Narration questions

It feels like the training wheels have come off this year and we’re pedaling pretty well without too much wobbling or crashing academically.  (Organizationally is another thing altogether!)  Well, some days are like that.  Other days, I feel like we’ve lost the power to steer or stop, and we’re just careening ahead without a clear picture of exactly where we’re headed.  And other days it seems like we’re moving along so quickly, accomplishing the nuts-and-bolts stuff, that we’re missing out on all the lovely scenery.  All of this is really due to Lulu’s passion for reading.  She all but finished Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading this summer, and so this year (her second grade year officially), instead of having any official reading curriculum, I’m just having her do lots and lots of practice.  Well, she’s doing lots and lots of practice, whether I make her or not.

Most days she does read aloud one passage to me (after hearing me read it aloud), and I will have her re-read it a couple of times, working on slowing down, pronouncing words clearly, voice inflection, etc.  I started out this year with the idea that I would have her read assigned novels, and she has, but in between she usually polishes off several books of her own choosing.  Many times these are comfort reads, novels she’s read before or from series that she particularly enjoys.  For her assigned reading, I intended for her to read a chapter or so a day during school time until she finished the book.  This worked until she got very interested in the story and she carried it over into her free time. 🙂

I think her first assigned book for this school year (I lose track, even when I try to take great notes) was The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton.  I loved it, and although I think it might be best enjoyed by a child a little older than Lulu, I wanted to break her out of her little historical fiction rut and expose her to other genres.  She read it quickly and really liked it, although she usually won’t admit how much if it’s a book I’ve recommended or assigned.  I knew I wanted to engage in a conversation with her about the book, and I really thought I’d just have her do a narration.  However, I saw this really interesting book report notebooking page over at The Notebooking Fairy and just printed some of them out on a whim.  When I asked Lulu whether she wanted to just give me a narration or complete the notebooking page, of course she went with the page.

She and I worked on this page together.  I explained to her the meanings of the words she was unfamiliar with (setting, plot, etc.), and she gave me her answers.  Obviously, sometimes she did the writing and sometimes I did.

The plot and the opinion parts took the most discussion, of course, and I tried to ask leading questions to get to some definitive answers.  For example, after she agreed that Persimmony is brave in the story, I encouraged her to give illustrative examples of Persimmony’s bravery.  I was pretty happy with what she came up with (with my help) for the plot of Mount Majestic.  She was very pleased with herself in doing this page, and I had to insist that we not tackle the theme.  We’re working through the second volume of Writing with Ease now, too, and the whole process of picking out the most important thing that happens in a story is what we’re working on now.  It’s tough but so important.

Yesterday I had her narrate Kildee House, a 1950 Newbery honor book by Rutherford Montgomery, her latest assigned book. (She actually balked at reading this, but I told her that she had to read the first fifty pages before she could reject it.  Of course, she couldn’t reject it fifty pages in!  My little scheme worked!)  She wanted to use the notebooking page and we tried to do it that way, but she was pretty frustrated by it.  I ended up just taking a narration.  This is her narration, with lots of prompting, leading, and discussion:

Jerome lives in Kildee House.  A mountain lion kills a doe.  A dog kills Jerome’s first raccoon.  Jerome has about twenty-five raccoons and about five skunks.  A girl named Emma Lou and a boy named Donald Roger fight.  The boy’s dog kills the raccoon.  The fawn of the doe that was killed gets to come live with Jerome.  Emma Lou flashes her light into the mountain Lion’s face and it goes away, but the doe’s already killed.  A whole lot of animals come to live in Jerome’s house, but he doesn’t invite them.  The skunks were the rarest breed.  All the zoos wanted them.  

I think this is a narration more along the Charlotte Mason line than The Well-Trained Mind, although Lulu does make a salient point there at the end–that “a whole lot of animals come to live in Jerome’s house, but he doesn’t invite them.”  It took a fair amount of tugging and pulling on my part to get this out of her, too.

I’m putting this out here on my blog not as a mommy brag (and truthfully, I’m not sure how much I have to brag about, I’m so new at this), but rather, to elicit some discussion about narrating.  How realistic is it to have a seven year old do this sort of thing over an entire novel? I’m still using The Well-Trained Mind as my guide, and this is what Susan Wise Bauer says about it:

 Although you shouldn’t make him report on every book, you should ask him at least twice a week to tell you, in two to four sentences, something about the plot of the book you have just read.  Younger students will need you to ask them specific questions about the book:  “What was the most exciting thing that happened in the book?” or “What was your favorite characer, and what did he do?”  are two useful questions that help the child narrow in on the book’s central theme.  Some third and fourth graders will be able to answer the more general question “What was the book about?” while others will still need more guidance.  In either case, help the child narrow the answer down to under five sentences.  Learning how to identify one or two items about a book as more important than the rest is a vital first step in learning to write; a young writer will flounder as long as he cannot pick out one or two of the ideas in his mind as central to his composition.  (59)

Obviously, I need to work with Lulu in picking out the most important points, which I find difficult to do when I haven’t read the book myself (as was the case with Kildee House).  That’s a whole ‘nother problem entirely, though–how to keep up with Lulu and give her quality literature, but nothing that’s above her maturity level.  I took a risk with this novel, guessing that a novel about animals from 1950 couldn’t be too bad.

Here are a few of the questions that are floating around in my head right now:

  • How, exactly, do I lead Lulu toward truly summarizing the plot, picking out the most important points.  Is it even possible for a seven year old to do this after reading a novel?  I need specific examples here.  🙂
  • Should I require her to do it after every single book I assign?  This girl can burn through the books,and she really seems to get what she reads.
  • Lulu is a reader and a thinker, and while some creative endeavors are really appealing to her, others are decidedly not, so doing some alternative forms of narration would be more frustrating than anything else.  Is there value in forcing her to occasionally branch out and do a different type of narraton?  (I’m thinking here about drawing a picture, making a model–that type of thing.)

Okay, go!  Those of you who have children who read a good bit and you’ve figured out how to engage them in a productive way in conversations about their reading, meet me in the comments.

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18 thoughts on “Narration questions”

  1. At that age, we did most of our narrations orally. My daughter blew through books too fast for me to keep up with reading each and every one. So I would ask her, what did you read about today? We’d do that everyday for literature and saved the written narrations for history & science. Now she’s 9yo and I alternated between oral literature narrations and having her write down 1-2 sentences about what she has read, everyday. If I want to discuss the book further, I have to read it so that I know what to ask, but we haven’t done much of that yet. I’m thinking we’ll save most of that for logic stage. We follow the WTM and have used Writing with Ease, but I find that it’s easier to work on narrations skills in history and science. I want her to enjoy reading, so we tend to take a more relaxed approach to literature narrations. Hope something in there helps!

  2. I have my son narrate our history readings and we use WWE which has quite a bit of narration. I haven’t had him formally narrate other things yet because it’s quite hard for him and I’m afraid that narrating too much will kill his love of reading. Similar to Paige, I’ll often just ask him about what he is reading but in a more “do you like that book? What’s it about?” kind of way rather than a formal narration.

    I do find that my son does better at finding the main points for short sections. It’s very tough for him to hear a whole chapter of Story of the World and tell me the main points but if I have him stop and narrate after every section he can do it better. I’m quite sure he couldn’t read a novel and tell me the most important points in a few sentences. He could reenact the entire plot and tell me lots of details but not summarize it. But I feel like that’s what we’re working towards.

    We use the Well-Trained Mind and many of SWB’s resources also. I’ve heard her lecture several times and the impression I got was that in the grammar years she doesn’t recommend trying to get kids to discover the “meaning” of a book. It’s more about having them be able to summarize the plot in a few sentences rather than look for deeper meaning at this age. So Charlotte’s Web is “There was a pig named Wilbur. He made friends with a spider named Charlotte. She saved him from being killed.” rather than “It’s about friendship.”

    The other thing I always find useful to remember when reading The Well-Trained Mind is that SWB is very open about the fact that it’s sort of her ideal recommendations but she doesn’t use it all or follow it all in her own homeschooling.

  3. Umm, no, we used to, but it kinda has fallen by the wayside. I do however plan all her school books, so I do have a record in my plans of what she read for the year.

  4. I’ve just noticed that my oldest is a good listener, for the most part, but he only gets the general idea of what’s going on when I let him play on the floor next to me. I have no answers to your questions, of course, because I’m behind you in the game. I’ve been wondering if I should stop every chapter or even midway and have a set of questions to ask him to make sure he’s retaining what I read. Then he’s only 4 1/2 and so I wonder if I should just keep our reading light and fun. Then I wonder if I shouldn’t just get him used to the sound of my voice providing the distant background noise. =P We have a ways to go, me thinks!

  5. I’ve only ever had Older Daughter narrate two “pleasure” books a week in writing, because we also do SOTW narrations and science narrations. She hates the physical act of writing. Oral narration comes naturally for her, though; she can’t turn out the light at night until she gives a report of what she’s read. So I hear about the other things she’s reading, and if I don’t I ask. But she doesn’t have to “make a page” on everything. It would make her dread reading.

    I’m taking the same approach with Younger Daughter, though this year I’m reducing the written narrations of story books from two to one per week for both girls and relying more on oral “composition.” And with YD I’m doing the physical writing for her at this point. That brain-mouth connection is so important, and I don’t want to hinder them in it by tying it to writing till they’re both more proficient with the physical writing.

    If one of them has trouble narrowing in on the main point, I keep rephrasing questions to get them to back up and see the whole action of the story. “What problem was so-and-so working to solve? Did they solve it? How?” Or, “What was the very most exciting part to you? Why?” Things like that.

    I have a funny Mt. Majestic story. Last night I was dishing up ice cream and asked Older D if she wanted a cookie on hers. “I’ll take my cookie separately,” she said. “I have a moral objection to mixing cookies and ice cream.” 🙂

  6. Thank you to everyone who weighed in! Most of the writing that Lulu does is voluntary this year, which is a big development from last year when she loathed and abhorred the physical act of writing. It helps me so much to get a feel for what this looks like in others’ honeschools!

  7. Amy,

    I think this is a great narration for a seven year old to make on a whole book, especially a seven year old. If you want her to have a relationship with the book, I would suggest that you slow down the reading pace (say one chapter a day) and have her narrate after each chapter. If that seems too much then break it down into smaller chunks until she is giving a pretty decent narration without a lot of prompting from you. When she is finished then you can have a conversation about the important points.

    I use Charlotte Mason style narrations in our education and I have them narrate their history, biography, science, natural history, and select literature readings. With these books the readings are spread out throughout a term or the whole year. Then they also have a list of books that are just good quality reading books that I don’t require narration. Many of these they enjoy so much that they come tell me about it and never realize that they are narrating!

    Narration doesn’t have to be “telling back” but could include drawing, acting the story out, etc. You could google “narration jar” and get a lot of different narration ideas.

    This link:
    has a nice article about narration from a Charlotte Mason point of view, but I believe wo uld be useful.

    Don’t forget she is only 7 and getting used to narration. Some days she’ll flop and other days she’ll do great. On those days that it doesn’t seem she is getting it, you could narrate for her!

  8. Well, Sprite was not reading novels like these at age 7! We did mostly oral narration at that age, or I helped her to dictate her thoughts onto paper.
    For a voracious reader, no, I would not require every book to be narrated. It’s always nice to know what a child thought of a book, though. But I assume you do talk about things informally. 🙂
    And for the last thing, I think it’s fine to allow her to choose how to narrate. If there are forms she dislikes, then there is no need to push her to do them as long as she can do the same cognitive task in another format.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this at Trivium Tuesdays! I really love seeing the specifics of how other people teach their children (especially Classically, of course!) I’m going to go look at your clog more now to see what you’re up to currently. Thanks again, and I hope you are able to link-up again this Tuesday!

  10. Thank you so much for letting me know my Trivium Tuesdays button wasn’t working correctly. I’m not sure why it was acting goofy, but I redid the HTML code and it’s working again!

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