Use the guidelines below to determine the best place for your student to begin. When evaluating skill level, for most students, we believe it is more important to look at writing ability than reading ability. It is also better to underestimate and ensure foundational skills are solid before advancing.

For detailed learning objectives, take a look at our Scope and Sequence chart.

Browse our pre-selected grade level collections. Take me there »


Begin with Volume 1 if the student has:

  • The ability to “sing” or “say” the ABCs.
  • The interest and ability to harness a pencil.

Begin with Volume 2 if the student has:

  • Confidence reading Kindergarten readers (such as Bob Books).
  • Been introduced to consonant sounds, short vowel sounds, consonant blends (beginning and end of words) and digraphs.
  • The ability to write CVC, CCVC, CVCC, and CCVCC words, utilizing this knowledge confidently and with accuracy.

Take me to Hatchling »


Begin Earlybird if the student has:

  • Completed Hatchling Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 or the phonetic equivalent.
  • Moved beyond Kindergarten reading.
  • Has the ability to sustain reading at the emergent level.
  • The ability to write words, phrases, and simple sentences.

At this level, guides are tied to read-aloud picture books. Students will continue to move toward mastery of encoding skills. Vocabulary acquisition is heavily scaffolded, enabling the student to explore definitions and complete sentences using words in context. Descriptive language and basic conventions, such as capitalization, commas, and end marks, are modeled using word banks and sentence completion exercises.

Take me to Earlybird »

Grade 3: LEVEL 1

Begin Level 1 if the student has:

  • Worked independently, confidently, and accurately in Earlybird or its equivalent.
  • The ability to read a simple chapter book, such as Flat Stanley.
  • The eagerness and ability to write simple ideas.
  • Demonstrated readiness through independence.

Students will move from using simple words to describe characters, toward using phrases supported with examples. Vocabulary is still heavily scaffolded, as in the EarlyBird level. Sentence writing is no longer modeled, students are learning to communicate story details in response to questions. “Idea making” begins at this level as students are introduced to simple, scaffolded paragraphing.

Take me to Level 1 »

Grades 4–5: LEVEL 2

Begin Level 2 if the student has:

  • Worked independently, confidently, and accurately in Level 1 or its equivalent.
  • Has the ability and stamina for sustained reading while simultaneously comprehending mid-level chapter books.
  • Has the ability to construct a simple paragraph independently.

At Level 2, character, setting, and plot notes are always supported with examples from the story. Vocabulary is looked up using a dictionary and students use words in new, original ways. Sentence writing is the same as L1, but more story points are crafted in response to questions. Paragraph scaffolding drops out of the writing exercise, allowing students to exercise idea-making within the form.

Take me to Level 2 »

Grades 6–8: LEVEL 3

Begin Level 3 if the student has:

  • Worked independently, confidently, and accurately in Level 2 or its equivalent.
  • Reads fluidly and confidently with a high level of comprehension.
  • Has confidence writing an expanded paragraph.

Students at this level are strengthening the ability to think deeply about the stories they read. Character examples are detailed. Students are able to connect subtleties of the setting that weave the world of the story. Students are beginning to recognize the significance and applicational relevance of larger themes. Writing is fluid and students are beginning to explore authenticity of voice.

Take me to Level 3 »

Grades 9–12: LEVEL 4

Begin Level 4 if the student has:

  • Worked independently, confidently, and accurately in Level 3 or its equivalent.
  • has the ability to explore novels with sophisticated story lines, including rich themes, symbols, and motifs.
  • Has completed our essay unit or its equivalent.

At Level 4 students will “close-read” a novel and create journal notes tracing characters, themes, symbols, and motifs. Students will practice constrained writing as they craft a weekly synopsis and personal reflection. During the final week of each guide they will craft a response essay working from a prompt. Students are also given numerous creative options for project builds in response to the story.

Take me to Level 4 »

A Word About Writing Placement

Blackbird and Company’s Integrated Literature + Writing is a unique approach to language arts that, over time, will lead to writers who are confidently skilled at constructing their ideas in written form. We believe literacy is achieved when students move from learning to read and learning to write toward reading to learn and writing to learn.

When deciding how to place students, it is important to assess the student’s ability to craft a paragraph. Typically, students who jump into using our curriculum above the primary years (kindergarten, first, even second grade) will likely read above their ability to write. It is important to close this gap so that students can begin at the level that will serve them best.

For students who are new to our curriculum, entering the 3rd grade and above, a writing assessment is useful for placement, in addition to the guidelines below. Allow the student 15 to 20 minutes to free write (one sheet of paper) based on one of the following directives or a similar directive of your choosing:

  1. Transportation of the future…
  2. If the sky, or the sea, or a river, or mountain could talk…
  3. A character gets lost in the woods, or lost in a city…
  4. If you or someone you know had a superpower…
  5. Write a very small story that includes the following words: Pumpkin, Mountain, Train, Pig, Pencil

Assess your student’s writing using the following guidelines:

(2nd grade or 3rd grade reluctant writers)
  • Voice
    While the student is learning to construct simple ideas in paragraph form, unique voice may not be discernible.
  • Focus and Organization
    Student is able to communicate very simple ideas about simple topics.
    Is beginning to use paragraph structure to order the development of the idea—topic opener, 3 supporting sentences, concluding sentence.
  • Sentence Structure
    Students are transitioning from crafting phrases and fragments to simple sentences.
    Word choice at this level may be limited as vocabulary is still being acquired.
  • Mechanics
    Students are learning to use simple mechanics and form to shelter their simple idea.
    They are learning to consistently use the indentation, capitalization, end marks, and spelling.
(4th and 5th grade or 6th grade reluctant writers)
  • Voice
    Students are becoming more eager to make their voice heard and is practicing clever details as they construct their ideas.
  • Focus and Organization
    Students are becoming more independent and are beginning to focus on added details that bring specifics to their idea.
    Confidently crafting a simply organized 5 to 7 sentence paragraph.
  • Sentence Structure
    Sentences are being crafted with a bit more complexity that adds important detail.
    Students have acquired a broader vocabulary and pay attention to word choice.
  • Mechanics
    Students are becoming able to utilize simple mechanics independently—
    The indentation, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and active verbs
(6th, 7th, 8th grade)
  • Voice
    Students demonstrate authentic ideas and original voice.
  • Focus and Organization
    Able to clearly and concisely craft a more complex idea with word choices that are beginning to demonstrate individual voice.
    Students are confidently crafting expanded paragraphs with 6 to 8 sentences and are ready to be introduced to essay form.
  • Sentence Structure
    Sentences are being varied rhythmically—both short and long sentences will appear.
    Students will use rich language and attention to detail.
  • Mechanics
    Students are able to construct expanded paragraphs independently with the appropriate mechanics—indentation, capitalization, punctuation, spelling and subject/verb agreement.