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
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
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
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
Ms. Vanessa has challenged me to stretch my writing and I am excited for what I will do next.Evan, 3rd Grade
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
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
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.
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
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
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’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
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
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
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 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
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 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 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 is definitely not just my teacher and tutor; she is my mentor.Lexi 7th Grade, Harvard Westlake
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 is an outstanding writer and a joy to work with.

Aimee Trudeau, Web Developer, Kizmato.com
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
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
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
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
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
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
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

Pssst! Come In: Opening the Door on the Elements of a Literary Essay (Part 1 of a 3-Part Series)

Gannon DanielsGuest post written by W.O.R.D. Ink team member, Gannon Daniels

Writing about literature can be daunting, no matter what grade or skill level. Before writing begins, students need to have a general understanding of literary elements in order to feel confident when they encounter the language of fiction often found in literature essay prompts. Early in my teaching career, I shared a lengthy literary devices handout with my students. It covers everything from alliteration to leitmotif, and the author kindly uses color-coding to clarify which terms are “elements” of fiction and which are authorial “techniques.” I thought at the time I was doing my students a great favor by providing this comprehensive resource, but I was only causing more confusion. A case of “more is too much.”

james joyce

I realized that I needed to minimize our discussion terms so that my students could comprehend the process of finding meaning in text. Later, they could digest more terms, of course, but initially it seemed appropriate to break down the basics into manageable bites. I whittled away at the devices while considering fundamental storytelling as the root of my lessons. There’s nothing earth shattering about the choices made, except that I came up with an acronym to help students remember these starting elements.

Lit Element Acronym

The acronym works for memorization and as an invitation to enter the world of fiction.

 

Opening the Door

Start with Setting and Narration. These are the easiest to pinpoint. Where does the story take place and who is telling the story?

The setting includes time and era, the country/state (real or created), the space and that space’s event. After all these are named, discussions can be drawn from the influence these answers have on the characters and plot. For instance, a character will behave differently if she exists in the 1800s, if she was raised in the city of Mumbai and now finds herself on a farm in Idaho, or if she is a terribly shy person invited to a strictly social event. Later, once all the information is gathered, the setting can become a character or symbolic, but in this initial stage, the labeling and defining are what is important.

Move on.

Make narration a quick lesson. There are only two options. A first-person narrator is a character in the story and speaks using “I” and “we.” The third-person narrator tells the story as an observer, acting as a lens and never entering the story by using “I” or “we.” However, the third-person narration can have different abilities. An objective third-person narrator simply tells the story without knowing the characters’ feelings, while the subjective third-person narrator knows one, some or all of the characters’ feelings and thoughts. These elements can create complications further down the literary road, and the subjectivity may reveal itself slowly, but for this purpose, to empower students with tools and knowhow, these elements should be gallantly checked off the list and considered understood.

Look for the rest of this scaffolded lesson in two future blogs under WRITE. Happy Reading!

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