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.


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



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


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


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


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


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.


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.


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.

Textbook Thrills

It probably says a lot about just how unexciting a person I am, but I get quite a rush from ordering new homeschool materials.

Most homeschoolers do this in the summer to prepare for starting “school” in the fall, but for whatever reason, my daughter and I started her “school” year in January of 2011. This means that while we were fine and dandy in the summertime, we’re now facing the need for new materials for math, science, spelling, handwriting, grammar, and history in just a couple of months.

Before I went online to order the next set of materials, I reviewed my curriculum plans and resource lists and made myself a list of things to buy to get us through another year. It was all very organized, but giving myself permission to buy school things is akin to opening up Pandora’s box no matter how I try to contain it in list form. And the fact that I needed to visit five different websites to get all of the components I needed just made it all the more dangerous. I could drop the equivalent of a mortgage payment just at Rainbow Resource, easy.*

Of course, I ended up “needing” some additional fun things, like a globe and an illustrated book of Greek myths and a set of postcard-sized art prints to familiarize my children with great artists.

Now I’m all jittery anticipating the smell of the brand-new books when I open up the boxes when they arrive in a week or so. And then there’s the thrill of watching my daughter over the coming months as she learns all of the new information that’s inside the new books and realizing that even with all of our doubts and worries (and the doubts and worries others have projected upon us), we’ve done this, we’re doing it, and, so far, it’s working for us. Sure we have hiccups and arguments and days when none of us wants to do anything but sit in front of Dinosaur Train in our PJs, but on the balance, I’m really loving homeschooling.

With any luck, that will help me keep my mind off of the conversation the flute teacher wants to have this week about upgrading my daughter’s flute. Not only does it mean converting another chunk of change into material goods, but it means she’s progressing in her skills and growing in arm length enough that she’ll soon need a flute with a foot joint.

Even being involved in practically every moment, it feels like the time is slipping through my fingers like so much oobleck.

What a push and pull it is, wanting to encourage my children and cheer them on as they grow and learn and discover and at the same time wanting to cling to them tightly and not let them go.

*For the record, the amount of money I spent on homeschool materials tonight didn’t even approach the amount of our mortgage payment.