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Oratory in the Grammar Stage

by Christine Miller

A Definition

Oratory, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is the art of speaking in public eloquently and effectively. As a subject it was a part of the classical curriculum of the past. I believe Oratory to be an important subject to include in the classical curriculum in our day as well. In many states, Speech and Debate, which is the dialectic of Oratory, is required. Therefore a foundation in the grammar of Oratory is desirable. Oratory in the grammar stage does not have to be treated as a separate subject, but can easily be integrated with the other subjects. The grammar stage of Oratory includes training in correct enunciation, practice in reciting and reading out loud, and oral narrations.

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Enunciation is the habit of correct pronunciation of English sounds and words. Training in enunciation begins when a child is born, as he will mimic the pronunciation he hears in his home. Parents concerned with including Oratory in the grammar stage of their children’s education should themselves practice and develop the habit of correct pronunciation. The habit of enunciation in children is further developed in the school years during phonics instruction. Children should be encouraged to pronounce the letters, diphthongs and digraphs they are learning clearly and with accuracy during phonics drill. Insisting on proper enunciation consistently from ourselves and our children is the best way to teach it.

Proper enunciation does more than just portray the appearance of education in our children. It is important to the success of spelling, as well. In modern English, many vowel sounds in certain syllables in our words are slurred. Vowels in unaccented syllables are routinely pronounced with the “schwa” sound, instead of the vowel sound the syllable indicates. The schwa sound is denoted in the dictionary as an upside down e, and is pronounced like a short u: “uh.” An example is the word “movement.” The word is broken into the syllables “move” and “ment,” with the accent, or the stress, placed on the first syllable when spoken. The first syllable, because it is accented, is pronounced the way we expect it to be. The second syllable, “ment,” is unstressed. The syllable reveals that we should pronounce the vowel as a short e: “eh.” Most of the time, however, we pronounce the syllable with the schwa sound: “munt,” or “movemunt.” Enunciation seeks to make a child aware of how he is saying what he is saying, and to encourage him to enunciate properly when he speaks. Correct enunciation is vital if a child is to learn how to spell by syllables. (See The Subject of Grammar for more on spelling by syllables.) Many children spell the “-ment” suffix as “-munt” unless taught differently, as they hear “munt” when they say the word. Correct enunciation alleviates this difficulty.

Another problem sound is the “wh” consonant team, which when properly enunciated says “hw.” In modern English many times we pronounce this team the same as a single “w.” It is hard for a child to hear the difference between “which” and “witch” when they are both pronounced as “w-short i-ch.” When pronounced properly, the difference is clear, and the children’s spelling will reflect that difference.

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Reciting and Reading Aloud

Even before children are proficient readers, they can recite aloud something that they have committed to memory. Encourage regular recitation. And just as in writing class neat formation of letters is stressed, during recitations proper enunciation is stressed. Although many modern educators do away with standards and rules to encourage greater participation among students, this abandonment of standards does not encourage participation, but laxity. Children that are aware of the standards before they begin are not discouraged in reciting. Rather they enjoy having something to work toward; to practice for. We should always in every subject strive to instill in our children the ethic of putting forth our best effort in every circumstance.

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” -- 2 Timothy 2:15 (NKJ)

Reciting without stumbling and hesitating, and with proper enunciation; and when older, reciting with feeling or tone to match the mood of the piece, is the standard that children work toward in Oratory.

Material for recitation can be the facts of an aspect of some subject; poetry; or passages of history, literature or Scripture. Recitation begins in 1st grade or earlier with the alphabet and counting to ten or a hundred. Students can take the floor formally once a week or even daily as part of memorization drill. Even if it is only drill, the enunciation should still be precise. Recitation is a worthwhile exercise to continue throughout the grammar stage, with the length and the complexity of the passages or poetry increasing as the child increases in his skills. If the child doesn’t recite according to the standards, do what would be done if they turned in a piece of writing with sloppy penmanship: give them a chance to do it again, paying closer attention to the details this time. Doing over does not have to mean the same as failure unless the child is made to feel that it is. In our homeschool, we prefer to remember that practice makes perfect, and doing again is one more chance to practice towards perfection.

Once a child has learned to read, give him regular opportunities to read aloud. At first his concentration will be on just decoding the words correctly. Even here, insist on correct enunciation. As the children become comfortable in decoding and reading more fluently, they may have a tendency to read in a monotone. Work on developing the skill of not reading in a monotone next. Have them mimic your example in short passages until they get the hang of it. Remember that they have roughly six years to get this down, so space increasing expectations of their abilities accordingly. As they get older and more practiced, you can have them work on reading with feeling, matching their tone to the mood of the passage, and so on. Older children benefit greatly by reading the history or literature read-aloud to their younger brothers and sisters, and Mom’s voice gets a rest mid-morning!

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Oral Narrations

A child can begin simple oral narrations in first grade, and continue them throughout the grammar stage. Narration is a technique that was popularized by Charlotte Mason. It entails simply having the child tell back what it is he has heard or remembers from the day’s story or lesson. Oral narrations help develop brain functions that are normally left dormant in “regular” schools. First a child listens to the story or lesson with attention. As he re-tells what happened, his brain is busy processing the information that he has heard, sorting and filing it, then choosing what aspects of that information to tell about, and which words to use. The process of narration imbeds the story or the lesson more firmly in the mind than just simply listening without responding would.

A child beginning narrations is just like a child beginning anything else new, so start small and give them a chance to practice and become comfortable with the idea. For some children this may mean asking them to re-tell after a paragraph, and gradually working up to longer and longer passages, until they can narrate a day’s whole reading or lesson. For children that seem to have difficulty organizing their thoughts, the teacher can write an outline of the day’s story or lesson, and have the child narrate from the outline. A child can also narrate into a tape recorder once in a while, and play back his narrations for Father when he returns home.

Some examples of oral narrations could be:

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In Conclusion

Oratory in the grammar stage includes proper enunciation, recitation and read aloud practice, and oral narrations. Consistent exercise in all these aspects of Oratory in the grammar stage helps to prepare a child for formal speech and debate in the dialectic stage, and lays the foundation needed to become an effective communicator as an adult in any life situation.

There is no additional oratory curriculum for the grammar stage, however, several teacher’s resources on the Oratory Curriculum catalog page may be of interest.

Return to The Grammar Stage Subject Index

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