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More Leaves for a Friendly Letter

Accentuate your friendly letter with a fall-themed crafty insert!

This project began with a package of fall leaf table confetti. But you can just as easily begin by tracing real leaf shapes on colored craft paper, cutting out the shapes, and drawing. From there, all you need is imagination and a fine-point marker. Fill each leaf with a repetitive design of lines! You might even add a little message to your design! These handcrafted fall leaves, inserted into your friendly letter, will be a delightful surprise to the recipient and a fresh addition to any fall table.

Don’t forget to check out our FREE resources on letter writing and letter forms by hand!


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The Friendly Letter is a Gift

Let’s start a tradition!

Let’s write friendly letters!

Composing a letter by hand—a non-electronic letter—is a relational, social activity that teaches generosity, idea making, and the nature of beauty.

Once upon a time there was no such thing as email, text messages, and social media. Back then there was mail. The art of letter writing began way before Pony Express.  I love watching movies where fancy-dressed people are sitting together after a lovely meal sharing news from friends and relatives living in far reaches of the wide world. Letters. They called them letters.

Ephemera is a wonderful word. Say it aloud. Ephemera.

But ephemera is something that is not meant to be preserved. I would argue that letters, the thoughtfully crafted kind, are not ephemera but rather lasting gifts!

  1. Letter writing, like all writing, begins with an idea. It’s November. And November is the season of gratitude. So why not write an idea tied to the theme of gratitude? Starting with a list is always a good idea. Brainstorm! What are you thankful for?
  2. Hone in: Once there is some fodder on the page, focus in on a specific topic that you can develop. Encourage student writers to keep ideas simple, being grateful for finding that favorite lost sock,  watching the goldfish swimming in the backyard pond, or accomplishing a difficult task like mastering a new math concept. Brainstorm some more.
  3. With a topic nailed down, begin crafting the rough draft. Time to pick up the pencil and tell the story—yes the story! Narrative writing (a story of gratitude is no exception) is an opportunity to share. Write a first draft.
  4. Lay down the pencil when all the ideas are on the page. Set the writing aside for up to 24 hours. Let the story simmer.
  5. Re-read what was written. Now is the time to make edits, to re-arrange, to add wonderful words and phrases and to read again! Once satisfied, copy the gratitude narrative into the card you have chosen. You can certainly add some “pleasantries” to introduce the purpose of your gratitude narrative (’tis the season, after all), and you can share a bit of personal news after your narrative, but however you shape your letter, don’t forget to mark it with a date, create a salutation, and a friendly closing.

Check out our FREE letter writing worksheet here.

Well-told stories encourage people to see things in new ways.

Snail Mail is not archaic!

To write a letter is to offer a generosity.

To receive a letter is a gift.

Heres to a month of letter writing! Let’s put a stamp on it!

“A letter always seemed to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend.” ~Emily Dickinson

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Speaking of Apples

Cézanne said: “Everything is about to disappear. You’ve got to hurry up if you still want to see things.”

What does he mean?

I think he means: “LOOK!”

This little painting by 9th grader, Kingsley, was accomplished during Session 1 of Pages online live! Under the expert tutelage of Mr. Taylor,  inspired by the colorful still life paintings of Paul Cézanne, in five happy, peaceful hours over the course of five weeks, this student painting took shape.

How did she accomplish this beautiful feat?

By engaging in the slow work of observation.

The skill of observation enables us to recognize, slow down, perceive, decide, appreciate, and ultimately, to know.  Observation engages all the senses. Yes, we can see with our hands. And it is through the senses, that we will make sense of the world. But don’t take my word for it, Da Vinci, master of observation says it with eloquence:  “All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.”

Art making is academic.



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Three Ideas with Apples

It’s apple picking time! Apples are quintessentially fall. Following are three ideas with apples to help you “switch it up” with activities to enjoy those fall feelings…


Listen to an apple story (this one was a favorite in our house).

Another favorite is How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman.

Read an apple poem:

A Drop Fell on the Apple Tree (794) by Emily Dickinson

A Drop fell on the Apple Tree —
Another – on the Roof —
A Half a Dozen kissed the Eaves —
And made the Gables laugh —

A few went out to help the Brook
That went to help the Sea —
Myself Conjectured were they Pearls —
What Necklaces could be —

The Dust replaced, in Hoisted Roads —
The Birds jocoser sung —
The Sunshine threw his Hat away —
The Bushes – spangles flung —

The Breezes brought dejected Lutes —
And bathed them in the Glee —
The Orient showed a single Flag,
And signed the fête away —


Paint some apples. This painting is a “study” (a copycat!). Pick up a canvas, some brushes, and a few tubes of acrylic paint. Before you begin, do some research. Do you know Paul Cézanne? Listen to a story about his apple paintings. Now study the apple painting by Paul Cézanne that inspired the copycat above! The first step of a painting is to prepare the canvas. Create a light brown to wash all over the canvas. This will dry quickly and once it does, use a pencil to sketch the apples—four on the top, and six on the bottom. Notice how each apple has a beautiful organic shape? There are zero perfect circles here! The next step is to add your big brush strokes of color—red and yellow and green. Can you mimic the colors? Here’s a hint: never paint straight out of a tube. To get a Cézanne red, you must mix a tiny drop of green into a quarter-sized blob of the red. To get a Cézanne yellow, you must mix a tiny drop of purple into a quarter-sized blob of the yellow. To get a Cézanne green, you must mix a tiny drop of red into a quarter-sized blob of the green. Mixing with complimentary colors (colors opposite each other on the color wheel) make beautiful complex hues! Practice mixing colors until you have colors that are similar to Cézanne. The dark blue-black outline work is the very last step.


Draw an apple and write an apple poem! Following are two photographs to inspire a small poem.  Fall is the time of year when we enjoy back-to-school. The leaves are changing and there may even be a scrumptious apple pie baking in the oven! Fall is the perfect season to write our ideas! What better way to capture a wonderful fall feeling than to craft a haiku for a change in season!



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It’s October.

Fall is here and we are, most of us, 6 to 8 weeks into the 2023/24 school year.

What now?

First, please CONGRATULATE yourself for completing the first cycle of CORE Integrated Reading & Writing units, and likely introducing APPLICATION materials such as Calendar of Days, Operation Lexicon, One True Sentence, or Tools of Style. Be encouraged! Take heart!

“A power of Butterfly must be –
The Aptitude to fly
Meadows of Majesty concedes
And easy Sweeps of Sky —”

~Emily Dickinson

This butterfly, a California Buckeye, was spotted this week when I took a moment to enjoy a lovely fall day in the garden. And I thought of Emily Dickinson’s  amazing observation of the butterfly’s aptitude to fly.
And this got me to thinking of education and childhood.

A power of Childhood must be –
The Aptitude to fly—

It’s October.
Your students are stretching their wings.
You are likely getting ready to add Earlybird Introduction to Animals or your first Research People of the year or one of the Research Science units on top of the second CORE unit. And you might be a bit overwhelmed. You are not alone!
Sometimes, after the delightful anticipation and early days of back-to-school fades, fatigue sets in.
You may be experiencing that oh-so-familiar desire to countdown to the holidays!

We say: Not yet!!!

Don’t give up!

Take a moment in the garden. Enjoy the sights of fall.

Now is the time to take a breath and join hands with the teacher built in to your materials!

Let October-Focus-on-ELA-fest begin!!!

Here’s how:

1. Look back on your student’s first completed CORE unit. Make note of the small steps of progress.
2. Read about the 5-Minute Conference in preparation for the second CORE unit of the year.
3. Read (again) through the “How to Use this Guide” in the front of the student workbooks.

Primary (Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade)

At the primary level, foundational skills are introduced and reviewed, and put into practice. This is where students learn to delight in the joy of stories and the taming of ideas begins. Watch the Professional development for parents and teachers from August session for inspiration this October.

Elementary (3rd, 4th, and 5th grade)

Elementary readers and writers are becoming confident with grammar, mechanics, and form—sentences and paragraphs—and style! Writing at this level involves learning to craft an amazing Hook and working through the process of crafting an idea the happy way. Watch the Professional development for parents and teachers from our August session for inspiration this October.

Middle School (6th, 7th, and 8th grade)


High School (9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade)

The goal is for middle and high school writers to transfer their creativity and courageous ability to write an idea to more advanced forms—poems, literary, descriptive, and persuasive essays, and longer research. Watch the Professional development for parents and teachers from our August session for inspiration this October.
During the months of October, watch for weekly festive posts to boost you on toward November!

Your students will take flight!



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How to Encourage Middle and High School Writers

Students using our Middle School ELA Grade Level Collections will be exploring essay form, enhancing vocabulary, and being introduced to advanced rhetoric in addition to the CORE units. Students at this level have developed confidence in the expanded form of idea-making, are crafting clever Hook openings with unique voicing, and are moving into the territory of unencumbered idea making!

Students regularly engage in the process of writing, idea to draft to the re-read/edit loop that leads to a beautiful polished final work.

When students move to the high school level, each week, in addition to journaling observations character development, themes, symbols, and motifs, they are encouraged to craft a synopsis and a personal reflection to help them timk deeply about the story at hand in preparation for the crafting of a literary essay.

Crafting the synopsis and reflection within a constrained word count, challenges the writer to make each word matter!

Each culminating essay follows the same form introduced in middle school, so that the writer is now prepared to craft original observations and ideas tied to complex literature constrained to the particular literary form.

Click through to watch a recording of the August Professional Development sessions with Mrs. B & Ms. Clare:

How to Encourage Middle School and High Student Writing! 



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How to Encourage Elementary Writers


How do students in 3rd Grade who are brand new to the paragraph form and still mastering foundational skills become unencumbered idea makers?

Incrementally and inspired by idea making, of course!

Writing is a creative habit that begins with an idea and ends with words on the page.

Over time, as students move into upper elementary (4th and 5th grade), with our CORE, they will become engaged in the work of learning to re-read their work, becoming friends with the red pen. Self-editing is courageous! Engaging in this process will bring shape to ideas which is precisely what enables them to press into and enjoy the process of writing.

And this habit, built over time, motivates students to write well!

Let’s explore how our CORE Integrated Literature and Writing units produce exceptional writers! Gain insight, tips, and encouragement.

Click through to watch a recording of the August Professional Development sessions with Mrs. B & Ms. Clare:

How to Edit Elementary Student Writing! 




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How to Encourage Primary Writers

And the ability to tame an idea begins with some foundational skills introduced and practiced in the primary grades—Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd!

Our Grade Level Collections include everything you need to introduce and reinforce phonics for reading and writing, plus a multitude of creative opportunities for idea making to motivate students in this important work.

Click through to watch a recording of the August Professional Development session with Mrs. B. & Ms. Clare. Be inspired this fall:

How to Encourage Primary Student Writing! 



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Writing is NOT Calculus!

When we teach a student calculus, we are teaching them to attend to small parts of a larger form. The word calculus comes from the Latin, meaning small pebble.

When teaching our students to write, we should begin by teaching them writing is an art form!

So why have we turned the art of writing into a calculus?

Great writing never begins with capitalization, punctuation, or grammar!

Great writing begins with an IDEA!

This is the rule of art: Form Follows Function

Writers must focus first on the function or purpose of writing—the idea. Once the idea is drafted in rough form, the writer digs back in and applies mechanics—corrects misspelling, capitalization, punctuation, embellishes word choice, improves syntax, and so on. Writing is a process.

So, let me clarify, I’m NOT saying don’t teach capitalization, punctuation, or grammar.  I’m simply saying that primarily focusing on mechanics over and above actually constructing ideas will never produce exceptional writing.

The best way to learn to write is to WRITE.

Who, when asked to write a sentence about an apple, will begin like this: “I will need an interesting adjective, an adverbial phrase, plus a dependent and independent clause,” with a deep dive into grammar and mechanics and rhetoric? NO! You will pick up your pencil and you will write your idea! Once you get an idea on paper, you will, as time permits, reread and polish that idea—improving word choice here and there, possibly rearranging phrases, correcting spelling and capitalization and so on. Writing, like all art forms, requires that the writer engage in a process.

For the past 30 years, in addition to educating my own children (who are now thriving adult readers and writers), I’ve guided countless students through our CORE Literature and Writing Discovery Guides. And what I’ve learned is this:

The key to success over time?

Choose your battles.

Each week in the CORE Literature and Writing Discovery Guides, students will encounter a writing prompt inspired by the week’s reading. These prompts will require different types of responses utilizing different types or domains of writing—narrative, observational, imaginary, persuasive, and so on.

The weekly writing prompt will:

1) Allow students to write their ideas in a vast array of writing domains.

2) Move students through the process of constructing ideas, from draft to polished form.

3) Motivate students to engage in the work of idea making.

The best writing teacher is a mentor who encourages the student’s idea. This 4th grade student is responding to the Section 4 prompt in the Pablo and Birdy student guide. You can see by simply reading, that this young writer cares about the idea being constructed. You can see by examining the effort  made to communicate the idea coherently. Like any construction zone, this is messy, there are sections scratched out, there is scribble in the margin, there is darkened in pencil where spelling is being considered by the student writer. This is all GOOD!

How to Conference One-on-One:

During the 5-minute conference (keep it pithy), have the student read aloud what is written on the page. Use your red pen to make edits and suggestions as the work is being read aloud. For this paragraph, I focused on the following 4 topics:


This is something that is a focus each week, teaching students to open their idea with a sentence that moves beyond a “topic opener” toward a sentence that actually HOOKS the reader into the idea. This writer, who had been working in our CORE for over a year, opened this with a really well constructed, informative sentence—a terrific hook! What’s so great about this sentence? Consider that less experienced writers might write something like this:

Birdy left Isla to fly away.

This sentence is a very flat statement, lacking the detail that engages readers to read on. But this type of simple sentence is often where young writers begin. The goal of the teacher is never to re-write the hook, but rather to encourage the student to add details. Why did Birdy fly away? Where did Birdy fly? In the sentence written by this student, there is also a bit of intrigue in the phrase “for the first time in ten years” that makes the reader sense a bit of courage in the act of flying away!

As Birdy left Isla for the first time in ten years, her instincts told her to fly east.


The indentation is a small, but constant reminder.


I typically don’t make writers look up misspellings in a dictionary, but rather create a checklist in one of the white spaces on the rough draft. As the student reads I am checking misspelled words, then, as I discuss what I’ve discovered after the read, I make the corrected spelling list. There are two misspellings in this paragraph.

Twist at the End

The TWIST at the end has a bigger purpose than concluding. The last sentence of an idea should keep the idea in the reader’s mind to ruminate and ponder. With the phrase “in conclusion” at the beginning of this student’s Twist, the reader is jarred from the flow of the lovely narrative. Something about this phrase is out of sync with the rest of the voice. The phrase is formulaic. Simply omitting it transforms the last sentence:

(In conclusion,) Birdy will keep traveling the world for the next ten marvelous years before heading back to Pablo, and, who knows, maybe she will bring back another baby!

This statement is actually a rhetorical question, so the exclamation mark at the end is acceptable.

Imagine now this sentence with different syntax:

For the next ten marvelous years before heading back to Pablo, Birdy will keep traveling the world, and, who knows, maybe she will bring back another baby!

This rearranging was not offered because I felt the student’s sentence (minus “in conclusion”) was lovely as is. However, it’s always good to imagine possibility and to have many tricks up your sleeve!

Ultimately, if you can read, if you can enjoy an idea, and if you can be delighted in the potential of language, then roll up your sleeves and get into the garden!



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Treasure Trove of Words

Exploring vocabulary is so much more than an activity to check off the list! Words are the building blocks of language, are what we humans use to communicate our ideas, and each one holds certain specificity.

Specificity is a pairing of  the word “specific” (clearly defined) + the suffix “ity” (quality or state of being).  So, this word, which arrived on the scene via the French word spécifique back in the 1600s, means  to hold a special quality.

With this in mind, using a handheld dictionary becomes an adventurous treasure hunt. Students working in our CORE Literature and Writing Discovery Guides will, each week, explore a handful of singular words from the week’s reading. There are many skills embedded into this complex activity beyond the obvious, vocabulary development. The act of searching for a word in an alphabetized catalog reinforces spelling skills, strengthens the ability to problem solve, and fortifies focus. Of course, this process of working for meaning and applying new knowledge, more than anything else, sets this word into stone in the mind’s eye, and places it into a growing treasure chest of words.

This student, who was working in a Level 2 unit tied to Inside Out and Back Again, did a terrific job looking up each word in a held-by-hand Oxford English Dictionary. All of the definitions were copied accurately. Next came the difficult part, using each new word in a new way.

By the time students reach this level (4th and 5th grade), they have worked through Earlybird and Level 1 units and have had this exercise modeled for them. Still, using a word in a new context is a really difficult writing skill. But it is a skill that will empower students to write their ideas with specificity!

Notice the way this student used the word “flecked” below. Even though the definition of the word is correct, the sentence demonstrates the meaning has been confused with the word “flicked” meaning to propel something with a sharp movement. One way to support the student, is to provide an example: flicked the flecked stone. Another trick, is to send the student back to the dictionary to copy the phrase that is used to demonstrate the word in a context. Here the phrase was: whitecaps flecked the blue sea. Encourage the child to craft the phrase into an original sentence. For example: Yesterday at the beach whitecaps flecked the blue sea.

Here’s a peak at the Vocabulary Section from our Level 2 Guide tied to Because of Winn Dixie completed by an end-of-year 4th grader who is delightfully engaged in the treasure hunt and confidently using new words in golden ways!

Using our Earlybird through Level 3 CORE Literature and Writing Discovery Guides, students will explore more than 100 words per year, adding significant treasure that possesses specificity. This will serve them well as they engage in the work of constructing their ideas!