What is a Commonplace Book? Or Another Way to Narrate


Project Gutenburg -Thomas Jefferson’s Writings

Here is a definition that I found online:

“Commonplacing is the act of selecting important phrases, lines, and/or passages from texts and writing them down; the commonplace book is the notebook in which a reader has collected quotations from works s/he has read. Commonplace books can also include comments and notes from the reader; they are frequently indexed so that the reader can classify important themes and locate quotations related to particular topics or authors.”

When we first started thinking about keeping a commonplace book, I was a little at a loss on what exactly goes into it. I tried to find some information online but didn’t get very far. I consulted someone that I knew who used commonplacing in their homeschool and she shared this very thorough website. At first we used the commonplace book as a place to keep our copywork and then eventually the boys started choosing their own passages to write in the book on their own. This made the book uniquely theirs.

We use commonplace books for several of our subjects and my boys find them to be an excellent way to keep track or narrate their reading. They include quotes, definitions, poems, and then any of their personal responses to the subjects they are reading about. Basically, they record anything they want to remember about what they have been reading. I also enjoy reading the boys’ commonplace books as a way to know what they are getting out of their reading each day. I don’t always read every book they do so this keeps me a little more informed about how the reading is going for them and if they are understanding the material.

We started off using a loose leaf notebook with lines for our commonplace books. They are nothing fancy and some might argue that they are really just journals, scrapbooks, or notebooks but I think that is the whole idea….to have something as individual as you are to record your own ideas and thoughts and to keep track of things that you especially like from your reading.

As the last school year progressed, my oldest son decided he wanted to keep a separate book for each subject and we switched over to using composition style books with lines.

I use a commonplace book during my Bible reading and have enjoyed keeping track of scriptures and thoughts related to them over the last year or so. My boys use their commonplace books for science, history, literature, and Bible reading. I also consider my blog another form of common placing.

Many famous people kept commonplace books. (see photo at the top for the writings of Thomas Jefferson….google Thomas Jefferson commplace book and then look at the images for examples)

For older children and adults, this is a great way to incorporate Charlotte Mason’s idea of narration in a form that is meaningful to the student.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

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