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Yes, YOU can teach writing!

We’ve all seen scaffolding set up around a building during construction or renovation, right?

Scaffolding is simply a temporary support.

When it comes to learning to write, our students need scaffolding. And that scaffolding is a partnership: Blackbird & Company + YOU!

But I often cross paths with parent-teachers who feel ill-equipped to teach writing.

Each and every time I say, “YOU are equipped to mentor writing! Trust me. You are…”

I go on to share the reality that writing is NOT calculus. Writing is an art form. Then I ask, “Do you like to read (even a little bit)? If so, this equips you more than most to mentor student writers.” That’s right, more than most.

Let’s go back to “writing is an art form” and begin there. Everything you’ve ever read and everything you ever will read began as an idea in someone’s mind. So when you approach a student’s idea as a reader, you will be doing exactly what happens in a graduate school writing workshop!

When it comes time to read your student’s first draft, rough draft, sloppy copy, whatever you want to call it, the task at hand is to ask yourself, “What is my student’s BIG idea?” From there the task of helping your students communicate concisely and creatively. Your task, as writing mentor, is to mine for the idea that has been drafted, and to excavate as if you might score a diamond! The thing is, you likely will if this is your mindset.

During the mentor/student conference, have the student read the draft aloud. Use your red pen to correct spelling and punctuation errors along the way, as the idea is being read. Put a friendly little check mark atop sentence fragments, run-ons, or places that are missing something. Discuss these areas after the student has finished reading. Often during the read aloud the student will catch little errors. Keep the conference caring and consequential.  Consequential, yes. Think of it like this: The consequence of not using the red pen is the shrinking of the student’s idea! Remind your student, the red pen is a friend!

You don’t need to hold an advanced degree in writing to be a writing mentor.

You DO need to keep in mind that ideas are the substance of art, and as such are subjective in nature. Writing is always meant to be read. Approach ideas, not as a grammar-and-mechanics-patrol-person, but as a reader who wants to be intrigued and inspired. Being intrigued and inspired will motivate you, the writing mentor, to simply protect and promote the idea at hand.

The scaffolding inside each of our Discovery Guides, supports your students in the important work of writing.

Whether your child is in the 1st grade learning to encode simple ideas while mastering advanced phonics and constructing the four types of sentences, in the 3rd grade learning to construct sentences using the eight parts of speech,  in the 6th grade being introduced to essay form, or in the 11th grade exploring intermediate composition and constructing persuasive essays, we’ve got you!

Our scaffolding provides step-by-step guidance that inspires students in the writing process, while equipping you to support them each step of the way.


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Research Writing Informs and Inspires!

Who was? What is? Where? When? Why?

These are the questions that writers ask as they read for information. Research writing is a unique writing genre where students simultaneously gain knowledge and share ideas to inspire readers to do the same.

Research writing begins in 2nd grade with Taxonomy of living Things: Introduction to Animals. Over the course of 13 weeks, students will be guided into the work of learning about the animal kingdom, journaling their discoveries along the way. This opportunity to research will not only help them to gain knowledge, but also to springboard into the realm of early non-fiction note taking and the writing of complete factual sentences.

From there, students are ready to move into Research People in grades 3 through 6. A great place to begin research writing is by adding two Research People units to your 3rd grade back-to-school writing plan. The d’Aulaire books,  published by our friends at Beautiful Feet Books, are just right for the 3rd grade entry to research writing. Take Lincoln for example,  the quintessential embodiment of American possibility in his myth-like rise from rail-splitter to Chief Executive and Emancipator of the oppressed. What better way to start off learning to write a biographical essay—YES, a biographical essay!

Each of the Research People units takes the prep and guess work out of the process of writing the biographical essay, so you can enter the process as a mentor, inspiring your student to glean and gather ideas as they read for information.

Students will grow a vocabulary specific to each famous person, will review the plot of the weekly reading in a handful of complete sentences, and most importantly, learn to brainstorm and narrow down ideas in a topic wheal as they tackle constructing each of 3 body paragraphs over three weeks. On the fourth week, students will be lead into the construction of an opening and closing paragraph (three sentences each) which will bookend the body paragraphs.

Utilizing the Research People units year after year, you will mentor and inspire as your  students become increasingly independent. If you are familiar with the rich history and beauty of the d’Aulaire books, you might consider purchasing the Superset here. Moving into 4th through 6th grade, we have a wide selection of exceptional people for your student to write about—John Muir, Rosa Parks, and Mr. Rogers and more. Scroll through to discover.

When students arrive in the 7th and 8th grade, informational reading moves from biographical, historical research to science reading and research. When students engage in non-fiction reading and research writing, they are not only tackling benchmark reading + writing skills, but also gaining cross-curricular knowledge. At this level, students have become very independent, and, because each self-contained unit is organized with a familiar supportive scaffolding, you will, once again, be supported in the role of writing mentor!

As with all research writing, students will begin with a great question: Have you met Carolus Linnaeus?

His life’s work will inspire you. All living things can be ordered according to their common biology. Classification allows scientists to explore levels of similarity, dissimilarity, and interconnectedness of cells, systems, and structures. The first level of classification is the Kingdoms. There are five: Protista, Monera, Fungi, Plantae, and Animalia.
This unit can be easily incorporated into your spring semester. Over the course of five lessons, students will explore and research the diversity of the animal kingdom. They will gather knowledge that will connect to many corners of the field of biology, and they will posess a journal chalk full if information to apply to a great many writing projects: a persuasive or compare/contrast essay, a lyrical poem, even a non-fiction inspired narration. Pick up a copy of our Taxonomy of Living Things unit today!
And last, but not least, Elemental Journal, will guide students on a wonderful voyage through the mysteries of the periodic table. What at first looks like an unapproachable block of numbers and letters begging to be decoded, will be opened up to discovery in an easy and interesting way. Each element has its own quirks and purpose. As students engage in the ongoing work of decoding the table, they will marvel at the diversity of these building blocks of the universe. Students will not only summarize and organize information, evaluate, interpret, and draw conclusions, but more importantly, learn to strike a balance between original information and original ideas. Embarking on an exploration of the periodic table is like traveling across an amazing landscape full of surprises.

And it all begins with a simple question: What do stars and human beings have in common?

Elements, of course!

Everything you can imagine is made of elements — an octopus, a basketball, and each of us humans!

Blackbird & Co. research writing units are designed to foster inquiry, spark imagination and get students writing in the non-fiction realm.



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Inspire Your Students to Write Meaningful Essays!

Take the heavy-handed prep-work out of teaching students to write an essay!

Our unique scaffolding, designed to mentor the art of essay writing, will guide your students each step of the way—from brainstorming through revision to the polished final work—allowing you to offer support as a mentor and guide.

I will never forget running alongside each of my four children when they were learning to ride a bike once the training wheels were removed, “Keep pedaling! You can do this…!” The messaging is almost the same when it comes to coaching a student to write.

Our introductory composition is designed to introduce students in grades 6 through 8 to the overarching purpose of the essay, simple rhetorical style, and both the descriptive and literary essay form. Middle school students will be equipped to write their essays articulately. Each of the three volumes is designed to be completed in 10 to 15 weeks and contains all of the information you will need to mentor and inspire.

Great essays have the power to encourage, empower, and enlighten. For this reason essay writing should not be treated as just a mechanical endeavor, but rather, as a pathway for the writer to communicate the depths of the heart and mind.

Big ideas can be communicated through a range of writing domains including creative writing. It is vital that students discover and explore the potential of all types. Some writing describes, some narrates, some exposes, and some persuades. Some writing is simply meant to entertain. All writing has the power to inform. This three volume set will guide students systematically into the art of essay writing!

Our Volume 1-3 Bundle include:

  • Student Guide – Vol. 1: Essay as Structure: Become an Architect!
  • Student Guide – Vol. 2: The Descriptive Essay
  • Student Guide – Vol. 3: The Literary Essay
  • Thinking in Threes, by Brian Backman
  • The Tin Forest, by Helen Ward
  • Grandfather’s Journey, by Allen Say
  • The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf
  • Train to Somewhere, by Eve Bunting
  • Letting swift River Go, by Jane Yolen

Volume 1 – Essay as Structure: Become an Architect!

An exploration of essay form and writing technique.

Teacher support material is included in the volume.

Volume 2 – The Descriptive Essay

An exploration of the Descriptive Essay.

Writers will be mentored through each step of the process as they compose five original descriptive essays—beginning with a prompt, brainstorming, crafting a thesis, and developing the idea through the self-edit and final draft. Teacher support material is included in the volume.

Volume 3 – The Literary Essay

An exploration of the Literary Essay.

Writers will be mentored through each step of the process as they compose five original literary essays in response to five exceptional small tales—beginning with a prompt, brainstorming, crafting a thesis and developing the idea through the self-edit and final draft. Teacher support material is included in the volume.

You might consider purchasing our complete middle school Writing Year Pack to start back-to-school writing on the right foot!



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Learn to Write Sentences from Great Writers

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” ~Ernest Hemingway

Writing meaningful, true sentences should always be the place to start, take it from Hemingway.

Beginning in the 5th grade, students will embark on an exploration of rhetorical style. A rhetorical device is a tool of style—sound, imagery, rhythm, repetition—that evokes a reaction from the reader. The purpose of this journey is to provide students in grades 5 though 8 opportunities to learn from great writers, tricks of the trade—rhetoric that make sentences soar.

A sentence is simply a collection of words that conveys an idea. When well-crafted sentences are connected wisely, one after another, meaning flows, carrying that idea forward in a clear and concise manner. When students understand the tools that will enable them to construct well-formed sentences, they will be equipped to confidently write their ideas.

One True Sentence: Tools of Style is an ongoing opportunity for students to write concisely. Students who know how to combine, elaborate, and vary sentences, will fearlessly arrange words and phrases to craft well-formed syntax. Over the course of 20 weeks, as they practice the art of constructing sentences, students will acquire tools within the context of actively writing.

Pick up a copy today! Better yet, pick up all four



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One True Sentence Begins Here

When  you learn to write “one true sentence” (in the words of Hemingway) the rest will follow.


A sentence is simply a collection of words that convey an idea. When well-crafted sentences are connected wisely, one after another, ideas grow wider and deeper. But without the basic tools of construction, the parts of speech + punctuation, meaning and communication are lost.

Students in 3rd and 4th grade will begin by reviewing the four types of sentences—Statement, Command, Exclamation, & Question—before moving into the construction zone!

The purpose of learning the parts of speech and the marks of punctuation is to produce well-formed sentences that communicate clearly. And the best way to learn these is to provide opportunities for students to construct their own sentences within a framework.

Your students will not only have fun constructing their ideas using One True Sentence: Parts of Speech & One True Sentence: Punctuation,  but they will enter the zone where writing thrives!




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Topic Sentence vs. the Storymaker HOOK

“I have an IDEA!”

Putting that idea to paper with pencil is not always a simple process.

Great writing begins with an IDEA!. And ideas on paper are always introduced by a first sentence. But sometimes the stress of crafting that first sentence stalls the writer, especially younger student writers.

We’ve all been drilled on the concept of “topic sentence”— that first sentence that sets the stage for the idea at hand. But when the crafting of the topic sentence becomes formalized, it can crush creativity that leads to fluid writing and the development of voice.

We, instead teach our students to craft the HOOK!

The HOOK is simply a topic sentence that inspires writers to write their ideas and encourages readers to read on. The subtle distinction we are making between the topic sentence and the HOOK is this: Think of a literal fishhook that catches the reader and makes them want to read on. A great HOOK might be charged with sensory details or concrete examples. It may be full of imagery and action!

Storymaker is designed to help students in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade craft a HOOK with three thematic options: Farm Tales, Fairy Tales, and Fun Tales.

Journal writing is an indispensable part of Language Arts. Beyond its academic significance, this activity provides the opportunity to develop important skills. Storymaker is an ongoing opportunity for students to write for real and for creativity to flourish. Each week, students use Story Starters, Setting & Character cards, plus fun objects to create an exciting story HOOK. From there it’s fun and easy to develop that HOOK into an engaging story. Students using Storymaker, during the edit week, learn that having a clear purpose and maintaining focus is achieved by deleting extraneous information and having the courage to rearrange words and sentences to improve meaning, focus, and clarity.

As students practice the art of constructing the HOOK and building a story upon it, they will develop writing skills, confidence, and creativity which will carryover into all other school work.

With Storymaker, students will learn to write in the words of Hemingway, “One true sentence…,” and the rest will follow. Click through to learn more about the crafting of the HOOK.



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Knock! Knock!

Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

Thank you for leavening the world with wonderful words and phrases:

Leapfrog and Bedazzled and Swagger

          All that glitters is not gold.

          Jealousy is the green eyed Monster.

          It’s a brave new world.

All Shakespeare.

But did you know that he is also the father of the Knock, knock! joke?

Yes! the Knock, knock! joke!

It all began in his famous tragedy.

In Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 3,  suddenly there is a knock knocking:

“Here’s a knocking indeed! If a man were porter of hell-gate, he should have old turning the key.


knock, knock! Who’s there, i’ the name of Beelzebub?”

The Bard’s tragic phrasing is far from the little supercilious jokes i told as a child:

Knock, knock!
Who’s there?

You who?
Yoo-hoo! Anybody home?

Knock, knock!
Who’s there?
Canoe who?
Canoe come out now?

Knock, knock!
Who’s there?
Howl who?
Howl you know unless you open the door?

Still, it’s good to remember—especially today—that Shakespeare was a trendsetter!



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The BEST Sentences are Poetic!

This poem is a call to ACTION:

   to see light through the color slide,

   to listen for the sound of the hive,

   to watch the mouse wander its way through the maze of the poem,

   to feel around in the dark for a light switch,

   to waterski and wave at the author who is standing at the shore

   (patiently smiling, I imagine).

This poem is also a REMINDER:

   to NOT tie the poem to a chair and to NOT torture a confession out of it.


Deconstructing poems to shreds of rudimentary grammar and mechanics, rhythm and rhyme scheme, always distracts the reader from the ability of poetry to resonate a wonderful thought provoking idea!

Reading poetry aloud helps us hear the lovely sounds of language.

Reading poetry on the page helps us see the way words work together.

This poem is comprised of four sentences. Each begins with a capital letter and ends with a mark—four beautifully simple sentences broken into bite-sized fragments. In four sentences, Billy Collins teaches us the purpose of every single poem.  And when a poet writes a poem to help us consider just exactly what a poem is, well that poem is a an ars poetica (click through to learn a little more).

Listen to Billy Collins narrate this wonderful poem here.



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Inspiring Writers: Ideas are Genius!

Writing is an art form.

Writing is an art form achieved via a series of steps:

1) It all begins with an IDEA. Without an idea, the writer will simply stare at the blank page.
2) Once there is an idea in the mind of the writer, the PENCIL steps in to translate thoughts to words on the page.
3) When the pencil’s work is complete, the job of the writer is to become a READER. Encourage your students to RE-READ everything they write.
4) Empower students to use the RED PEN as they re-read to REVISE. Teach them to use strong words, to fearlessly re-arrange, to make corrections, and to not be afraid to strike through.
5) Polish the draft, preferably in cursive by hand.

Children have enormous creative potential.


This potential will flourish and they they will thrive as writers when they are inspired to revel in the important work of IDEA making.


THINK Tortoise (not the hare). Learning to write is a long journey, we know this to be true. 


Michaelangelo said:

“If you know how much work went into it you wouldn’t call it genius.”


At the core of each child’s being is some form of genius.

We inspire genius as we inspire children to bring shape to their IDEAS.


When it comes to literacy, much of the exceptional work that your students will accomplish is subjective in nature tied to their ideas.  As students read great stories, they make observations. These observations will inspire ideas. Cataloging ideas in writing over time builds confidence, nurtures skills, develops voice, and motivates students to engage in the work of writing.

Blackbird & Company is an idea born along the way. We have developed an ELA curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade with three things in mind: 1) Work is GOOD, 2) Children are individuals with enormous potential—genius potential, and 3) Idea-making inspires genius to blossom.

When it comes to literacy, much of the exceptional work that your students will accomplish is subjective in nature tied to their ideas.  As students read great stories, they make observations. These observations will inspire ideas. Cataloging ideas in writing over time builds confidence, nurtures skills, develops voice, and promotes true literacy.

IDEAS are genius . Click through to listen in to Motivating Writers: Ideas are Genius on the Sped Homeschool Podcast.

We want ALL students to write well.

We want them to think creatively and to value their ideas.

We want them to know that engaging in the process of writing ideas is worthy because writing is a gift.

When you inspire children to write their IDEAS, their IDEAS will Take Flight!


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Learn with Leonardo





“Whatever you do in life, if you want to be creative and intelligent, and develop your brain, you must do everything with the awareness that everything, in some way, connects to everything else.” ~Leonardo da Vinci


Observation begins with a question: What am I seeing? In a world filled to the brim with stimulation, it is easy to take our senses for granted. Though we are usually quick to have thoughts on things that we taste and smell, sight (of all things) can often be overlooked. We see so many things on a daily basis that it’s easy to forget to stop and really look.



There is nothing like art-making to engage students in active learning. Leonardo da Vinci, the quintessential Renaissance Man, made over 13,000 journal observations during the course of his lifetime, and as he did, he not only gained an enormous body of knowledge, but also created masterworks and made significant discoveries that he generously shared with the world. His influence is far reaching.

Over the course of 20 weeks, students will learn to observe from no other than the Renaissance Man himself! Students will research the life of Leonardo Da Vinci and learn to create observational drawings. Watch for our brand new unit to be released early this summer.