Mason-Inspired Methods for Teaching Writing by HomeschoolMagazine


More Info
									Mason-Inspired Methods
for Teaching Writing

Jessica Boling

“Time for writing!” My announcement silences the chatter of several young voices at
the Charlotte Mason-inspired co-op where I teach. The students take their seats and
pull out black-and-white speckled composition books. They listen as I read a poem
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, our selection for copywork and dictation.

The Charlotte Mason approach enriches a student’s English education in many ways.
Families who incorporate Mason’s ideas in their homeschool introduce their children
to quality literature (what Mason terms “living books”) at a young age. Students
thrive when they are encouraged to read interesting stories, firsthand accounts, and
beautiful poems. On this rich foundation, parents can build their children’s writing
skills by using several Mason-inspired methods: copywork and dictation, written
narration, and literary analysis.

Copywork and Dictation

Start by choosing a poem, passage of literature, or historical document. We are
studying the American Revolution at the co-op, so I chose the poem “Paul Revere’s
Ride” by Longfellow. First, I read the poem aloud. After the shared reading and
discussion time, I place the printed poem on the table in front of my youngest
student. She copies the first stanza word for word, paying attention to punctuation
and capitalization. Meanwhile, I dictate the poem to the older students, pausing at
the end of each phrase while pencils fly across pages in their composition books.

“Is there a period at the end of that line?” asks one student.

“No, it’s a comma.” During dictation, I tell students where to insert punctuation. If
we’re doing a poem, I also tell them each time a new line begins. Otherwise,
formatting and spelling are their responsibilities.

After the assignment, I check the students’ work and mark any mistakes. Missed
spelling words are added to a student’s personal spelling list for further study. With a
simple task, we’ve covered literature, spelling, and punctuation. Dictation also
demands that students listen closely, helping them build valuable note-taking skills.

Written Narration

“Okay, listen up! Let’s read history now.”

The students cease chattering and listen as I read a chapter from our current history
book. Since we’re studying the American Revolution, I have collected half a dozen
topical books from the public library and brought them to co-op. I’ve selected books
with colorful photos and artwork, tasteful layouts, and interesting facts. Books that
include firsthand accounts and quotations grab my attention. To accompany the
nonfiction history books, I select a fictional tale that fits the time period of our
current studies. Right now, we’re reading The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth
George Speare.
I read aloud a selection on daily life in the colonial era. To assist the students, on the
blackboard I write a rough outline of the chapter’s information. I close the book and
tell them it’s time for written narration.

Narration builds listening skills and requires students to remember and communicate
details in logical order. You can tailor narration assignments to fit your student’s
ability level. For example, if we are reading a nonfiction history book with a lot of
dates and specific facts, I write an outline on the board for students to follow. If they
are narrating a chapter from a fictional story, however, I won’t give them clues or

From middle school students, I require about a paragraph (five to eight sentences) of
written narration from a topical section in a history book. Instead of expecting them
to remember every detail and tell it back verbatim, I want them to listen for
important details and communicate those in their own words. Regularly practicing
this skill builds a student’s ability to mentally sort through information in search of
key points.

Literary Analysis

Literary analysis takes students to the next level: thinking deeply and drawing
conclusions about their readings. Analysis builds on the foundation of dictation and
narration: once a student has mastered basic grammar, spelling, and formatting
expectations and knows how to recognize and extract important information from
what he hears and reads, he is ready to try literary analysis.

There is no perfect formula or specific age to begin teaching literary analysis. If
reading classic fiction together is part of your routine, analysis is happening
already—in your conversations and in your student’s observations about various
characters as he reads. Getting into the habit of reading great books and discussing
ideas, characters, and events increases a student’s ability to write quality essays.

At the high school level, I create assignments with specific requirements yet flexible
subject matter. If we’re reading a classic novel, I ask each student to create a thesis
statement about some aspect of the plot, characters, or places—and back up the
argument with quotes and examples from the text. For example, when one class was
reading Pride and Prejudice, a student argued that two contrasting characters,
Mrs. Bennet and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, share a similar personality type. The
student chose three main arguments to prove his thesis and used those to construct
three body paragraphs. He sandwiched these between an introductory paragraph
and a conclusion and turned in a fine five-paragraph essay.

Through regular practice of copywork and dictation, the discipline of listening and
narrating, and the mental gymnastics of literary analysis, students gain invaluable
writing skills that will serve them well—in college English classes and in real life.

Jessica Boling spent the first twenty-three years of her life in Tennessee, and the
next two serving as a resident assistant at a missionary boarding school in Germany.
Now back in Tennessee, she teaches English literature and composition at several
area homeschool co-ops and is a freelance writer for and Good Catch
Publishing. She blogs at
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally
appeared in the February 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family
education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it
on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine
on your mobile devices.

To top