Skills kids need going into high school

At a glance

  • Kids who are starting high school need the skills to think critically about all types of information.

  • High school reading skills include being able to analyze books, infographics, websites, and other forms of writing.

  • High school math skills include understanding how formulas are related and how they apply in the real world.

Kids who are starting high school often have a lot more choices about which classes to take than they did in middle school. They also sometimes get to choose the order in which they take classes. For example, some students opt to take Algebra II right after Algebra I. Others hold off so they can sandwich geometry in between.

This kind of flexibility helps explain why some states’ academic standards don’t break down by grade level what kids are expected to learn in high school.

To help prepare for ninth grade and beyond, eighth graders spend a lot of time learning to analyze and interpret information — to think beyond what’s on the page. Here are some highlights of what skills kids are expected to have by the beginning of ninth grade.

Skills to get ready for high school: English language arts and literacy

In preparation for high school, eighth graders read fiction and nonfiction from many time periods and cultures. These might include an autobiography and a novel about the same concept.

By the time students begin ninth grade, they’re expected to know how to be critical readers and decide whether the information makes sense or seems correct. In eighth grade, kids learn to do activities like these to strengthen language skills:

  • Identify the exact meaning of something they read and what’s implied by the word choice, tone, and use of language

  • Decide whether a writer’s argument has enough good evidence and reasoning to back it up

  • Connect ideas and information in writing in a natural and effective way

  • Analyze why information is presented in one media format over another (interactive maps vs. videos, for example)

  • Develop a vocabulary of academic words and phrases to use in writing and discussion

  • Make sense of figures of speech (like puns or idioms) based on the context in which they’re used

Learn more about how reading and writing skills develop at different ages. Find books for reluctant teen readers and ways to encourage your child to read. And explore fun ways to help your child become more enthusiastic about writing.

Skills to get ready for high school: Mathematics

Eighth graders use all the math concepts and skills they’ve learned in sixth and seventh grade to start learning algebra. They start using many variables to work with expressions and learn about numbers known as “irrational numbers” — ones you can’t write as numerals, decimals, or fractions. This requires a lot of abstract mathematical thinking.

Students do the following math activities to strengthen math skills and to help get ready for high school:

  • Learn that rational numbers can be written as a fraction or as a decimal (like 3/4 = .75), but that the same isn’t true for irrational numbers (like the square root of 2)

  • Figure out the square roots of perfect squares (like the square root of 64 = 8)

  • Solve and graph equations; figure out the ratio of two numbers by looking at a line on a graph

  • Learn the meaning of a function — a rule that gives a variable a value based on its relationship to another variable (2y)

  • Determine when shapes are of equal size and shape (congruent) and when they are the same shape but of different sizes (similar)

  • Use the Pythagorean theorem to find the lengths of the sides of a right triangle

  • Find the volume of cylinders, cones, and spheres

Learn more about how learning and thinking differences can affect how kids solve math problems and use mental math. Compare the signs of math anxiety and . And learn how to help your teen with a practical math skill — money management.

How to help your rising high-schooler

The skills needed for high school go beyond memorization. Being an independent learner and understanding real-world relevance is key. At home, there are independent living skills you can practice with your child.

You can also prepare your child for high school reading and writing by practicing how to understand puns and figures of speech. Finding ways to use decimals and fractions in daily activities (like calculating sales tax) can help your child get ready for high school math classes.

Kids learn at different rates. But if your child is having trouble with math or trouble with reading, consider talking with the school. Together, you and the teachers can come up with a plan to help your child.

Key takeaways

  • Kids are expected to think critically about numbers and text by the time they enter high school.

  • If you’re concerned about your child’s progress, talk to the school about ways to help.

  • You can practice skills at home with your child to help prepare for high school.


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