Verbal has a double meaning for eighth grade writing: it refers to the oral presentations the kids will do and to this year’s focus on grammar — gerunds, participles, and infinitives.
Written in formal language, argument essays should start with an introduction that clearly presents the writer’s position and flows into a well-organized, research-backed argument that advocates for their position and argues against opposing claims. Your child’s writing should exhibit a profound understanding of the topic. Arguments should be logical and fueled by evidence from credible sources. Papers should end with a persuasive conclusion that summarizes the viewpoint and declares the topic resolved. Topics will vary, but you’ll often see teen issues such as: Are video games harmful to mental health? Should our school have uniforms? Should bullies be suspended or given a chance to make amends?
Informative and explanatory writing
In their informative and explanatory papers, students use formal language to explain complex topics with relevant data, precise ideas, and logical analyses. Kids should start with an intriguing introduction that previews the subject matter. Next, they present well-organized information that’s backed by evidence from credible sources. Eighth graders should use a variety of “strategy tools,” including:
- Classifying information.
- Defining terms.
- Using subject-specific, academic, and transition vocabulary words.
- Quoting sources.
- Incorporating factual details.
- Making comparisons.
- Contrasting different situations.
- Explaining cause-and-effect relationships.
- Including graphics (charts, tables, images) and multimedia.
- Using formatting (headings, bullet points).
Finally, the concluding paragraph should provide a synopsis of the main point of the essay. Your child’s papers are likely to cover topics that students are familiar with — but still need to research in order to answer, like If there is a drought, how can we save water? Or Explain how a specific invention has changed your life.
Eighth graders write narratives or stories that describe events in their lives (personal histories, memoirs) or imagined scenarios (fiction, fantasy). Junior J.K. Rowlings learn effective storytelling techniques, such as introducing the narrator and characters, establishing context for the setting, and conveying a point of view. Students practice letting the sequence of events unfold, giving characters depth, and developing the plot through actions, dialogue, and reflection. Your future F. Scott Fitzgerald should use transition words to guide readers from one place and time to another. For example: Four hours later, Jack opened his locker to discover a shocking surprise. Or, Returning to the cafeteria, Tinsley saw the cute new boy sitting with her best friend, Amanda. Remember that even narratives have a conclusion, hopefully one that helps readers ponder the meaning of the story.
Changes and more changes
Grit. Concentration. Determination. Eighth graders strengthen their literary skills by revising their papers over and over again, following advice from teachers and classmates to re-imagine, re-outline, redraft, re-edit, rewrite, and try new approaches. Is this just a form of perfectionistic punishment? No, the practice helps teens learn to tighten their prose, pick stronger verbs, use more accurate descriptors, and organize their writing in the most effective and interesting ways.
Your eighth grader will likely need the internet to create, type, and share their work, which will often have links to web sources and include graphics and multimedia. Also, these are typically typed. Your child should be tying about 40 words per minute. (Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction recommends a typing speed 5 times your grade. If your child needs practice, there are free typing classes for middle schoolers available online.)
It’s increasingly common for kids to be required to collaborate on projects online, often in Google Docs or Slides. What’s more, drafts and completed assignments are often turned in via email or by uploading to an online portal. So if your child’s technical skills aren’t up to snuff, think about getting your child a little extra help so these requirements don’t hold him back.
Evaluating their sources
Eighth graders do short projects that require research from multiple sources. Teens learn to evaluate the credibility of their sources. For example, Is Saturday Night Live as reliable as National Public Radio? No. Kids need to be careful about how they present information, paraphrasing information or using quotes to avoid plagiarizing, which Merriam-Webster defines as “to use the words or ideas of another person as if they were your own words or ideas.” The standard way to end all research projects? A bibliography, formatted correctly, of course, that shows both the quality and quantity of their sources.
Students get to do the critiquing this year — whether it’s a book or their classmate’s essay. Eighth graders analyze how modern fiction uses the plot, themes, and characters. Students look for connections and explain how a contemporary text borrows from, comments on, or changes the old foundation. For example, How does The Hunger Games trilogy use the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur?
Students also evaluate the evidence their peers use in essays and to back up arguments. It helps them become more skilled at determining fact from fiction, legitimate truth from biased propaganda, scientific theories from fraudulent nonsense.
Eighth graders learn to identify verb voice. If the subject in a sentence does the action, then the verb is in the active voice, like this: The whale ate the shrimp. However, if the subject in a sentence is the target of the action, then the verb is in the passive voice, like this: The shrimp was eaten by the whale.
Presenting their work
Expect quite a few oral reports in eighth grade. In these presentations, kids need to deliver their arguments and the results of their investigations to the class. Key skills for a solid presentation include:
- using formal language;
- making eye contact;
- pronouncing things clearly and loudly enough for all to hear.
Your child’s presentations should be coherent, organized, logical, supported by evidence, and, in many cases, jazzed up with costumes, props, maps, music, sound effects, charts, and visual projection. Teens (and adults) often suffer from sweaty, knee-knocking stage fright. Inform your adolescent that this is totally normal; remind them to breathe and enjoy the attention.
Here’s a preview of the presentation skills required in high school.