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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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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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Phrasing Verbs Well


I just finished reading a wonderful little novel translated from Korean to English.

Along the way I discovered several little jeweled takeaways about life and language.

The protagonist, Yeongju, abandons the corporate world to follow her dream of opening a neighborhood bookshop. Right up my alley.

In the midst of this adventure she realizes that owning a bookshop involves the art of writing. Again, right up my alley. In time, her blog and social media catches the attention of a newspaper editor who invites her to write a regular column. After writing the first draft of the first installment, she asks a writer friend to proofread. What follows is an absolutely wonderful writing lesson.

Before getting in to it, let’s begin with a refresher:

The definition of a sentence is a set of words that communicates a complete idea, is completely self-contained. A single sentence contains a subject and a predicate and can tell, command, ask, or exclaim. There you have it. Simple, right?  Well, yes, and then again NO.

Student writers should never (not ever) focus on learning all the rules before trying to compose sentences. No, no, no!  But along the way, via both direct instruction and editing, students will learn grammar the meaningful way.

Form follows function. Ideas are what make sentences come to life. Polishing form is a detail that follows idea making.

So in the story, Yeongju is writing that first article about how it feels waiting for customers to fill up her bookstore. She writes the sentence:

The customers were awaited. Awkward, right?

Her writer friend explains why this is grammatically awkward to Yeongju:

“‘Sonnim gidareyeojyeotda—the customers were awaited. The phrasing is awkward.”

“We use the passive form when the subject undergoes an action. So eat becomes eaten. But using the passive form with the verb to wait makes it seem like the the subject, the customers, was undergoing the action of waiting and this is odd” (213).

But what intrigues me is that Yeongju has the tenacity to explain her why she chose this awkward verbiage:

“Sonnim gidaryeotda—I waited for the customers,” doesn’t seem to adequately express the feeling of awaiting customers.  She wanted desperately to convey  the emotion of waiting that she experienced as owner of the bookshop.  Ultimately, it was suggested that she had indeed communicated this in her progression of sentences:

“‘Try reading the essay from the beginning. Your sentences clearly bring across the feeling you hope to express. You’re thinking that you have to put the emphasis in this sentence, right? There’s no need to. Those emotions have been sufficiently conveyed throughout the text. In fact, it’s better to keep this sentence plain'” (214).

This is what I love about books, the unexpected lessons!

Three takeaways from this little passage of reading:

1)  Each sentence we write is a self-contained unit.

2) Each sentence we write exists in community.

3) Always re-read what you write.



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Shakespeare’s Words

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

But Shakespeare knew this long before Mark Twain spoke these words!

Have you ever received an invitation? Well, you can thank William Shakespeare for bringing that happy word into popularity! William Shakespeare actually invented 1700 words over the course of his lifetime and generously brought them into the wide world through his 154 sonnets and 38 plays.

Dis you know that the rate of words disappearing from English is greater than the rate they are appearing? Yes, the English language is shrinking! I, for one, am so thankful for William Shakespeare and the words he left us to chew on. 

Shakespeare used verbs as adjectives and nouns as verbs. We see the verb “impair” used as an adjective in his play Troilus and Cressida: “Nor dignifies an impair thought with breath.” In his play, Julius Caesar,” he uses the noun “dog” as a verb: ”Destruction straight shall dog them at the heels.” He generated compound words like starblasting and doghearted and so much more! He played with suffixes. He played with prefixes. His imagination was limitless!

Above all else Shakespeare reminds us, like Mark Twain, that every word has unique power to communicate!

Come December, we will be celebrating Twelve Days of Haiku. More details tomorrow, but let’s begin with the prizes! We will be giving away a wonderful pairing of Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary & Companion and Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk. We will be offering this pairing to three three winners on the last day of 2023!










More details tomorrow!


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Creating a Tradition of Letters

While cleaning out a closet I found some treasure! Real writing gold. A stash of letters my mother had written to my father over the course of a year while she was simultaneously raising 4 children and trying to sell our house in North Carolina. My father was out west in California building a new house in the 1960’s. As I read through these seven letters (as well as a few my older brother and sister had written to him), I was instantly transported back to my childhood in that small town as my mother was reporting on each child and all the goings-on of friends and close relatives like my grandmother and my aunts and uncles.

I was struck how writing letters is a record in time, an anchor to the shifting sands of time, people and places.

This led me to realize how much we forget from the past and how our lives change so much. How could we not change as we age? Each life stage changes us—education marriage, raising family, careers, possible trauma, big life changes, and so on.

And then I found another letter that really hit my heart.

This is a letter I wrote to a beloved aunt all about the man I was dating at the time (late 70”s), named John.  I was trying to convey matters of my heart and all my feelings about dating him and wondering if he was the one? I have never been a journal keeper, so these letters are all I have to remember who I was at that time.

I fear letter writing and all its myriad benefits have fallen away to the convenience of email and texting but it’s not the same. I can feel my mother’s love through that beautiful penmanship and the slow deliberate retelling of stories and gossip. I can imagine my father working alone up on the mountain, pulling up a paint can to sit upon while reading about his wife and children. There is so much love and longing in those letters flowing from the tip of that pen.

I am happy to report that my daughter was pen pals with her grandfather all through her childhood, as he was living a nomadic life in the desert, sending her sweet letters with little desert creature drawings imbedded. And at 30 she corresponds regularly with my cousin who is 45 years her senior! They share a love of travel and always send post cards from far flung places on the globe.

No wonder letters are regularly studied by historians to learn facts about the people and subjects they are writing about. Where would we be without Van Gogh’s wonderful letters to his brother Theo and all the insights contained therein? Or Emily Dickinson’s thousand extant letters (experts believe there were thousands more) that reveal her interests and profound feelings, which obviously informed her poetry and life? Or all the WWII letters written by soldiers to their mothers and fathers and wives? These letters are obviously invaluable.

So we at Blackbird and Company want to encourage the art and gift of letter writing! We have some brand new FREE resources—Letter Writing and Letterforms—to help you establish the very fun and rewarding endeavor that is letter writing.

Happy Holiday Season to you all!