Questions About Using Original Thought in CM-Style Narrations and Placement

Dear Carrie

Would you recommend PHFHG or CTC for my son who struggles with using original thought in his narrations?

My 6th grade dyslexic son has overcome his reading difficulties and is now an excellent reader. However, he has trouble with verbal expression. When we read a passage and I ask him to narrate, he gets a deer in the headlights look. We did WWE for 2 years, and it led us through a guided narration with shorter passages. At first, he only had to write 1-2 sentences. He did alright until the passages became longer. It is the original thought that is difficult for him. I really want to switch to Heart of Dakota, but would Preparing be too easy? He can handle all the reading in CTC or RTR. But, I worry about the narration and writing. He just has to put A LOT of effort into writing anything. It seems like CM-style narration is different than classical narration, and I’m not sure how that impacts placement.


“Ms. Please Help Me Understand Original Thought in Written Narrations and How That Impacts Placement”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Understand Original Thought in Written Narrations and How That Impacts Placement,”

I just want to encourage you that Charlotte Mason-style narration is a skill that takes time to hone. It is not a skill that is developed overnight or even in a single year. Think of it as a slow burn that takes time to build but does eventually become a raging fire! Even if you’ve had practice in the past with a classical-style of narration, it will take to transition to a CM-style of narration. As you’ve already realized, CM-style narration does incorporate original thought. So, first I’ll explain how original thought is part of CM narrations. Second, I’ll share some placement suggestions for your son.

How CM-Style Narrations Encourage Original Thought

One way we assess kiddos through HOD is with CM-style oral and written narrations. Written and oral narrations CM-style look very different from child to child. This is different than written narrations done classical style, which result in more of a summary (meaning most kiddos’ narrations will look very similar when done summary-style). These are two different types of narrations. One is a summary, with certain key points being required. The other is a true written narration CM-style, where the child sifts and sorts through information, choosing what to write about and borrowing words and phrases from the author to write in the author’s style (without having certain key points that MUST be included for the narrations to be “correct”).

The sifting and sorting of what to include in CM-style written narrations is left to the child.

In this way, a classical style summary can have a specific answer key. A CM-style written narration wouldn’t even know where to begin with an “answer key.” Instead, each child is to draw out or seize upon different points to express. This is why in HOD’s guides, we may ask leading questions to get the child thinking about what he/she read. However, we leave the sifting and sorting up to the child, as far as what to write and how to write it. The key idea within our guides on written narration days will provide you as the parent with a summary of the reading. This is so you can see if your child is on-topic in his/her narration. However, it is not intended that the child include all those points in the key idea within the narration.

A balance of summary and descriptive styles of narration is important. But, it is also important to understand the difference between simply summarizing and narrating.

We do have children practice orally narrating in both summary style and descriptive style in our upper HOD guides. We consider it important to have a balance of both styles of narrating. However, we also consider it important to understand the two different styles of narrating. There is much more to narrating than simply summarizing what was read. Otherwise narrating in general can quickly become an exercise in outlining key points and can completely lose much of what makes CM-style narrating meaningful.

We tend to use ongoing books for written narration practice and R & S English for summarizing practice.

Since summarizing lends itself well to outlining, and these skills are both important, we teach these areas through Rod and Staff English in conjunction with science or history passages that are more factual. This is because a summary lends itself well to being written from just a portion of a book. In contrast, a written narration is instead intended to pull from a more continuous ongoing story, rather than just an excerpt. So, we tend to use ongoing books for written narration. Knowledge gained as the child continues reading the same book provides insights that can then be drawn upon and pulled together as connections when writing the narration. This process requires a different set of skills than those required to write a summary from a passage plucked from a source, where the goal is a summation of the key points in the particular excerpt or passage instead.

We see narrating CM-style as being very different from summarizing and outlining.

We delineate that summarizing and narrating are two different skills with two different styles. It is important to note that narrating CM-style is a very different skill from summarizing or outlining. I do skim the text as my child is orally narrating to me, holding the book in hand. This helps me see if the child is including ideas, names, places, etc. from the text, but it also shows me that the connections are those which the child has made! I hope this helps as you ponder how oral and written narrations are handled within the HOD guides.

As far as placement, I would lean toward Preparing Hearts for your son.

As far as your placement questions go, with the thoughts you’ve shared so far about your son’s writing especially, I would lean toward Preparing Hearts as being a good placement. While it is possible that your son could handle the reading and the independence of CTC, my concern lies in the amount of written work and writing instruction. With all children, but even more so with those who have learning challenges, it is so important to challenge them without challenging them to the point of frustration. This is the balance we are seeking for your son. Plus, the switch to a more CM-style curriculum can take a bit of getting used to as well, so we want to give him every opportunity to thrive. I think that Preparing Hearts would do this, and there are many important skills in Preparing that will literally prepare him for the rigors of CTC.

I would recommend the Extension Package and the studied dictation in Preparing.

With this thought in mind, I would recommend the Extension Package of Preparing rather than the Deluxe Package (because your son is a strong reader). I would also recommend that he do the studied dictation in Preparing to help with his lack of proofreading skills and to help him pay attention to including punctuation in his writing. The exercises in studied dictation do eventually carryover into the child’s writing. Again, this takes time (at least a full year) to see results.

I’d also recommend DITHR for help with analyzing various story elements and with digging deeply into literature.

I would also definitely add DITHR for literature study for your son, doing either Level 4/5 (if he has not had much in the way of formal literature instruction) or Level 6/7/8 if he has had quite a bit of formal study in analyzing literature. You could then add the appropriate level book pack to suit his reading level. I would lean toward either the Level 5/6 Boy Set or the Level 6/7 set. You will see wonderful graphic organizers all throughout DITHR, which really do help with analyzing various story elements and with digging deeply into literature. However, these organizers are not to be narration helpers, and literary analysis and narration are two different skills. Instead, to help with narrating, we have step-by-step directions and guided questions to set the stage for a narration and get it started on the right foot. This method is very CM-oriented.

I’d recommend Rod and Staff English 4 or 5, as well as an upped level of math.

For grammar, I would lean toward either Rod and Staff English 4 or English 5. You will be completing an entire level of Rod and Staff through Preparing, so there will be plenty of grammar and writing instruction there. You will also have a once weekly writing lesson through the poetry of Preparing Hearts. Last, you’d need an upped level of math. Preparing does schedule Singapore 2A/2B, 3A/3B, and 4A/4B, or you can use your own math.

Your son could do his own history and science readings, based on his age.

You could also have your son do his own history and science readings, based on his age. Take care not to allow him to read ahead though, even if he wants to, as you will get better narrations with slower more thoughtful reading (of a higher level). This is the approach we take to reading in all areas and is definitely a trait of a CM-style education. You can see as you look at this plan that there will be plenty of writing and steady challenge across the guide, rather than making it too heavy for your son and ending up dropping needed things (which is often what happens when we get too much rigor or change all at once).


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,


How can I help my son write better narrations?

Dear Carrie

How can I help my son write better written narrations?

Dear Carrie,

We’re in Unit 12 of Heart of Dakota’s Resurrection to Reformation. My son is 13, new to written narrations, and not a writer. He just doesn’t seem to “get” it. Today he was writing conversations and all kinds of things that were in the chapter. I think he was copying them word for word. He also kept saying he didn’t know how to get enough sentences. I know I need to figure out how to tell him to be more “concise” and how to narrow it all down. For today, I’m going to read it myself and write my own narration the way *I* would do it. Maybe that will help him. He really dislikes to write and is just not good at it. So, I guess my question is, how can I help my son write better narrations? I think I just need tips on how a written narration should be.


“Ms. Please Help My Son Write Better Written Narrations”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My Son Write Better Written Narrations,”

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Narration is a personal thing and is meant to be a reflection of what the child drew out from the reading. So, while you may be wanting a summary of the reading (unless it is specifically assigned as a summary narration), there are many different types of narrations, and all are acceptable.

Written narrations don’t need to be done in a certain way.

One thing that you do not want to do is to give him the impression that a written narration must be done a certain way. It will leave him even more uncertain and keep him trying to write the way you perceive that a narration should be done. This is no different than writing responses to please the teacher in the classroom and is something we definitely want to get away from doing in the home setting (especially when doing written narrations)!

Reading the “Written Narration Tips” and “A Few Notes on the Transition to Written Narrations” in RTR’s Appendix will help.

So, my first caution to you is to not make your son feel like he is doing it wrong! Accept his written responses. Be sure to go over the Written Narration Tips (Teacher’s List) in the Appendix. Then, go over his list right behind that. These really help in doing written narrations and will give him that sense of purpose you feel he is missing. Make sure to also read “A Few Notes on the Transition to Written Narrations” in the Appendix as well.

Written narrations may vary quite a bit from week to week.

Next, understand that his written narrations may vary quite a bit from week to week. For example, one week he may summarize more, the next week he may go into detail relating just one event that really struck him from the reading, the next week he may give you a detailed description of a person from the reading including dialogue, and the next week he may interject some opinion within the narration. All of these are acceptable!

Your son can think of narrating as telling back a movie he has seen to someone who has never seen it.

You can help him a bit by telling him to think about narrating as telling back a movie that he has seen to someone who has never seen it. Think how he would go about doing that and then apply that same strategy to narrating. Honestly, the more he orally narrates, the more shape his written narrations will take. It isn’t unusual when being new to written narrations to “try on” various styles and ways of doing it. This is what writers do, and it is how they eventually find their own style.

You can demonstrate the written narration process by having your son tell you what he remembers and writing the sentences as he says them.

To demonstrate the written narration process, you could have him tell you what he remembered right after reading and write the sentences as he says them (so he can see them appearing on paper coming right from his mind). This will help him see that it is truly just a retelling of what he is thinking, except on paper. Try not to have him look back so much at the text after reading, as this may jumble up what he recalls in his mind. Just go with what he can remember right away, so he doesn’t get bogged down including all of the facts and details. Later, he can move toward looking back over the text and including important things. This is a later narration stage. Just have him refer to the text for names and places or spellings for now.

Since your son is new to written narrations, he can just try to write a paragraph at first.

For now, since your son is new to written narrations, don’t worry about hitting the exact number of sentences. Just try to have him write a paragraph at first. Just keep encouraging your son that he needs to retell in his own words as much as possible what he remembered from the story. It’s alright if the sentences seem a bit disjointed for now as far as how they go together. Try to withhold judgment as to the narration’s content, but do follow the Written Narration Skills list in the Appendix to help him edit the narration.

As time passes, you will see improvement!

I want to encourage you that as time passes, you will see improvement. But, if you make this a teacher-pleaser assignment with one right way you are seeking, he will not come into his own as a narrator because you will have changed the assignment’s original intention. So, head to the Appendix right away for much needed help! It is there to encourage you in this endeavor! It’s good to know that we all go through this stage as we try to figure out what written narration looks like! You are not alone!


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