Dictation: the Complement of Narration, by Briana Elizabeth

Did you read Genevieve’s amazing post on narration? If you didn’t, quick, go read it now.

When I started homeschooling, I had no idea what narration or dictation were. Eleven years later and I can tell you that they are very powerful tools; some of the most powerful tools a homeschooling parent can have.

Dictation isn’t the opposite of narration, it’s the complement. Both are growing the habit of remembering, spelling, and writing. But while narration is building, dictation is deconstructing, which is very hard for a child to do; and why it needs to be done in very small amounts at first, slowly growing over the years.  A child who can read well may still struggle with dictation because reading and spelling are two very different skills, so be patient and allow for a long time to build up their ability.

I prefer to do a guided dictation. I think a child (especially one just starting dictation) should be propped so that they fall forward if they fall at all, so to speak. A felix culpa, if you will. We wouldn’t think of setting a seven-year-old down with Idylls of the King and expect them to correctly spell and write a dictation lesson, would we? As with cutting hair, or adding salt in cooking, it’s always easier to add more than to fix what’s been ruined. Meaning that knowing the child’s abilities and frustration levels, we build the lesson to teach, and also set the stage for later successes. Having them cry when you tell them it’s time to do dictation is not what we’re after because there is no crying in homeschooling.

So, with guided dictation, and knowing what your child’s abilities and limitations are, you would find a good sentence for them to do. (And I want to add that if you are starting with older children, guided dictation is the perfect place to start, even with longer works.) Then, study the sentence with the child, making sure you point out any difficult words or tricky punctuation, and read it slowly, together. Make sure they actually understand the concept of the sentence. Then, when they have taken all of that in, read them the sentence, and let them write it down. Read one sentence at a time, if you’ve more than one, until you can build that recall ability up to what your goals are.

Here is Sophia who is eight doing a dictation lesson. I chose a simple compound sentence from the second McGuffey’s Reader for her so that she had to recall what she knew about commas, and there were a few words that were a slight bit hard for her to spell.

As you can see, she misspelled two words and forgot the comma. It’s not one lesson that will make the spelling and commas finally click; it’s the simple repetition every day. “Oh, you remember what a comma does,” and then you tell them again. Every day, if you have to! You build a house brick by brick, and both narration and dictation are wonderful bricks to build with.


Briana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

Like this:

Like Loading…