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
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
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
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
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 is an outstanding writer and a joy to work with.

Aimee Trudeau, Web Developer, Kizmato.com
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
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
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
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 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
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
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 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
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
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 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 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 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 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 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
Ms. Vanessa has challenged me to stretch my writing and I am excited for what I will do next.Evan, 3rd Grade
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’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 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
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 is definitely not just my teacher and tutor; she is my mentor.Lexi 7th Grade, Harvard Westlake
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
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 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

PSSST! CoMe IN: Plot, Mood & Style (Part 2 of a 3-Part Series)

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

My brief introduction of the first installment back in September considers how students don’t always know how to approach analysis of literature and often are not as familiar with the terms used by instructors when asked to write an essay about literature. The lesson I propose minimizes terms, empowers students, and creates a clear path to student-based discovery and learning.

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The acronym PSSST, CoMe IN! is both a tool for student memorization and welcoming words into the world of literature and fiction.  We started the investigation with SETTING and NARRATION (see first installment). As you’ll see, these lessons are meant to be brief and succinct because we want to empower learners and really take short cuts initially, so that we can get to the meat of the top 9 literary elements (Symbolism and Theme). Once we address Symbolism, Theme and Character behavior, everything else comes together. Acknowledging all elements quickly and on their own initially starts the process, engages students, and firms up the knowledge they have. That said, at this point everyone should feel confident that they know WHO is talking (NARRATION) and WHERE the novel or short story takes place (SETTING).

I’m going to start this section with PLOT. PLOT can go anywhere, really, at the top, in the middle, here or there. The plot is simply “the sequence of events” and is often the first thing students talk about when they see each other after a weekend of reading. It is deceptively simple, the idea of naming and organizing the sequence of events. A great exercise for PLOT accuracy is a thing I call “Connect the Plots.” It’s really connect the plot points, but dot-plots  : )

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I write all plot points on the white board as the students sing them out. “What happened in this story?” It all goes up and then the students consider the chronological order of things and we “connect the dots.” A measure of importance is also considered.

We highlight the essential plot points because, if you’re going to have to write a two-sentence summary (often required in literature paper introductions), you better know what to leave out and what to share.

Theme, of course, is often part of a short summary, but that is the last thing we discuss, once we’ve understood all the other terms. We could discuss Aristotle here or Freytag’s Pyramid of dramatic structure, but for these purposes, evaluating plot structure isn’t as important as the final analysis of Theme and Symbolism. That is why I refrain from over analyzing other terms that can remain simple in our quest for overall understanding. At this point:

We know who is talking, where the action is taking place, and what exactly has transpired.

Now we look to Mood and

through Mood we acknowledge Style.

Mood is the emotional essence of a piece. And mood can change as the plot thickens or characters change. “How does the piece make you feel?” I ask the students. Whatever answer I am given, that is the answer of MOOD. It is as simple as that. Whatever MOOD the author was going for is found in the hearts of her reader. Probably the one dilemma of this question is that often students are unaware of their feelings while reading. Even if you see smiles on their faces as they read Shel Silverstein or a grimace as they forge through the initial release of contestants into the arena of The Hunger Games, still, when asked, they’re not quite sure how to answer. Joyful? Tense? You can ask them specifically and whittle it down to the truth. Careful: “Boring” can be confused with mood and rarely is an author attempting to bore. images-1
images “How do you think the mood is created?” is a nice question that segues into Style.  First responses are often plot oriented. That’s STYLE. It’s genre too. Authors’ styles are reflected in their level of intrigue, romance, you name it. But style can also be easily discovered through another level of assessment. The printed pages; technical choices authors make in regard to word use and order of words (syntax.) STYLE is the way an author writes. Are there short or long sentences? Does the author use a lot of dialogue? Does he make use of incredible verbs or flamboyant adjectives? Does the author use a passive or assertive voice? Is there description beyond your attention span?

 

All these questions about Mood and Style create student investigators who come up with answers. Answers magnify learning power. These are some astute literature readers! As an instructor, tutor or home-schooling parent, I hope you can see that this process can be done slowly, over a month long lesson plan or quickly if that’s necessary. As long as you build confidence in the students and show them that they are the managers of this journey, you will have them teaching you!

The next installment will address Irony, Character, Symbolism, and Theme; the final lessons bring everything together. I hope you tune in!

In the mood for more on how to write about an Author’s Style? Check out Vanessa’s 3-part blog post on Shaping Voice with Sound and Syntax!

 

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