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

Aimee Trudeau, Web Developer, Kizmato.com
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. Vanessa has challenged me to stretch my writing and I am excited for what I will do next.Evan, 3rd Grade
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
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
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
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
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 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 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
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’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
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’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
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 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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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’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 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. 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
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

Learning to Revise in Order to Communicate Clearly

Gannon Daniels

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

I have seen countless papers; pages of paragraphs: Essays. These essays were written for composition courses of many levels by community college students with varying degrees of talent and ability. I have been an instructor and tutor at a community college for 13 years. What have I done? Looked at essays.

Some students are heart-broken when they get a “C” on their paper. “I worked so hard on it,” they say. I believe them, and yet I know there is something they don’t quite get.

Writing is rewriting.

In the first place, the creative step — the leap, if you will — is the joyous part. The writer imparts his wisdom and feelings that gush like lava, hot and immediate. He then types it up into, what he thinks is, reasonable paragraphs. He dons a snappy title and with pride the paper is turned in on time. As far as he is concerned, he has done something monumental. He has actually coughed up something someone can read that, according to him, makes sense. But does it? Is it really readable, coherent cogent expression?

 

Revision is the key to good writing. 

 

Revisions: Creating New Relationships with Your Words

There are some simple steps to take and questions to ask yourself as you sit back down, before the paper is turned in. Create a relationship with what you have written. Think of it as your baby. Something you need to nurture and get to know. All too often we want to share our masterpiece before it really is one.

Revision creates a new relationship with words. Each word, each sentence, is purposeful. Make sure each sentence is doing what you want it to do. This may take some time. Here’s where the writer wants to bag, go get a sandwich, call a friend, pierce his or her eyelid. None of this early work is easy, but I’m here to tell you it gets easier. In fact, it becomes a friendship. Once you look at words as malleable assistants in a world of communication, you create a deeper desire to be clearer, more organized and maybe even good.

Thesis vs Topic Sentences: Organizing Around a Central Idea

Another revision task is organization. Do the paragraphs connect to the thesis statement? Are the topic sentences working? Maybe one needs to ask: Do I have a thesis statement? What are topic sentences?

MINI LESSON: A thesis statement is a sentence that is the culmination of the writer’s intention for the entire essay. I’ve heard it said and have heard myself saying, “The thesis is your essay in a nutshell.” A topic sentence is the first sentence in a paragraph that serves as an umbrella statement, whereby all things under it or included in the paragraph relate to and support the topic sentence.

Let’s say our thesis is an explicit one. Teachers like those. The assignment is a personal narrative. The sky is the limit. The thesis statement is: “Because of my volunteering at [insert non-profit], I now look at Christmas time as a time to serve, reach out and be contemplative.” With this thesis, the reader sees that the first body paragraph is going to be about SERVING, the second body paragraph is going to be about REACHING OUT and the third body paragraph is going to be about CONTEMPLATING.

Possible topic sentences for these paragraphs might be:

  1. Serving those in need creates community and fulfills many people’s needs.
  2. When I do reach out, I become aware of the hardships people face.
  3. During this time, I often reflect on my own life and am thankful.

No matter what topic you are writing about, a thesis can be born and topic sentences can be devised.

Sometimes it’s easier to create the topic sentences first. After doing the relationship work and labeling each sentence with a purpose, you can categorize them appropriately. Often we discover that pieces of our writing aren’t serving us, so we cut them. Other times we find a category that hasn’t been explored enough and we go back to the writing table, the results of which just might become a new body paragraph.

Once I go over these organizational ideas with young writers, they wish they’d had their thesis and topic sentences in the first place. Of course! Because once they’re in place, one can forge ahead and stick to the road. But I tell them, it usually takes lots of writing and brainstorming and then rewriting before a writer can see what he or she really has.

It is in the relationship with words that we gain the most clarity. When we can see a sentence, a paragraph, a thesis for its purpose and manipulate it into pure unwavering salience, then we are doing what we are supposed to be doing; not turning in an assignment, but communicating clearly.

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