What We Are Doing for 8th Grade

This is a little late, but I guess better late than never!

This year, the boys are attending homeschool group classes for 3 of their subjects: Language Arts, US History, and Life Science. They do math at home, plus some minor subjects like reading, handwriting, art, and logic puzzles.

Language Arts



US History-Based Writing Lessons, Volume 1

Their instructor is using IEW materials for their composition. The first semester, they used the US History-Based Writing Lessons Volume 1. I felt like we really raced through the lessons in this and that it was hard for the boys and me to keep up with all of the writing. I finally realized that it was probably because most of the kids in this group class have been doing IEW writing for the past 3 years with this instructor, so it’s familiar to them and they have a lot more experience with it than my boys do. Add to that the fact that I am not in class or even see the teacher at all those days to find out what they did, and it was very difficult to know what they were told and what they should do. I have the teacher training for this writing program (the DVD workshop) and so I am familiar with the way it is usually presented, but I think she customizes it a bit and that’s where the disconnect can be. It required a LOT of hand-holding on my part in the evenings and weekends because they are not quite to the level of doing it mostly independently yet.

This semester, the instructor is using her own materials to merge IEW’s writing style with that taught and required by the local school system (the 6 Traits of Writing). A couple of the 8th-graders in the class, the instructor’s daughter and Alex Rider included, are considering attending public high school in the fall. So in order to prepare the students for the Writing Assessment at the end of this year, she is modeling some of their assignments after those kinds of writing prompts and the 6 Traits of Writing grading rubric.  She still includes the IEW Structure and Style checklist as well, so the students can see how they match up with both styles of grading. The boys seem to be handling this a little better, partly because I think they do better with the 6 Traits than the style checklist from IEW, and partly because most of these assignments have been the shorter papers instead of the long biography research paper they did last semester. I am still having a hard time getting them to internalize and understand the importance of making a simple outline to start, just like IEW and their instructor teaches and that even the structure of the outline is important (should model the structure of the paper), but they are getting better.


They are simply using a spelling workbook each week and they discuss the spelling pattern of the week in class before beginning that week’s work. They are using the Evan-Moor book:

Building Spelling Skills Grade 6+


The class is using an Evan-Moor book for grammar, which is fine for Alex Rider. It is Daily Language Review, meaning that each day’s work is supposed to be review/practice. We have not stressed a lot of heavy grammar over the years (most studies on the effectiveness of grammar instruction show that grammar study does not improve writing skills). For Alex Rider, he picks it up quickly when they discuss the week’s grammar skills in class and has no problem applying that when he gets home to do the work.

For Dragon Rider, this just wasn’t working. He would not retain the in-class discussion well enough to do the workbook at home and the workbook is designed as “daily review” not self-teaching, so he didn’t understand most of it. I replaced his workbook with Fix-It! Grammar and Editing Made Easy Using the Classics. I have combined his grammar work with his handwriting practice, such that he writes the corrected sentences in his cursive handwriting for daily practice. We are using the Tom Sawyer story level from this. Each chapter has goals for things he is to underline (like subjects/verbs or adverbs and adjectives) and correct (capitalization, punctuation, spelling, incorrect homophones, etc.) He does the editing work on the printed page (it’s a PDF so I print out what he needs). Then he copies the sentences (1-3/day) to his notebook, in cursive, correcting the mistakes in the sentence and deciding if the sentence starts a new paragraph (meaning he is to indent.) This involves him more in the process of understanding the grammar in context and is less focused on the jargon of grammar that confuses him. If Alex Rider were not intending to try public high school in the fall, I would have him do this program, too, but a different level/story. But I want to make sure that he has the jargon of grammar and is exposed to the technicalities more in case that is needed in a freshman English class. If he drops out of public school and decides he liked homeschooling better, I will have him do the Fix It! grammar program.

Daily Language Review Grade 8                                  Fix It Grammar


The first semester, the boys were to read or listen to the Autobiography of Ben Franklin. This was a very difficult book to read, and even listening to it in audiobook format was still hard to follow. But the exposure to higher-end literature was good for them.

They also had to choose a biography of someone from the time period they were studying and read that over the first part of the semester. Then their biography research paper later that semester was based on that biography. Alex Rider chose Kit Carson and Dragon Rider chose Blackbeard. The boys don’t much like biographies, so I tried to keep these pretty simple, and they still learned more about their chosen person and they worked hard on their research paper, so it was a worthwhile exercise (even if I was fried by the end of the paper!) Often, biographies are really hard to find that are truly well-written. You either find the simplistic, elementary school biographies that just give the basic facts and are oh-so-boring, or you have the full-size adult biographies, which may or may not be interesting, and are often quite long.

This semester, they had to choose a historical fiction novel to read that was from a later time period – from about the war of 1812 through the 20th century. With a strong recommendation from their instructor, Alex Rider is reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (I think several others in the class are, too.) I hope he can stick with it and finish it because it is a classic book that will really help him understand the time period. Dragon Rider has chosen By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischmann, which is a Newbery Medal book and is supposed to be very good as well. I am expecting that they will be doing some kind of paper/book report later in the semester based on these books, but I am not sure.

               By the Great Horn Spoon


Both boys are using Teaching Textbooks this year. They also did a bit of Khan Academy, but it wasn’t giving them enough explanation on some of the harder topics so we are now focused on Teaching Textbooks as the primary resource. Alex Rider is using Pre-Algebra and Dragon Rider is using Math 6. The goal is to get Alex Rider through enough of the foundation skills for starting Algebra 1 in the fall, whether he goes to public high school for that or does it at home. He just has not been motivated to push himself in math to reach his potential. He still expects it to always be easy, and as soon as it becomes a little difficult, he starts to give up. Once we get through it, it does become easy, but he is still not seeing that as part of the process. And his teenage brain won’t accept any advice I can give him one way or another because I am “old and don’t know anything.” Ha! Ha! I actually think that even if he only stays in public high school a month or 2, at least he’ll see what is normally expected for math students at this level and maybe he won’t be so resistant. One can only hope! 🙂

Dragon Rider is plugging away at the Math 6 and is currently working on fractions. He is doing much better now than when he was younger, so I think his “math maturity” level is catching up. Even though he is not really stumbling with fractions, we are still supplementing with Key to Fractions workbooks for reinforcement and extra practice to help him retain the skills and not forget it a month later! Understanding fractions is THE KEY determining factor in success in Algebra and higher level math, so I want him to know that he knows it!

Pre-Algebra Teaching Textbook     Math 6 Teaching Textbook    

US History

For history, they are primarily reading A History of US by Joy Hakim. This is a 10-book series that is much more readable than a traditional textbook. The chapters are short and easily digestible, the books are about 8″x10″ and usually only about 5/8″ thick, paperback. Much less intimidating than traditional textooks. The boys read 9-10 chapters/week (3-4 pages/chapter) and then have activities that they do to show understanding. They can choose from an entire list that includes creating a short PowerPoint presentation (like 3-4 slides), written summary of a chosen chapter, outline a chapter, even create a diorama of a chapter. Their literature reinforces the period of history they are studying. They also have been studying US Geography and have had to do a state presentation on a chosen state. They will be doing another one of those this semester. The boys both chose to go with a PowerPoint presentation instead of a tri-fold board display.


For science, they have been using a series of books, provided to us as eBooks, called A Class of Their Own. There are 6 in the series: Animals, Archaea, Bacteria, Fungi, Plants, and Protists. They read these and then choose an activity to do and turn in, similar to history. In class, they have done an incredible number of hands-on labs that have been quite exciting! They spent the first semester looking through microscopes and growing bacteria and fungi. This semester, they are doing dissections and then will study plants in the spring. Neither boy was too keen on doing the dissections, but she expected that most kids would be like that and started simple. They started with a squid and did things like remove the ink sack and try to write with the ink! Last week, they dissected an earthworm – the traditional first animal dissected. I am not sure how many other she has planned for them to do, but they are easing into it nicely. I don’t think they would have received this much hands-on activity had they been in public school!

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Alex Rider is working on his Italic Cursive and Dragon Rider is working on his Modern Cursive. Alex Rider is using excerpts from literature (right now, The Sign of the Beaver) for his handwriting/copywork. Dragon Rider, as mentioned before, uses his grammar sentences for his handwriting practice.


As much as the boys don’t really like doing art every week, I wanted to include something that would get them to work at it a little. Last year, they did pretty well using the Klutz Watercolor book, so this year I found 2 books from Klutz for drawing. They are to just do a page or 2 each week from either book.

Drawing: For the Artistically Undiscovered (Klutz S.)How to Draw Funny: Give Your Doodles A Comic Twist (Klutz)

Logic Puzzles

These include a variety of puzzles like KenKen, Mind Benders, Balance Benders, and Balance Math. They like KenKen best, but I try to mix it up occasionally. KenKen is like Math Soduku, and come in various sizes (number of squares) and difficulty. I get KenKen puzzles for free on the Internet as a teacher. They email me a new set each week and I print out what they need. These others puzzles can get quite hard, especially the Balance Math, but are great for getting them to think logically.

Mind Benders® A1 - Click for Preview     Balance Benders™ Beginning Level - Click for Preview     Balance Math™ &  More! Level 1 - Click for Preview