mason-style narration, children borrow words from the author to retell the story.  Narrations are often lengthy and detailed, and there is no “one right” answer or certain key points that “should be” in the narration. This is the way the child connects to and makes sense of the reading. Children can often give a candid heartfelt oral narration on a book they read years earlier, simply because they remember it so well due to having narrated upon it. A Charlotte Mason education is based on using narration as the primary method of comprehension because it is so effective.

Heart of Dakota’s guides include helpful tips for both the teacher and the student before, during, and after orally narrating.

Chances are, you didn’t grow up orally narrating in school, and more than likely, you’d love a little guidance in this area. Well, Heart of Dakota provides that! Each year Carrie wrote a new Heart of Dakota guide, she pulled out Charlotte Mason’s original volumes and reread all that pertained to the upcoming stages of learning students were entering. The result? Decades of Charlotte Mason research at your disposal right within your Heart of Dakota guides. Beginning with modeling oral narrations and moving to helpful tips for both teacher and student before, during, and after orally narrating – HOD has you covered. Likewise beginning with simple narrations and moving to detailed, summary, key word, highlighted, topic, opinion, persuasive, recorded, and typed narrations – HOD makes sure oral narrations grow and mature as your children do!

Narrating is an essential skill life.

Narrating is an essential skill in life.  To be able to give an opinion of a book, relay a telephone message, summarize a letter, give driving directions, write an article, or share a doctor’s instructions – are all examples of practical applications of narration skills.  Narrating is an important skill to learn.  You can begin to teach your children to narrate by following the steps in Heart of Dakota’s guides.  Just be patient, and have fun with it!  Narration is a way of life you will surely learn to love!

In Closing

In closing, here are a few Charlotte Mason quotes about narration for you to take inspiration from…

A narration should be original as it comes from the child- that is, his own mind should have acted on the matter it has received. – Charlotte Mason

Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child’s mind, waiting to be discovered, and is not the result of any process of disciplinary education. – Charlotte Mason

In Christ,





Orally Narrating from a Living Book with Multiple Proper Nouns

Dear Carrie

How can I help my daughter orally narrate from a living book with multiple proper nouns and less of a ‘flow’ of one storyline?

Dear Carrie,

We have completed Unit 2 of Heart of Dakota’s high school World Geography. I’m happy to say my daughter is enjoying it and doing well! Having said that, I’ve looked ahead and read some of A Book of Discovery myself. I can see this book is living, but it doesn’t have the same ‘flow’ of one storyline as some of the other living books. Though it is narrative, the author uses a huge quantity of proper nouns. Some we’ve heard of, and some not. I see in Unit 3, you walk students through a model of sorts to categorize the information. Extremely helpful, Carrie – thank you! So, I now come to my question. How can I help my daughter orally narrate from a living book with lots of proper nouns and less of a ‘flow’ of one storyline?


“Ms. Please Help with Narrating a Living Book with Multiple Proper Nouns”

Dear “Ms. Please Help with Narrating a Living Book with Multiple Proper Nouns,”

This is a great question! As we head into the high school years, the books do get more challenging! They do include more proper nouns in the form of names, dates, places, etc. So, while I agree this is a living book, I also agree that it has a more challenging feel to it with all of the factual information wound within its pages. You will also notice as you progress through this book that the chapters vary as to how many different episodes or events are contained within them. Consequently, your student’s narrations will really vary as well!

Students practice different types of oral narrations and eventually learn which type fits each book the best.

Learning to narrate from a book such as this is great practice, as the coming books at the high school level will contain this upped level of challenge too. You will notice that we vary the types of oral narrations in this guide, teaching 5 different types of oral narrations. In World History, we teach 6 types. In U.S. History I, we teach 7 types of oral narration. Finally, in U.S. History II, we teach 8 types of oral narration. This just shows that when narrating, there are many different ways to approach narration (and they are all viable). But, as students practice these varying types of narrating, they will also eventually learn what type of narration best fits each type of book.

In U.S. History I, we take the 7 types of oral narrations and have students practice 7 different types of written narrations.

To give you a glimpse down the road, in the U.S. History I guide, we also take those 7 types of oral narrations and have kiddos practice doing 7 different types of written narrations. We purposefully wait until the U.S. History I guide to have students do this task, as we are desiring for them to practice orally narrating in various ways for years prior to doing a specific type of written narration. We are also desiring for students to have much practice in open-ended written narrations prior to be asked to write a specific type of written narration.

Students can experiment with different kinds of written narrations in World Geography, which will help their oral narrations.

So, with all of this in mind, I would encourage your daughter to experiment with her written narrations in the World Geography guide. It is fine to try summary-style narrations and descriptive narrations. It is fine to narrate more fully upon one episode that struck her or to insert her opinions within the narrations. She can practice in learning to use transition sentences as well, as she tries to link the paragraphs in their narration together in a cohesive fashion.

These skills students hone as they try to figure out how to narrate in writing upon a variety of authors and styles is good practice for future learning. They will truly sift and sort and find what works for each book they encounter, but it takes time to find the pattern that works for each author. The skills are in the sifting and sorting and are also in borrowing some of the author’s style!

Students’ practice with different oral narrations makes the transition to different written narrations seamless.

To encourage you, I will share that I saw the fruit of all the different oral narrations in my own son. When he began the U.S. History I guide, he did not balk at writing the written narrations in a certain style each week. The oral narrations he had practiced for years earlier made the transition seamless. I could also see that his wheels were turning as to what type of narration would work best for each type of book. That son is now in college and just recently passed the CLEP test for English Composition quite easily!

So, these skills taught in World Geography on up are great life preparation and great college preparation too. They prepare kiddos to write at the drop of a hat in a variety of styles in response to all different types of authors. It is a very different education than the one that I received, but I have seen the benefits firsthand!



How Best to Approach Typed Key Word Oral Narrations

Dear Carrie

How should we best approach the key word typed oral narration in Missions to Modern Marvels?

Dear Carrie,

My daughter is using Missions to Modern Marvels this year, and she is loving it!  For those of you new to Heart of Dakota, I highly recommend it! Now for my question. My daughter has used Heart of Dakota for many years, and she is excellent at giving oral narrations – too good maybe actually.  When it came to the day I was to type the key word oral narration she gave, I had a hard time keeping up with her. I didn’t want my typing speed to slow down her oral narration, but I couldn’t keep up.  She also wanted to refer to the manual now and then for key words.  Is that alright? I guess my question is, how should we best approach the key word typed oral narration in Missions to Modern Marvels?  Thanks in advance!

“Ms. Please Help with Key Word Typed Oral Narrations”

Dear “Ms. Please Help with Key Word Typed Oral Narrations,”

One thing my hubby did for the typed key word oral narration day was to have my son record his narration on his IPod.  My hubby told my son to try to include most of the key words suggested in the guide in his narration. He allowed him to stop and start the recorder in order to get most the words included. It took my son quite awhile, but he really got into it and actually did a good job including all the words eventually. It also was much easier to type from the recording, as the parent can pause the narration and catch up with the typing or replay as needed. This makes a typed narration much easier to do!

It’s fine to look back in the book for key words, but don’t narrate directly from the book!

Doing a typed narration like this works well if you have a child who has been narrating for awhile, like your daughter. Just make sure the child isn’t looking right at the book as he/she is narrating!  I will admit that my son did have to look back in the book while stopping the recording to see what some of the key words noted in the guide referred to. But, I didn’t think this was all bad either, as it drew his attention to the names and places and forced him to use them in his narration. It also gave time for the parent to catch up on the typing for the typed narration!

Keep in mind, giving key word oral narrations is a higher level skill.

Giving a key word narration that is also meant to be a typed narration is definitely a higher level oral narration skill. So, this wouldn’t be as appropriate for a younger narrator who still needs immediate parental feedback. However, it would work for those who have been narrating awhile and are ready for the next step.  We’ve been doing it this way ever since for the typed narrations and enjoying it immensely!


Encouraging Students to Make Oral Narrations Their Own

 From Our House to Yours

How can we encourage our students to make oral narrations their own?

Narration is a key component of Charlotte Mason’s method of instruction. In simplest terms, narration is the telling back in your own words what you just read or heard. It provides an excellent evaluation method for homeschooling, as the student must do much thinking and assimilating to narrate. No two narrations should be the same. Rather, the student is to ‘make the narration his own.’

Heart of Dakota includes various forms of narration in each guide’s plans as a type of assessment. Each year new kinds of narrations are added, while others continue to be practiced and honed. So, narration is easily a part of a student’s homeschooling just by following the plans in Heart of Dakota’s guides. However, encouraging personal style is a little more difficult to ‘plan.’  So, let’s answer this question for this blog post! How can we encourage our students to make oral narrations their own?

Well, first we can find clues about how to encourage our students to make narrations their own in Charlotte Mason’s own words.

Narrating is not the work of a parrot, but of absorbing into oneself the beautiful thought from the book, making it one’s own and then giving it forth again with just that little touch that comes from one’s own mind. (The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 125)

We are determined that the children shall love books, therefore we do not interpose ourselves between the book and the child. (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 2, p. 231)

Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child’s mind, waiting to be discovered, and is not the result of any process of disciplinary education. A creative fiat calls it forth. ‘Let him narrate’; and the child narrates, fluently, copiously, in ordered sequence, with fit and graphic details, with a just choice of words, without verbosity or tautology, so soon as he can speak with ease. (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, p. 231)

Second, we can also find clues about how to encourage our students to make narrations their own in Carrie Austin’s own words.

Children who have gotten into the habit of reading good literature absorb what they will from it themselves, in their own way, whether it’s a lot or a little. Reading living books and narrating from them helps children to begin to form their own literary style. Because they have been in the company of great minds, their style will not be an exact copy of any one in particular, but will instead be shaped as an individual style from the wealth of materials they possess to create a natural style of their own.

Narration done properly develops the power of self-expression and invites a child’s personality to become part of the learning process. A child should choose vocabulary he finds appealing, make it his own, and then give it forth again with that own unique touch that comes from his own mind. This is why no two narrations should be exactly alike, and it is also why teachers should not expect their children to give the same narration they would have given. (Carrie Austin, taken from the Appendix of Heart of Dakota’s guides)

Third, putting it all together, we can encourage our students to make narrations their own in these ways.
  • To encourage our students, we can be open to them adding their own personal touches to the narration.
  • To help our students love to narrate, we can help them learn to love reading first. We can do this by not interposing ourselves between the book and the child.
  • We can view narrating to be a work of art done by the child, flowing freely from them and unheeded by interruptions from us.
  • As students grow and mature, we can expose them to many different literary styles. From this, we can expect their own narrating style to emerge slowly over time.
  • We can expect our student’s personality to become a part of the narration.
  • As students connect with what they have read, we can expect them to choose vocabulary or phrasing from the author that appealed most to them.
  • Finally, we can encourage our students to narrate in their own style by not imposing our own narration style upon them. We have our own style of narrating, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be their style.
So, what are some examples of students making oral narrations their own?

My son, Emmett, likes to give most of his oral narrations cuddled up on the couch with me. He does not want any time to compose himself before narrating. Rather, he likes to charge into it, beginning narrating immediately following the reading. He tends to remember exact phrasing or vocabulary easily. He really seems to love ‘words’ or certain ‘phrases’ and commits them to memory naturally. So, he automatically includes his favorite ‘turn of the phrase’ type quotes from the author within his narrations. His best narrations are those that I’ve remembered to tell him he will be narrating prior to the reading. He seems to just pay attention better, and he plans his narration as I read or as he reads.

What type of narration fits Emmett’s style the best, and what type doesn’t?

His favorite type of narration assigned in the plans is the ‘props’ narration. Gathering a few props, he retells the story with incredible detail. During his favorite narration ‘props’ assignment, he narrates for looooooong periods of time. I’ve learned to let him. He loves this narration so much that he will look ahead in the guide. He counts the days until he can narrate in this style again. However, it is the narration he does not enjoy as much, the summary narration, that he needs the most.

I have taught him to notice the subheadings or to think of the biggest things that happen during the reading when he will have to do a summary narration. He doesn’t like it because he can’t work all of his favorite quotes from the author into 5 sentences, but that’s ok. He can on virtually every other kind of narrating, and I’ve grown to love his style of orally narrating because of it!

Oral Narration with Props for CTC’s Storytime (Notice the toothpick ‘staff’ for the Beanie Balz and his ‘shepherd’ headdress.)
What if movement is something a narrator wants to incorporate into his style?

My son, Riley, likes to give his oral narrations standing. He is a pacer, and he likes to gesture with his hands. When he was younger, he would fidget on the couch, bumping into me, sloshing my coffee. Sometimes he would be sitting up on his haunches, like a rocket ready to launch! I don’t know why it took so long to occur to me that sitting on the couch next to me was not the best location for his narrations! I guess we just had always read on the couch, and the narration followed.

Anyway, we began to experiment with movement for Riley during his narrations. All did not go well at first. Sometimes he would pace to the next room, his narration fading so I couldn’t hear him anymore. Other times he had something in his hand while gesturing, like a clicky pencil. The pencil began clicking, tapping, flipping, and the storyline was lost.

We ended up settling upon movement was fine within his oral narrations if he stayed in a small area in front of me. Also, gestures and movements had to fit with what he was saying and not detract from it. Finally, he had to imagine he was giving his narration to a group of listeners rather than just ‘mom.’ Riley has made movement a natural part of his narrations now. He does so well!

What type of narration fits Riley’s style the best, and what type doesn’t?

Riley’s favorite kind of narration is the detailed narration. He narrates as if he’s having a conversation with me. He likes to first catch me up on anything I may have missed in the story since the last time he narrated. Really, it is kind of like he’s narrating twice, but I let it go. He loves it! Then, he tells me he’s ‘officially starting his narration.’ He likes to then look at the book, skim it, and mentally plan for a bit before he begins. He usually quotes the first sentence at the start.

During the narration, he includes a fair share of emotions. He laughs telling parts he things are incredulous. During parts that are upsetting or unbelievable to him, he shakes his head or sighs. For exciting parts, he raises his voice – he might even say, “It was just so amazing! I mean, can you believe they were able to build that structure with no machines and have it be rock solid?!? Amazing! Anyway…” He truly interacts with the author by connecting to the storyline, and I have grown to love his style of narrating because of it!

Riley’s Oral Narration for World Geography (Notice his favorite place to stand is in front of the fireplace in our living room, as it has lots of space to move.)
How can a logical narrator add personality and style to narrating?

My son, Wyatt, likes to give his oral narrations sitting separate from me. Often times he will even lay down on the couch as he gives his narration, while I am sitting in the chair opposite him. He finds this much more relaxing than standing in front of me as if he were addressing a group. He also likes a little space between us, sitting separately so he can compose his thoughts. Wyatt is a logical narrator, and he loves to tell stories chronologically, from start to finish. As a younger child, he much preferred summary narrations. He liked how concise they were, and he enjoyed giving sequential points in response to the readings. His narrations sounded somewhat encyclopedia-like, and I did not know how to draw out his personality in them. Turns out I didn’t have to. Time and varied oral narrations planned in the guides did it for me.

What type of narration fits Wyatt’s style the best, and what type doesn’t?

Wyatt is a big picture narrator, and he absolutely loves to read! He always has a book in his hand, in or out of school. This exposure to excellent literature in HOD over time has helped him develop his own narrating style. Years of reading excellent living books have given him countless connections. When I think of Charlotte Mason’s ‘broad-backdrop’ of history needing to be learned prior to putting ‘hooks’ into it for specific time periods, I think of Wyatt. He has the broad backdrop running in his mind seamlessly. Whatever he reads gets simulated into that backdrop, and it makes his oral narrations all the better.

When he narrates about Teddy Roosevelt, it is like he personally knows him. Then I remember he read “To Carry a Big Stick” earlier, and it makes sense to me why he talks about Teddy like an old friend when he’s really narrating on what he read briefly about him in America: The Last Best Hope. He narrates drawing upon all of his years of reading living books and crafting the best big picture narration he can, and I have grown to love his style of narrating because of it!

Wyatt’s Oral Narration for USII (Notice he is comfiest on the couch, with me sitting opposite him in a chair.)
Students become well-rounded narrators by giving a variety of narrations, rather than just their favorite type.

You may be wondering why I didn’t share what type of narration doesn’t fit Wyatt’s style.  That’s because there isn’t one anymore.  His style has become so adaptable that he can apply it to any kind of narration quite naturally. He enjoys narrating.  Any kind.  To share his thoughts on what he has read is as natural to him as breathing, and he has learned to love it as much as he loves the books he reads.

So, though it is tempting to just have the child narrate in their favorite way all of the time, it does them no favors. Often it is the case that if a narration assignment is not their favorite, they are not as good at it. To encourage our students to be the best narrators they can be, they need to learn to narrate in many different ways. It is through years of exposure to various authors’ styles in living books that your own students’ styles of narration will emerge! And then, through patience and encouragement, you too will be able to say ‘you have grown to love their style of narrating’ because of it!

In Christ,


P.S. To learn more about Charlotte Mason’s written narrations as a form of assessment, click here!

P.S.S. To understand where summarizing comes into narration, click here!