Narration, the art of telling back a story, is, in my opinion, the least painful and most interesting method for a child to learn how to write well. Oral narration is a necessary precursor to writing because it teaches a child to organize his thoughts. As a child retells, he must be able to reconstruct an account from beginning to end, placing the events in correct order. He begins with an introductory statement, sometimes describing the characters, and often ends his little narrative with a concluding statement, simply because the story did so. This oral repetition teaches a child a very important step in the writing process without actually having to spend part of his mental energy on forming correct letters. We save that skill for copywork times, when he can devote his full energy to letter formation and neatness.
Once a child has learned to organize his thoughts and retell them, he can then move on to written narration. Written narration CAN be a very effective means of teaching a child to write well, but it does not guarantee a good writer. If your child has filled a notebook with written narrations, but you have never critiqued them, then his writing will most certainly be lacking in various areas. It WILL improve, no doubt, and this is one of the wonderful benefits of narration, but in order to be an effective writer, the student needs not only a good model, but a guide to help him see and understand that which he, as an apprentice, cannot recognize on his own. He needs YOU.
If you are uncertain of your own writing skills, there is no need to be intimidated about this. You do not have to be a great writer to teach your child to write well. Narrating excellent literature will do much of the job. Your task is to fill in the gaps with simple tips. You will most likely notice many of them on your own, and will be able to find the rest within a simple writer's handbook. I feel that no homeschool should be without one.
IN OUR HOME
Around nine years of age, my child begins writing narrations. She begins with just a paragraph, once a week double-spaced on regular notebook paper. Double spacing helps to keep her thoughts organized and also provides space for little corrections later. The following term, she begins writing two narrations per week and so on if I feel she is ready. I almost always have my child read her narration aloud to me. If she is uncomfortable with this, I gently encourage her and we go to a private place where other family members can't hear. Inevitably, as she is reading, she notices an error or two on her own. I tell her to correct it and I compliment her narration. If I feel that she did her best then I say nothing more. It may be a very sad specimen indeed, but that's okay. My desire is for her to experience success during this initial second stage so that, first and foremost, she develops a sense of pleasure in writing, if not a love affair.
Gradually, I begin to critique her narrations. I usually just point out one or two areas for improvement. I don't use a red pen (yet) but just discuss it with her. For example, if she started out most of her sentences with AND, then I tell her that it is a good idea to use this word only occasionally in this way. Then I might say, "Let's think of another way to begin your sentence." She doesn't rewrite. She just files that little tip away and we go on. I secretly note her misspelled words and may even point out an obvious one to her. I add the words to her individualized spelling list for a quick dictation lesson later in the week, or if there is time, I do it right there on the spot using her mental camera and the dry erase board or a slip of paper.
When my children have had a solid year of written narration, I gradually become pickier, especially concerning the mechanics of writing. I generally use a red pen with my 11 and 13 year olds now, but I make sure that I don't cover the page with red marks, continuing to point out only a few items per narration. Sometimes, I may have them rewrite an awkwardly worded sentence or I may express that I would like to see a narration that is a bit longer next time. However, there are days when I don't grade them at all. Every narration need not be a lesson. In this way, my children gradually learn writing skills in an interesting, enjoyable manner. There are no contrived writing assignments, the lessons are short and the subject matter is something the child is already familiar with. I really don't spend hardly any time going over narrations, but I DO go over them and believe my little quick conferences with the children have greatly improved their writing skills.
Miss Mason recommended the practice of this method exclusively until the high school years. Then she introduced composition as a separate subject. This is when she began to teach the student how to write various kinds of essays. (Informative and Persuasive essays are a few examples.) If you are uncomfortable teaching these more complicated forms of writing, I suggest you buy a simple program for the upper years that is short and to the point such as something like Writing Strands, maybe Level 4 or 5. (But, it isn't necessary if you have your trusty writer's guide.) WS is not perfect, but the lessons are short and to the point, requiring a minimal amount of parental involvement. A also like this website. So many writing programs are extremely time consuming or begin with the notion that very young children must write creative and descriptive pieces when they are not even comfortable with a pencil yet. I do not recommend teaching formal composition until a child is at least fourteen.
one step at a time...