Descriptive & Detailed Narrations -Encouraging More
First, check to be sure that you are considering the following:
*Am I moderating the content meant to be narrated? In other words, am I keeping the material meant to be narrated of a length and complexity level specifically manageable for the child in front of me? Be sure to read the article “Alleviating Narration Issues” as there may be some helpful points to be read here too.
*Am I helping my child build this skill in daily life? For example, could you give your child opportunities to describe as you are going about your day? You might ask your child to tell you all he can about a flower you see outside, a fast car that zips by, the pet’s funny incident outside, a fruit bowl on the table, the spider making a new web or any other object, event, show, etc. where you could encourage your child to tell you more. These daily life informal narrations build needed skills.
*Am I including other fundamental Charlotte Mason methods? Charlotte Mason built in many exercises for building these skills such as picture study narrations, prepared object lessons and incidental object lessons. Be sure to include these in your weekly lessons.
More Activities to Build Skills
1. You might play a game in which you ask the child to pick one natural object in the backyard of your house, or other specified space, but to not tell you what it is. The child should study this object and then come in to tell you as much as they can about it. The goal is for you to be able to go outside and find the object based on their description. If you have trouble finding it, prompt your child for more details. Ask, “What else can you tell me about it?” Repeat the description thus far and then add these new details, showing the child how important some points can be in communication. If you cannot find it without help, then have a conversation while looking at the object that includes some modeling of pertinent points that might have made the difference. For example, “Oh, I see the white flower you chose is surrounded by several others. The one that you meant was the one that had some of its petals crushed a bit on one side. And your flower was in the back corner of the yard by the shed. Let’s play again, and this time it will be my turn to pick the object!” Then you can model a detailed description.
2. Older students might experiment with writing exercises. For example, have students write as detailed a description about any character or event from any of their readings. Give the assignment with the idea that they may make their own choice, but that they must not reveal it to you in spoken or written words. The goal is for you to try and guess about whom or what is written. Ask students to keep their descriptions based on more current lessons to better narrow the field of choices for you. Follow the same general ideas as you would with the game for the younger student as described in the above game with regard to conversation and modeling, but, of course, adapt as needed for an older student. You may wish to do this exercise more than once.
3. You might also play Pictionary, but with a descriptive writing exercise included. Working in pairs, have one student (or the teacher if you only have one student) be the “artist” and one student be the “descriptive writer”. The “descriptive writer” draws the card which informs of what to draw and then proceeds to write a description of it, being as detailed as possible, but without ever naming it specifically. The “artist” will then draw based on the written description given. Once the drawing is complete, the “descriptive writer” can reveal what the card read. Players can then switch roles.
4. An older student might study examples of great descriptions in literature. For example, Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe has some very detailed descriptions of settings and characters. Many of the currently published guides make great use of these good descriptions, so you will see many more examples of this. Spend time with your student working with these descriptions by printing or photocopying the example and letting your student write in the margins of it, underline important or interesting words or write notes on the back of the paper. Discuss what is included in the description and how the author develops the description.
5. Give your students writing exercise which encourage them to write a description using as many senses as they can. You might create a sensory bag, filled with various items of different textures and smells. Let your students each draw one from the bag and describe it in great detail. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What does it smell or taste like? Does it make a sound?
Once your students begin to recognize the importance of detail to convey ideas to someone else, you can begin to incorporate their new skills into narrations. For example, when students narrate a history chapter which focused primarily on a historical figure and tries to describe this person in only one or two sentences, then you can ask them to tell you how they would describe this person if he/she lived in that time period and met someone like himself, but who had never met this person. What would he say to tell this person about the historical figure? Use your imagination, pretend it is very important that this person understand who this historical figure is and that it is urgent that he find him. Perhaps he needs to give him an imaginary urgent message. Or, ask your child to pretend he is a reporter who must share with the people who this historical figure is. If your child is more practical in nature, then ask him to tell about this person as if a younger child were listening to his description. A younger child cannot be assumed to already know about this person.
A lot of resistance and lack of detail in narrations are because students know that we already know about this person, so why must they tell us what we already know. It’s important to either change the audience to the narration or to help them understand that we wish to know all that they know about this person and that we are not expecting them to say what we would say about this person.