Epic Battles for Middle School

My son is using Don and Jenny Killgallon’s Paragraphs for Middle School as part of his writing curriculum this year. The idea is to introduce writing concepts, illustrate them with passages from literature, have the student identify and imitate the techniques used in the passages, then have the student practice the techniques in their own writing. I was a little skeptical of the approach at first, but it really seems to be working for my son.

From the moment he first grabbed a marker and wrote his name on the dining room wall, writing has always been his thing, but he’s not always been keen on exploring the mechanics of the process. Paragraphs helps him learn about the nitty-gritty while doing the writing that he enjoys, which is mostly epic battle scenes a la Lord of the Rings and D&D. I’ve included an example below from an assignment to practice a variety of sentence openers while narrating a scene with a lot of action. I don’t understand all of it, but I think he’s succeeded. I also think I’m going to encourage some more gentle reading. (I only counted the final paragraph for his assignment, but he feels that the lead-in is necessary to set the mood.)


The sounds of war thundered through the huge keep of Nerdath, a skullcracking wave of sound from tens of hundreds of destrachans blazing sound pulses at the walls from all directions.

Thump-thump-thump.

Those were Asmodeus’s legion devils, the more powerful ice, bearded, and bone devils, a few archdevils, and half a million imps.

Thud-thud-BOOM.

Thud-thud-BOOM.

That was the orcs and the hobgoblins, leading behemoths and titans to batter down the walls.

Thunk-thud-thunk-thud-thunk-thud.

Those were more orcs and those uruk-hai, with their fearsome worg and guulvorg mounts.

Slam-crash-thud-crash-slam.

Giant goristros and other brutal battlebiars, destroying everything in their path as they dragged huge clubs and siege machines, charging towards the castle.

Vorp-flicker-vorp-flicker.

Those were the flittering beholders, with clouds and clouds of harpies, imps, and all manner of rocs, phoenixes, and giant eagles.

Crunch-smack-crunch-smack.

And those were the enormous, terrifying spiders and snakes, with little yuan-ti dragging anathemas and hordes of drow, closing the gaps between the orcs and the hobgoblins.

Squelch-wriggle-wriggle-squelch.

I averted my eyes as a wave of red ooze covered in eyes and fanged mouths rolled across the ground, enveloping everything edible in their path. These were the gibbering beasts of the Far Realm, paving the way for a thundering, rampaging battle-host of beholders, foulspawn, balhannoths, destrachans, chuuls, carrion crawlers, mind flayers, aboleths, and swarms of kuo-toa with harpoons and spears and sahuagin guards to go along.

KA-BOOM!!!

With a tremendous roar and a slam, all the beasts of burden charging the walls met with a thunderous crash, which split the battlements asunder. The evil armies poured in, in the tens of thousands. I found myself locked in combat with five evistros and a huge minotaur, only to find them hushed away by the pointing finger of a large blue humanoid. Where he pointed, men shouted in agony and fell dead. Savage balor demons, vast titans, spiders bigger than elephants, and dragons swinging claws and tails, stood out sharply among the dull, armored mass of orcs, legion devils, and foulspawn. I lopped off a carnage demon’s head, and narrowly missed a stream of acid from a huge dragon lumbering toward me, heedless of the dozens of creatures caught below its stabbing claws. It fired another jet of acid at me, which I barely dodged, and I found myself in the middle of a mass of orcs. I sliced through them and won, but then I saw that the demonic foes were swarming through the outer city. They were a wave of creatures, breaking through Nerdath’s defenders like water dislodging rocks from the ground. Skilled gnome archers were knocked from the splitting walls, and I swung my sword with all my force. It tore through the body of a vast minotaur with a critical blow that sundered the bestial creature into two pieces. But I felt my strength begin to lag. First, the minotaur’s top half swung an arm and knocked me back twenty feet, into a horde of thirty legion devils. Their eyes were without feeling or senses, their faces dull, almost bored, as they hacked me with their blades and trampled me beneath their iron-shod heels. I was in a swirl of pain. The world faded to black around me.

Junior Philosopher

cimg5128The past several lunchtimes, my kids and I have been listening to Plato’s The Last Days of Socrates, with varying levels of attention. Today, my son and I had this conversation:

son: “Are both Socrates and Plato philosophers?”

me: “Yes. They are both lovers of wisdom.”

son: “I’m a lover of wisdom.”

me: “Then maybe you’re a philosopher.”

son: “But I don’t even know how to be a philosopher.”

me: “All you need to do to be a philosopher is to love wisdom and seek wisdom.”

son: “Okay.”

I might need brush up on my Socratic dialogue skills now that I have a seven-year-old philosopher in the house.

Raising Readers: Selecting Books

A week or so ago, I wrote about how my spouse and I accidentally created a Reading Culture at our house, and then accidentally inculcated our children into it.

Today, I wanted to write about how our kids get books into their hands. Do they read just what they’re assigned to read by parents and teachers, or do they read only what they pick for themselves? Do my spouse and I limit what they are allowed to read, or do we let them  read whatever printed materials they get their hands on?

In our house, the short answer to both questions is: It’s something in between. Read More

Raising Readers: Reading Culture

I was sitting and reading one afternoon last fall when the cat got up from my lap and, wakened from the world of the novel on my lap, I realized that the house was very quiet. So, I decided to check on the kids. I looked in on them in the room we’ve dubbed “The Library,” and both of my  children were sitting on the couch, reading silently to themselves. They looked up at me and smiled and then looked back at their books.

“Holy cow!” I thought. “Finally, we can all read as a family!” Smiling, I went back to my book and my couch in the other room.

Friends have asked me how we got to this point. How did we get our kids to love reading? How do we get them to choose reading over screens and devices? In a recent post, Cheyanne of Tangerine Wallpaper posited some related questions, and I figured the topic of reading was worth a blog post (or two).

Really, we didn’t set out to make our kids into readers, but when I look at our house, I realize that we have developed something of a reading culture in our house, and even though we didn’t develop this reading culture for the purpose of promoting a love of reading in our kids, I think it contributes to the reading habits my kids have developed. Here’s what our reading culture looks like: Read More

Fruit Punctuation

This morning while I was peeling and chopping and tossing things into the slow cooker, my six-year-old told me about something in a book he was reading.

“It says ‘Anakin’ and then it has those big bananas,” he explained.

“Big bananas?” I asked, clearing onion skins into the compost bucket.

“Yes. You know, those big word bananas that explain what things are.”

I turned and looked directly at him. “Big…word bananas?”

“They’re like giant commas around words.”

“Oh! You mean parentheses?”

A cloud of deep thought crossed his face and then cleared into a smile of recognition.

“Yes!” he said. “Parentheses!”

Big word bananas. Okay.

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Guess Who

 

Lincoln MemorialMe: Do you know who that statue is?

6yo: Oh! I know him! I’ll give you a hint. His first name starts with “Z” and his second name starts with “M.”

Me: Um. Well, the name I know him by doesn’t start with those letters.

6yo: No, my friend told me all about him. His name has “Z” and “M.” He’s from DC Comics.

Me: No, this statue is of someone who was president of the United States.

6yo: Oh, well maybe he isn’t from DC Comics. His name is Zombie Man!

Me: Well, I know him as Abraham Lincoln.

6yo: Oh, yes! Abraham Lincoln! From the penny!

Me: Yes. Abraham Lincoln. From the penny.

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I suppose I should feel grateful that he remembered that Lincoln is on the penny and that somewhere in his head is a connection to DC. It’s a decent start for a six-year-old.

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Studying Ancient Egypt

To complement our study of ancient Egypt, we built a pyramid.

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In order to be as authentic as possible, each of these LEGO bricks weighs three tons. Next we need to mummify a minifigure.

Monarch Butterfly Rearing Recap: Release and Conservation

The ninth and last butterfly was still a pupa when I went to bed last night. The chrysalis seemed smaller than the others and hadn’t changed colors in the same way the others had, and I was starting to worry that this butterfly wasn’t going to emerge safely. But this morning, there he was, hanging upside-down in the the enclosure, wings already full-size. Read More

Mothering Monarchs

Wednesday before last, I went out to check the mail and discovered a Priority Mail package from Pennsylvania.

It held the ten swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) plants and one dozen live monarch caterpillars (and two that hadn’t made the journey) I’d ordered the week before Read More

Pandora’s Homeschool

“Mom, did you say eighty thousand people died in one moment?” asked my daughter.

This afternoon, my children and I sat under the Tree of Knowledge, and they accepted with trust the apple I offered them: I read to them about how our country dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and all of the people living in those cities.

“Mom, have they ever dropped atomic bombs on any other country?” my daughter asked.

“No, not in war. Not except for tests,” I said.

“Good. Because that was an awful thing to do.”

Before I started today’s lesson, their world-view didn’t include atomic weapons used to intentionally annihilate two cities and hundreds of thousands of human lives. This knowledge has shifted their perception of the world.

“Mom, I can’t wait until we learn about the Ancients again because even though they did lots of bad things to people, they couldn’t kill nearly so many people at once as people can in modern times.”

And because we homeschool, I’m the one who gets to tell them about Stalin’s purges and the Holocaust and atomic weapons. It’s a mixed blessing. I’m glad they’re hearing these things from me and that I get to be there to see them process the information, and I’m also grateful for the opportunity to look more deeply into these issues myself, but it’s difficult to tell them about these things. It’s difficult enough just to confront them myself.

Maybe I’m less like Eve and more like Pandora. With each lesson, I open the box a little more and let out into their world one more evil. And now I’m wondering, do I leave Hope inside the box? Or do I let it fly free and trust that it can hold its own out in the world and—even more—in the hearts of my children?