NARRATION: THE ART OF RE-TELLING
Picture this cozy scene. You are sitting on the sofa with your little boy tucked closely beside you enjoying a wonderful picture book or an exciting read-aloud. Your son listens with delight and begs for more. So, of course you continue, talking about the pictures or what’s happening as you go along.
Later, when Daddy comes home, your little boy runs up to him and excitedly begins to retell (in his own words) the whole story in great detail. You know without a doubt that he has absorbed and comprehended what you read earlier in the day. Moreover, a month later, he retells the same story to Grandma, again remembering small details that you yourself have forgotten. Your child has naturally utilized one of the greatest learning tools there is, and one that will certainly help him in his educational endeavors as he grows older. It’s called narration.
WHAT IS NARRATION:
Narration is simply the art of “telling back”, and it’s a technique often used by classical educators and those who employ the teaching methods of Charlotte Mason (a 19th century British educator). However, on a broader scale, it’s much more than that, and it can be used by anyone of any age to facilitate concentration, vocabulary, comprehension, memorization, language skills, and even writing skills.
WHY USE NARRATION:
One of the easiest ways to explain the importance of narration is to borrow from Miss Mason herself. In some of her writings, she used the illustration of a sick patient in the hospital. The person was suffering from intense pain and the doctor had written the remedy on a piece of paper. He told her this would alleviate the pain, however, he would only let her look at the card for a few minutes. Then the card would be destroyed permanently, and the doctor wouldn’t write it again. Can you imagine the intense concentration the patient would put forth to remember what was written?
Although a small child naturally “tells back” what he hears, it’s a skill that should be encouraged and developed when he is very young. Because just think of the benefits when the child is older and needs to remember certain information. If he knows that he will be asked to ‘retell’ after a reading, he will definitely pay more attention to the material at hand so that his narration will be accurate. What he can tell—he knows! He has to think, sift through the information, and choose the important parts to narrate. He has to assimilate the material, make it his, and put it into his own words. With this concentrated effort, he WILL remember!
Charlotte Mason said, “What a child digs for becomes his own possession.” In addition, oral narration is only one step before written narration, which is basically composition! So technically, oral narration is a forerunner to processing one’s thoughts and putting words on paper in a way that makes sense. It’s a skill that’s invaluable.
NARRATION AND YOUNG CHILDREN:
The art of narration begins very early, even before a child can read. As mentioned above, children love to “tell back” the stories they hear. And have you ever noticed a little one who will pick up a beloved picture book, turn the pages slowly, and perhaps ‘read’ it aloud to a younger sibling or even a favorite stuffed animal or doll? This is beginning narration, and the continuing pattern is a natural progression—if the child is encouraged and the skill is fostered. Too often, this desire to “tell” is schooled out of the child as he grows older. But language expression is so important, and the ability to organize and demonstrate the knowledge he gains from books is priceless.
IDEAS FOR USING NARRATION:
We have established the fact that narration is a valuable learning tool, so let’s look at some practical ways to use it with young children. And because we want our little ones to retain their natural curiosity and desire to “tell back”, we don’t want to overwhelm them with heavy ‘educational’ language. Instead, a gentle approach is best; plus this early discovery stage is so much fun and a joy to witness. Many parents probably already do many of these things without realizing they are creating a solid foundation for future learning.
Use high quality ‘living’ books. Even young children can appreciate well-written literature, and they will understand far more than we give them credit for.
Do some pre-reading activities. Let the child look at pictures and guess what will happen in the story.
When reading the story, use different voices, inflection, sound effects, and even suspenseful pauses before turning pages. If your child asks questions, answer them. It’s easy to become a bit frustrated when we want to read and they want to talk about what’s happening.
Turnabout is fair play. Ask your child questions about the story or what he thinks will happen next.
After you are finished reading, ask the child to retell the story in his own words...you’ll be surprised at the detail.
Record your child’s narration on cassette or CD.
Let them draw a picture to ‘tell’ about the story.
Let them dramatize or act out the story, use a flannel board, or how about a puppet show?
The possibilities are endless, and no matter how you choose to foster your child’s narrative ability, encouraging them to talk about or retell what they’ve heard or read is extremely important. Narration is a skill that will pay great dividends farther along the educational road.