Are Variations on the Standard Narration Allowed?

Sometimes the same thing over and over again gets boring and, as Victorian England might put it, very dull. If your students are becoming bored with oral and written narrations, a slight variation on the typical narration might be needed to keep a Living atmosphere. It is needed, because repetition leads to predictability; predictability takes away creativity and ultimately curiosity. Curiosity is paramount to a Living Education (an article for another day). But for now, as we all know, dull sucks the life out of anything.

Are you wondering if this is pure CM? – to stray from the tried and true oral and written narration? Here are some thoughts on narration variations – from myself (a self proclaimed purist) and Charlotte.


–First, always remember the purpose is to tell back. It is not to create a show, or intricate display, or get caught up in an elaborate delivery. Plain and simple- tell back. If that is kept as first priority then using a variation occasionally will benefit the students. If the student wants to delve into more detail or create further enhancement, certainly this is encouraged, but it would not be during lesson time. It would be during their own free time.

“…but let us be careful that our disciplinary devices, and our mechanical devices to secure and tabulate the substance of knowledge, do not come between the children and that which is the soul of the book, the living thought it contains”. – Volume 3 p.181

Here Charlotte is telling us to let the book speak – if it is Living it will speak – and do not introduce outside ‘educational bling’ to distract from, minimize, or replace the book. Whatever you do as a variation to the standard oral or written narration, make sure it is secondary to the purpose. The purpose of narration is foremost telling back. The way we know is to tell.

–Second, I would emphasize the word occasionally. Narration must be for the most part a verbal or written telling back or you will forgo the many benefits that can be had by the daily use of this type of narration. Think of variations as a Sunday dessert- it is special, not all the time. However in the course of a CM education there is a LOT of narration going on. However, a change is as good as a break. Change it up sometimes. In an upcoming post, I will share some ideas for ways to bring some variations to the traditional narration process.

“Narration, however, if of many kinds, though always the answer to the question (put mentally): ‘What comes next?’ Obviously it requires some power of concentration from the first. Very young children, in the nursery class, are not expected to narrate, but often they insist on doing so because of this instinct to ‘tell all about it’ to somebody. How many of us can refrain from telling that good story we heard yesterday? And anything that must be remembered, do we not repeat it even if it is only ‘First turning to the left and third to the right’? Narration is extraordinarily satisfying to the narrator, though, alas, a little boring sometimes for the listener since he is getting it at secondhand.
It must be, we know, the child’s answer to ‘What comes next?’ It can be acted, with good speaking parts and plenty of criticism from actors and onlookers; nothing may be added or left out. Map drawing can be an excellent narration, or, maybe, clay modelling will supply the means to answer that question, or paper and poster paints, or chalks, even a paper model with scissors and paste pot. Always, however, there should be talk as well, the answer expressed in words; that is, the picture painted, the clay model, etc., will be described and fully described, because, with few exceptions, only words are really satisfying.
When children reach the middle school other types of narration may be used; they can offer headings to cover the lesson and then narrate by filling in the details under each heading or the class may be divided into small groups with a leader in each one and narrate part of or all the lesson…
Narration in silence needs great concentration, but once mastered it gives the possessor the power of carrying on his education for the rest of his life.” Wix, Parents Review 68, p.61-63

“It is very helpful to read with a commonplace book or reading-diary, in which to put down any striking thought in your author, or your own impression of the work, or of any part of it; but not summaries of facts.” – Volume 5 p.260

“Children are born poets and they dramatise all the life they see about them, after their own hearts, into an endless play. There is no reason why this natural gift should not be pressed into the service of education. Indeed, it might be safe to go further: the child who does not dramatise his lessons, who does not play at Richard and Saladin, who does not voyage with Captain Cook and excavate with Mr Flinders Petrie, is not learning. The knowledge he gets by heart is not assimilated and does not become part of himself.

Therefore it is well that children should, at any rate, have the outlet of narrration, that they should tell the things they know in full detail; and, when the humour takes them, ‘play’ the persons, act the scenes that interest them in their reading. On the other hand, there is the danger that their representation of facts may become more to them than the facts themselves, that the show of things may occupy their whole minds. For this reason it may be well mot to indulge children with anything in the form of a stage or stage properties, not with so much as a puppet-show. They will find all they want in the chair which serves as a throne, the sofa which behaves as a ship, the ruler which plays the part of rapier, gun, or scepter, as occasion demands. In fact, preoccupation with tawdry and trivial things will be avoided if children are let alone: imagination will furnish them with ample properties, delightful scenes, upon the merest suggestion of reality.” – Volume 5 p.305-306

 “In pictorial art we eschew mechanical aids such as chequers, lines of direction, etc., nor do we use the blacklead pencil, which lends itself rather to the copying of linear work than to the free rendering of objects. The children work always from the round, whether in charcoal or brushwork. They produce, also, illustrations of tales or poems, which leave much to seek in the matter of drawing, and are of little value as art instruction, but are useful imaginative exercises.” – Volume 3 p.238-239

“History readings afford admirable material for narration, and children enjoy narrating what they have read or heard. They love, too, to make illustrations. Children who had been reading Julius Cæsar (and also, Plutarch’s Life), were asked to make a picture of their favourite scene, and the results showed the extraordinary power of visualising which the little people possess. Of course that which they visualise, or imagine clearly, they know; it is a life possession. The drawings of the children in question are psychologically interesting as showing what various and sometimes obscure points appeal to the mind of a child; and also, that children have the same intellectual pleasure as persons of cultivated mind in working out new hints and suggestions. The drawings, be it said, leave much to be desired, but they have this in common with the art of primitive peoples: they tell the tale directly and vividly.” – Volume 1 p.292

 “Steps

            “Step I. To draw from the children what they know of the poem ‘Beowulf,’ and of the hero himself.

            “Step II. —To tell them any points they may miss in the story, as far as they have read (i.e. to the death of Grendel).

            “Step III. To read the description of the dress at that time, and the account of Grendel’s death (including three possible pictures).

            “Step IV.—To draw from the children what mental pictures they have made—and to re-read the passage.

            “Step V.—To let them produce their mental picture with brush and paint.

            “Step VI.—To show them George Harrow’s ‘original illustration’ of Beowulf in Heroes of Chivalry and Romance.”- Volume 1 p.311-312

“Children have other ways of expressing the conceptions that fill them when they are duly fed. They play at their history lessons, dress up, make tableaux, act scenes; or they have a stage, and their dolls act, while they paint the scenery and speak the speeches. There is no end to the modes of expression children find when there is anything in them to express.”  – Volume 1 p.294

“But this is only one way to use books: others are to enumerate the statements in a given paragraph or chapter; to analyse a chapter, to divide it into paragraphs  under proper headings, to tabulate and classify series; to trace cause to consequence and consequence to cause; to discern character and perceive how character and circumstance interact; to get lessons of life and conduct, or the living knowledge which makes for science, out of books; all this is possible for school boys and girls, and until they have begun to use books for themselves in such ways, they can hardly be said to have begun their education.” – Volume 3 p.180

Let the pupil write for himself half a dozen questions which cover the passage studied; he need not write the answers if he be taught that the mind can know nothing but what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put by the mind to itself. – Volume 1 p.181


“It may interest the reader to see the sort of thing that students of the House of Education are able to accomplish in the way of narration. The French mistress gives, let us suppose, a lecture in history or literature lasting, say, for half an hour. At the end the students will narrate the substance of the lecture with few omissions and few errors.” – Volume 6 p.212

“Then nine pages of the story were read straight through by the mistress, without pause or interruption of any kind, at the same pace that one would read an English story. The students followed by ear only: they had no books. As soon as the reading ended, on the instant, without hesitation of any kind, narration began in French, different members of the class taking up the story in turn till it was finished.” – Volume 6 p.212

“Section in Volume 5 discussion Goethe’s education and his learning the English language. But new acquisitions were new responsibilities, for the father was anxious that the newly acquired English should he kept up as fully as the other languages at which the children had worked;…Thereupon the thought occurred to me of settling the matter once and for all, and I invented a story about six or seven brothers and sisters who, scattered over the world at some distance from each other…” – Volume 5 p.339

–Third, narration doesn’t always have to be about books. Broaden your narration horizons to include everything. And truly, in a CM education that adheres to the philosophy, narration will happen naturally through the precise practises of the method. In a pure CM Education narration will happen in all subject areas, in all activities. It is built in whether we think of it consciously as narration or not.

“For children under nine, the question of composition resolves itself into that of narration, varied by some such simple exercise as to write a part and narrate a part, or write the whole account of a walk they have taken, a lesson they have studied, or of some simple matter that they know.” – Volume 1 p.247

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