Verbal has a double meaning for eighth graders: it refers to oral presentations and to this year’s focus in grammar — gerunds, participles, and infinitives.

I think uniquely, therefore I am.

Teens need to forge their own identity by forming their own opinions (and rebelling against the status quo). This year’s argument papers provide a way for kids to construct logical, fact-based arguments in their quest to foster their individualistic selves.

Written in formal language, essays should start with an introduction that clearly presents the position and flows into a well-organized, research-backed argument that addresses opposing claims, too. Your child’s writing should exhibit a profound understanding of the disputed 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?

Teenage experts

In their informative and explanatory papers, students use formal language as they explain complex topics with relevant data, precise ideas, and logical analyses. They 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 domain-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 Twitter-sized synopsis of the gigantic data drop in 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 Is there a way to stop kids from tagging graffiti? Or even Explain how a specific invention has changed your life.

The plot thickens

Eighth graders write narratives 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 vocabulary 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, changes, again, again

Grit. Concentration. Repeatedly leaping into the void. 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 required redundancy just a form of perfectionistic punishment? No, the practice helps teen authors learn to tighten their prose, pick stronger verbs and more accurate descriptors, and organize their writing in the most effective and interesting ways.

Internet interaction

Eighth graders use the internet to produce and publish their work, which typically links to web sources and includes graphics and multimedia. Online communication with teachers and classmates — often in Google Docs — is increasingly common. Ditto for emailing or uploading completed assignments. Both require more innovative excuses than the old-school “The dog ate my homework.” Your child should be rat-a-tat-tatting quickly on the keyboards now, typing 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.


Eighth graders do short projects that require research from multiple sources. Teen detectives learn to evaluate the credibility of their sources. For example, is Saturday Night Live as reliable as National Public Radio? 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.

Everyone’s a critic

Students get to do the critiquing this year — whether it’s professional fiction or their classmate’s essay. Eighth graders analyze how modern fiction uses the plot, themes, and characters from myths, legends, and classics. 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 in order to become skilled at fact from fiction, legitimate truth from biased propaganda, scientific theories from fraudulent nonsense.

A very verbal year

When it comes to the big G, eighth graders learn the forms and functions of verbs and their confusing cousins — verbals. Three types of verbals are studied: gerunds, participles, and infinitives.

  • Gerunds are nouns that have a verb as the root with -ing at the end. For example, sing is a verb, but Singing is a noun — and a gerund.
  • Participles are adjectives with a verb root that indicate past or present action. For example, fry is a verb, but fried in fried egg is an adjective — and a participle.
  • Infinitives are verbs that can function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs; they usually begin with “to” Here are a few examples: Zeke refuses to eat. (noun) Gabriela brought a jacket to wear. (adjective) The ambulance driver sounded his siren to warn the pedestrians. (adverb)

Students also 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.

Perfecting punctuation

Eighth graders learn the proper use of commas, dashes, and ellipses. For example:

  • Commas signify a pause between parts of a sentence, like this: If the girl had previously lived in New Jersey, she would have spoken with an accent.
  • Dashes draw attention to the enclosed content, like this: The girl — the one who previously lived in New Jersey — spoke with an accent.
  • Ellipses indicate that words have been omitted inside a quotation, like this: Larry said, “the girl spoke with an accent.”

I. Will. E. Nun. Ci. Ate.

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 speeches 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.


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