Charlotte Mason Style Language Arts

Excellent Article written by Suz in Frogpond.

HANDWRITING – Best taught through copywork. I start my dc on the basics. Whatever scheme or style you decide on, start with the basics – the foundation strokes, shapes, etc. Then, we move on to the letters and numbers. By the time 1st grade comes around, we’re ready for short sentences. I use Bible verses, nursery rhymes, lines from FIAR stories, whatever. A good rule of thumb is one sentence per grade, so by the time they are 4th or 5th grade age, they should be up to copying paragraphs. When learning letter formation/cursive connections/spacing, I use a yellow highlighter and write out the selection for them. Once they get a good “hand” on it, I just let them copy from the book, the Bible, whatever.

SPELLING – take the words straight from their own writings. Make them learn the correct spellings of the words they’ve misspelled. We keep a list of words each student needs to work on. On Monday, I pretest. Any word spelled correctly isn’t studied that week. (Why bore them with something they already know. Plus, we all occasionally misspell something, right? Leave some room for the casual or careless mistake.) I write each word on an index card or on their white board “slates.” They study the words, reviewing each day. (We use our slates, word searches, Scrabble tiles, magnetic letters, funky colored markers, you name it, so daily review isn’t boring or tiresome.) On Friday, we test on that week’s words. Any missed words go back on the list, but NOT the next week’s list. This prevents burn-out for poor spellers. We review occasionally, especially words that might be unusual or uncommon. Using their own misspellings makes the work more meaningful, less drudgery. Also, they learn the importance and the difference correct spelling can make in their own writing. As they age and read/write more, they will encounter most, if not all, of the spelling “rules.” If they have a difficulty with words that follow any specific rule, I try to make sure that their handwriting selections and/or reading selections contain words that follow that rule, so they gain more practice with it. (HINT: a good source for lots of varied rules is poetry, as often the rhyme scheme calls for many words with similar letter patterns.) Charlotte used dictation to test for spelling, but I’ve found from experience that my dc didn’t retain the spelling. It was kind of that old “learn it for the test” thing with them.

VOCABULARY – Have the dc keep a notebook handy while reading, both independently and with you. Any word they don’t know the meaning to, they have to write it down, find the definition (either from a dictionary, or from context clues) and write that down in their own words. This really helps them to cement the meaning of the word in their minds. Once they have 10 to 15 words on their list, you may want to review or test them in whatever way works best for you. I like to have them write sentences or paragraphs using the words, as that way I know for certain whether or not they’ve mastered the definitions.

GRAMMAR – Charlotte Mason’s students DID use a text for grammar. However, I believe that the text was used with her older students, high school aged. Her younger students used their reading, written narrations and copywork, along with their foreign language work, to learn the basics. It’s very easy to use a Bible passage/verse, nursery rhyme, a favorite story or poem or their own writings to point out things like parts of speech, punctuation marks, capitalization, and the like.

If you truly want to go text-book free, you’ll need a scope and sequence (list of topics to teach when) and a good resource or reference book, so you know you are teaching them correctly. My favorite is “Grammatically Correct.” However, it is a reference more for writers, so I don’t know if it would work for everyone. My oldest dd likes WriteSource’s “Writer’s Inc.” I’ve found the best way to test their knowledge of grammar is through their writings – essays, stories, compositions and poems. In a way, learning to write and learning good grammar go hand in hand.

COMPOSITION – I don’t believe ALL students can learn to write simply by reading and being exposed to good writing. However, I CAN say it doesn’t hurt the cause, either. One thing that I like to do is to have the student study a particular passage in a particular style, say a passage of really good dialogue or a very well-done descriptive scene. (Dickens and O. Henry are great for both of these, btw.) Then, after they’ve read and studied it, paying attention to the way it’s written, not just what is written, I’ll ask them to write a passage or two of their own, in a similar style. Then, we compare their writing to the original, to see how well they’ve done. A practical example – A wonderful example of foreshadowing is found in the opening scenes of “A Christmas Carol.” Have your junior high age-student spend a 3 or 4 days studying these passages. Then, read them the rest of the first Stave, so they can see what all this was building up to. Then, ask them to write their own passage of foreshadowing, only make it a mystery or a birthday party or something other than a Victorian ghost story. Again, if you don’t have a good resource book on how to write, you might want to invest in one, or get your student an age appropriate writing guide, like WriteSource, Writing Strands or “Igniting Your Writing” sells. (I have several published by Writer’s Digest – for adults, on both fiction and non-fiction writing, that I find very helpful.) Written narrations can serve as a good basis for how much about writing your student knows, and a way to test their newly-developed skills.

COMPREHENSION & NARRATION The best way to test your dc’s comprehension skills is through narration, either oral, written or “active.” Here’s are the narration “starters” that have made more than one appearance on these boards, for those of you who may wonder just how to “do” narration while keeping it fresh or relevant. In the next post, you will find a list of “narration starters.” These are the things you ask your dc to get them started narrating. (Please note anywhere there is a ____ or a “him/her” or “setting/time period” you would fill in with particulars from your reading.) They are arranged somewhat in order of the complexity of thought needed to adequately “answer” them. In the post below that list is the list of “active narration ideas.” I use these with my younger dc, and sometimes with older ones as a break from oral/written narration. They accomplish the same task of finding out how much the dc knows from the reading, while taking some of the “work” out of narrating. Now, how do I use these? With starters, I typically write them at the top of the page. The dc then writes/dictates her answer to me below. For the active narrations, I have a jar. In the jar are a number of slips of paper. Each slip has one of the activities written on it. There is more than one of each kind, but not the same number of each. Also, I’ve thrown in a couple slips that say “skip narration today” just to keep it interesting. Then, once or twice a week, instead of dictating/writing a narration, we pick a slip from the jar and do what it says. We typically do one narration a day, per dc. I’ve found narrating for every reading with every dc to be tedious for me and them, so one a day is adequate for me. (Only you know what you and your dc will tolerate.) Anyway, I’ve found using these starters and activities makes narration easy and fun and certainly less tedious or boring. Oh, as to how much to expect – when it comes to written narrations, I like to start around 3rd or 4th grade with a paragraph or so. By the time they reach middle school age, they should be able to produce a page-front or so. When dictating, I ask for at least 4 or 5 sentences from my 6yo. In reality, though, it doesn’t matter much how much they narrate (written or orally) as long as they can exhibit enough knowledge of the reading to let you know they were listening and retaining. I DO NOT correct written narrations for grammar. I WILL point out misspelled words, if there are any, simply because my dc use their own spelling errors as their spelling words. The narrations should not be treated as essays or compositions, IMO. They are the dc’s “proof” of attention to and comprehension of their readings. We date each one and add the title of the book (with chapter, if applicable) and put them in their own section of our notebooks. We narrate on every kind of reading we do, too. Just because it’s science or history doesn’t mean a child can’t produce a narration on it. I never tell which readings we’ll be narrating on. That way, the dc pay close attention to ALL their work. Here are the narration starters. Somewhere on the web, I found a list of “exam questions” taken directly from the PNEU schools founded and operated by Charlotte. I copied out as many of the “generic” ones I could, and from some other readings on narration, put together this list of starters:
1.) Tell what you remember about_____________
2.) Tell me the story in your own words.
3.) Wasn’t it funny/sad/strange when_________? Tell me what else you remember about that.
4.) Explain how ___________happens/happened. 5.) Describe _______________.
6.) Tell me who we met today. Describe him/her.
7.) Tell me all you can about (a particular setting.)
8.) Tell me all you can about (the reading’s time period.)
9.) Tell me everything that happened after ________.
10.) Tell all you know about how ___________ happens.
11.) Tell about a problem in the story and how it was solved/fixed.
12.) Tell everything you would see (in a particular setting.)
13.) Tell me all you know about (a particular character or person)
14.) Who said, “———-” Tell me the story about it.
15.) Why did he/she do _________?”
16.) List the story’s events in the order that they happened.
17.) Describe the clues that lead up to ___________.
18.) From the passage/story we read, tell me how to ______.
19.) Tell me how he/she felt after _________ 20.) Describe the narrator.
21.) Describe everything that happened because of________
22.) Tell me all the ways two characters/people/settings from the same story compare.
23.) Tell me all the ways two characters/people/settings from two different stories compare.
24.) Compare this book/story to another of the same style.
25.) Compare this book/story to another by the same author.
26.) Explain how _________ came to be.
27.) Did he/she make the right decision? Tell me why or why not.
28.) Tell me all you know about (time period/character traits/sequence of events.) [This involves a higher level of thinking than the earlier questions similar in nature. The information you are asking for here is to be implied or inferred, not directly stated in the reading. In other words, I might ask, “Tell me all you know about what is happening before the story begins” or “Tell me all you know about Aunt Lucy” even though in the story the only time we “meet” Aunt Lucy is through her letters to the main character.)
29.) Who/what had the most influence on the outcome of the story? Why? How?
30.) Would you want him/her as a friend? Why or why not?

Now, my youngest dd often includes characters from her stories into her make-believe play, so she finds #30 easier than I think it was intended to be…. However, remember that they are supposed to be in order of easiest to do to more difficult.

Active Narrations
1.) Draw a picture of a setting/character in the story.
2.) Set up a scene from the story with your blocks/doll house.
3.) Make a playdough ________ (character or setting)
4.) Narrate into a tape recorder/video camera. (This makes a GREAT addition to a portfolio OR grandparents’ present.)
5.) Act out a scene/event from the story. 6.) Ask Mama 3 questions about the story. (This is another great one for checking how much they are retaining, because they can’t ask questions if they don’t know the answers. I also do NOT allow vague questions like “Tell the story in your own words.” They have to be specific questions about a character or setting.
7.) Pretend you are a friend of his/hers. What is your part in the story? Act it out.
You may want to wait on some of these if you are new to narration, especially #6. Also, remember to substitute info specific to your story for setting/event/character.

Now, to show you how this works in real life, here is 6yo dd’s narration of “Paul Revere’s Ride” from this past school year. I’d asked her to tell me everything she could remember after his friend hung the two lanterns in the church tower. “Paul Revere rode on his horse to the towns where the British were going. The men there got up and POW POW went their guns and the Redcoats ran away or died. Paul was impatient and wanted to get it over with in a hurry so he rode really fast.”

(I thought this was an excellent narration and told her so. ) She also got to act out the part of Paul Revere on her stick pony with her 3yo brother placing two paper lanterns on the railing of the porch over and over again.


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