I learned as much from teaching with Vanessa as any of her students under her guidance. Where so many others fall back on old tricks, Vanessa taps into her extensive experience to invent new methodologies for each and every one of her clients.Patrick Kieffer, Fifth Grade – English & History, The Packer Collegiate Institute
Whether it’s teaching a student to become a more vivid creative writer, a more effective analytical writer, or a more selective business writer, Vanessa can do it all.Meli and Stephen Rose
I honestly don’t know what kind of a writer and reader I would be without the tools I learned with Ms. Ziff. She was always a very understanding, rigorous, and involved teacher, and an incredible mentor.Maddie 9th Grade, Marlborough School
Ms. Ziff is definitely not just my teacher and tutor; she is my mentor.Lexi 7th Grade, Harvard Westlake
While we continue to be impressed by Vanessa’s many attributes, it is her high energy level, extraordinary patience, and passion for what she does that make her truly unique.Melissa and Rob Weiler
Ms. Ziff’s friendly demeanor and enthusiasm made communicating easy and learning exciting. She taught us to understand and appreciate the material, and have fun in the process.Alivia 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
Ms. Ziff is always organized, resourceful, and ready for anything. She believes in a process, [...] the best of all being the Ms. Ziff approach, which makes her spectacular.Kenneth 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
Ms. Ziff set the foundation for my analytical, constructive, and creative skills. Whether writing a sonnet or writing an essay, I still have her lessons in my mind.Kenneth 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
Vanessa has a gift for inspiring even the most reluctant writer and her passion for writing is infectious. She is a favorite workshop leader at our Young Writers’ Conferences.Julie Moore & Rena Svetic, Young Writers’ Conference Founders
Ms. Ziff maintains a good balance of knowing when to give more help and when to insist that you rise to the challenge of the learning situation. She instills confidence, honors excellence, and respects effort.Kenneth 8th Grade, Harvard Westlake
The writing skills my daughter, now excelling in ninth grade English Honors, left Vanessa’s class with continue to be an invaluable set of resources.Betsy Leva
What our daughter values most about her time in Vanessa's class is being inspired to become an organized writer who could convey her thoughts in a meaningful manner.Laurie and Chris Harbert
Vanessa got my 8-year old son excited and intrigued to dig deeper into his experiences and bring his thoughts to life. Now Evan’s words dance and sing, which makes me want to dance and sing!Sally Micelotta
Vanessa is high-energy smarts and charm, the kind of writer and teacher who captures and captivates readers of all ages.New York Times bestselling author, Cynthia Leitich Smith
Vanessa transformed our son Josh from a decent writer into an excellent writer.  We wholeheartedly recommend Vanessa and her ability to draw out the best in your child’s writing ability.Jill and Larry Krutchik

Vanessa is an outstanding writer and a joy to work with.

Aimee Trudeau, Web Developer, Kizmato.com
Having an eight-year old highly gifted boy was not enough to make him put all those brilliant ideas on paper. Daniel feels constantly challenged by Vanessa and that ignites him.Liliana Benitez
Vanessa is a true master of her craft. She is a blast to work with, completely trustworthy and utterly authentic. To work with Vanessa is a privilege; you just want to soak up all her talent, and bottle it up for yourself! She is an inspiration.Sarina Fierro, Head of Lower Elementary, Curtis School
The skills Vanessa taught my son--particularly the value of revising many times […] attention to detail, and high standards—are still with Nico several years later.Liz McNicoll, Attorney, Paramount Pictures
Vanessa Ziff Lasdon possesses the dynamic combination of an incisive intellect and boundless passion when it comes to teaching her craft and sharing skills with her students.MaryLynn Richmond
All of us remember teachers who inspired us to greater heights and who influenced our lives. Vanessa Ziff Lasdon has played this role in my daughters' lives.Jack Tauber, M.D.
I know that the many fun and challenging lessons I’ve learned from Ms. Ziff will help me achieve my goal of one day being a professional writer and filmmaker.Jaren S. 7th Grade, The Buckley School
Ms. Ziff always pushed me to do my best, and never let me slack off.  She introduced me to my love of writing and gave me the confidence I needed both academically and in myself.Georgia 9th Grade, The Buckley School
Vanessa’s methods are creative, thorough and innovative. She makes writing fun and has turned our daughter’s “like” of writing into a true “LOVE”.The Altmans
Vanessa’s vast skills, complete dedication, and clear purpose construct a solid core for every student she teaches. Her passionate nature produces both a fun and rewarding learning experience.Michele Noble, Director, Writer, Filmmaker
Vanessa captured the essence of what I wanted to relay on my site without sounding trite, unlike my experience with previous writers.Martin Pugh, Musician
Vanessa is truly a one-of-a-kind teacher. She’s extremely organized, communicates ideas effectively, helps motivate, and has a lively, engaging teaching style that brings out the best efforts in all of her students.Howard Tager
Ms. Vanessa has challenged me to stretch my writing and I am excited for what I will do next.Evan, 3rd Grade
Vanessa’s greatest ability is to help each student realize his or her own untapped potential. It’s the stuff that changes lives!Jacqueline Frohlich
My son learned more about writing and literary appreciation from Ms. Ziff in fifth grade than in any other year of school. I wish all teachers had Vanessa’s passion for teaching and inspiring!Kim Ford
It's obvious that Vanessa is a wordsmith: "Write. Observe. Revise. Discover...W.O.R.D."  These are the four essential ingredients for becoming a writer; two of them about the work (writing and revising) and two of them about the joy (observing and discovering.) Vanessa accomplishes it all.  Julie Larios, award-winning poet and children’s author

6 Little Known Tools to Flesh Out Your Sentences

(As first seen on Through The Tollbooth. Thanks for the guest post opportunity, ladies!)

Ready for today’s grammar lesson?

Arrange these phrases and punctuation marks to build a complete sentence. (*Note: just because Harry’s name is capitalized does not necessarily mean he begins the sentence)

,        ,        ,        ,        .

holding his broken glasses up to his nose

dizzy

covered in soot

Harry got gingerly to his feet

bruised

Lots of ways to arrange these pieces, right? I count ten at least.

Sentences 101

A sentence has to have some basic parts in order to be complete and carry a message. I call this base part (the subject and verb), the Skeleton, the bare bones of a sentence.

Sentences 102

The extra stuff in a sentence, the Tools you choose to add in or leave out, I call that the Flesh – the meat and muscles – what makes a sentence uniquely yours. Consider humans: similar in our skeleton structure, but what makes us, us? Our flesh and how we carry it.

 

Let’s look at the original sentence by J.K. Rowling: Dizzy, bruised, covered in soot, Harry got gingerly to his feet, holding his broken glasses up to his nose.”

Notice the one part of the sentence we can’t live without: “Harry got gingerly to his feet.” If we removed this Skeleton, our sentence would cease to be complete.

Notice, also, how many ways you can add, subtract, or arrange your Fleshy Tools around the Skeleton. Each time you do, you alter the content and style of your sentence.

 

Review Session:

Subject + Verb = Skeleton (basic, but necessary)    Tools = Flesh (extra details that dazzle!)

(Skeleton  +  Flesh   =   More Awesome Sentence)

Back to Those Fleshy Tools

There are 3 types: (see downloadable Google Doc for further detail)

Words                 Phrases              Dependent Clauses

Arrangement

There are also 3 ways to arrange those Fleshy Tools: (see downloadable Google Doc for further detail)

  • Openers (before the subject) – Spellbound, she opened the door.
  • Closers (after the verb) – The dog jumped into the pool, splashing mightily.
  • S-V Splits (in between the subject & verb) – Joe, squinting in the sunlight, pointed at the kite.

 

The “6 Little Known Tools” You Need

Now, if our job is to flesh out our skeleton sentences with more content and style, then we need Tools we can arrange in our sentences that enhance our nouns and verbs.

4 Fleshy Tools That Enhance Nouns 

(see downloadable Google Doc for further detail)

1. Prepositional Phrases (add details about time & place)

  •  She wandered along the river that wound around the woods.

2. Appositives (define a noun in a new way)

  • She chose James, the second youngest, who loved to read.

3. Participial Phrases (add energy & action using –ing verbs)

  • The snow swirled, blurring his vision.

4. Adjective Clauses (answer what a noun has or does)

  • That night, he kept a fire going, which blazed until dawn.

2 Fleshy Tools That Enhance Verbs

(see downloadable Google Doc for further detail)

5. Compound Verbs (add a series of energetic actions)

  • A burning limb fell into the pit, struck the water, hissed like a snake, and went out.

6. Adverb Clauses (answer how, when, or under what condition an action occurred)

  • Lila could focus more, if only the hammering would stop.

FAQs

Q: How do I know where to put the commas?

  • A: You will almost always place commas around your Fleshy Tools. That’s because a.) They are add-ons to a sentence and b.) When you read the sentence out loud, it just sounds right.

Q: Can I add more than one Fleshy Tool to a sentence?

  • A: Be my guest. Add multiple Fleshy Tools to one noun or one verb, a single Fleshy Tool to every noun in the sentence or every verb, one Fleshy Tool to just one special noun or verb…

Q: Please, do I have to call this stuff ‘Skeletons’ and ‘Fleshy Tools’? It’s a little weird.

  • A: Call them Wilma and Fred for all I care. Just try it out.

Q: Umm…How Do I Remember All This?

  • A: Easy. Save this post + download the Google Doc I made (originally used for grades 5-8, but useful for all) & keep it table-side when you revise and edit.

Q: Why should I care? (ie: Why are you intentionally trying to make my brain hurt?)

  • A1: Because grammar fundamentals help us break the rules with panache.
  • A2: Because you control the content and style of Every. Single. Sentence. (So, may as well say exactly what you mean, whether explicitly, in metaphor, or through innuendo.)
  • A3: Because sentence by sentence, your writing adds up to equal your VOICE, and your emotional impact on the reader.
  • A4: Because even though your sentence choices will depend on your character’s motivation and personality, as well as the particular plot circumstances, it is still essential for you, good, dear writer to:
    • Cut dead flesh that adds length and clutter, not value and meaning
    • Replace fluff and blah nouns or verbs with focused, energized varietals
    • Enhance each sentence with such tools as the 6 you learned today
    • Read like a writer and hone your craft. Study and imitate the skeletons and flesh of your favorite sentences. Get a feel for how decisions on arrangement, word choice, punctuation, and length impact the meaning, emotion, imagery, and musicality of a sentence.

More Questions?

Drop a line in the comment section. I promise a prompt response.

Download the full version of this Grammar Tool on Google Docs by clicking on the image.

 

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