2014 Course Catalog & Inspiring Kids to Write! | W.O.R.D. Ink
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.
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
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
Ms. Ziff is definitely not just my teacher and tutor; she is my mentor.Lexi 7th Grade, Harvard Westlake
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
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’s greatest ability is to help each student realize his or her own untapped potential. It’s the stuff that changes lives!Jacqueline Frohlich
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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 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 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
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 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

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

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

2014 Course Catalog & Inspiring Kids to Write!

Vanessa Ziff Lason

Head & Heart to Hand & Page:

Inspiring Kids to Write

By W.O.R.D. Ink Founder & Executive Director, Vanessa Ziff Lasdon


There’s a writer in all of us because there’s language in each of us.

Have we not all shared the same spark of joy in first learning to write our very own name?

Writing is self-discovery and self-expression.

We begin with a spark.

To inspire a child to write we must reignite that very first wonder and delight, and we must hold the spark steadfast with the intention of kindling a long lasting love of language within the child.


Psychology tells us that to inspire another, we must first be inspired. Inspiration is contagious! When you discover the power and process of writing, of how words create language, communication, and stories across generations, then you can always tap into inspiration, and the ideas you pass along will be born from a place of wonder and delight.

Forget magic “one-size-fits-all” formulas.

Writing is self-expression, like doodling or dancing or tinkering with our hands. Yet even the smallest creativity carries risk, and hence reward. Yes, writing starts with great daring: the courage to face a blank page as though it were an art canvas, and to extract onto it what we know and feel, jumbled as it may sound at first jot. Kids, spontaneous, observant and imaginative, are primed to play with words. So much about growing up can feel out of a child’s control. A blank page can be a safe haven, a place to experiment with important questions, to tell the truth and be understood, to ease your troubles with the power of the imagination. A notebook might be the first place a child learns that he has a voice and believes that what she has to say matters.

There’s a great hullabaloo these days about kids not reading books anymore and about the degradation of our children’s ability to communicate “properly” on actual paper, thanks to –what else? —Technology. But wait– #Texting. #Media. In the name of all that’s sacred in a tween’s social life, the written word is practically topping the charts! What’s more, instant messaging has arguably made kids’ daily writing more “mind ready.” Researchers use this term to refer to spontaneous, conversational thoughts shared on social networking sites, which happen to be far more memorable than any polished content. Why? Mind-ready content is easy to consume, understand, and retain.

One seventh-grade student of mine, an avid writer, swears she can write stories better by text on her phone than on her laptop or spiral notebook. “They just flow in this spontaneous way that I can’t seem to capture when I’m censoring everything on a bigger screen or crossing out constantly on the page,” she explains to me. “And, I can get instant feedback from my friends.” No, technology is not to blame for a lack of writerly habits; it’s merely a tool that may just help your child learn how to tango with words.


Teaching Kids How to Play With Words

For a “spark” to trigger self-expression, it follows a hardwired path through the mind and heart.

First of all, to express ourselves, we must form some curiosity. Curiosity motivates us to make an observation or feel deeply about something, which expresses itself in communication: a debate or discussion, for example, or perhaps a written statement. Curiosity is both a mental and emotional motivator.


Don’t start with the answer. Lead with the questions, the deeper Why, How and What If kinds on a variety of topics, like the ones over at Newsela.com. Questions stimulate curiosity and cultivate fierce wonderings. Journalist Annie Murphy Paul, who studies the science of learning, recommends that students have enough background knowledge to stimulate interest and avoid confusion. “More learning leads to more questions, which in turn leads to more learning,” Paul explains. Asking questions is the single most important thing we can do to inspire children to talk and write because the more we know, the more we want to know. Questions get kids thinking and inspire exploration, play, and creativity. This process of discovery is the essence of a child’s personal development.

One of my favorite questions to ask students is, “Where do the best stories, true and fiction, come from?”

Adventures, Ideas, Experiences, Observations, Memories, are common responses.

I dig deeper. “So what makes all these things actually memorable?”

The question tends to make students wiggle and giggle. It’s funny. It’s shocking. It’s sad. It’s weird. It’s embarrassing. It’s frustrating.

“Oh, so these are moments that stand out from the rest because they made you think or feel. Because they stopped you in your tracks and you suddenly noticed what you noticed.

They start to nod. They hadn’t thought of it that way, but yeah, that’s what happened. They noticed, and the observation lodged itself in their head and heart.

The most meaningful stories we own are born in the moments, places, people, and objects great and small, familiar and strange at the center of our lives that have changed the way we view the world because they reveal some essential human need we all share: courage, acceptance, respect, love, safety, control, friendship, imagination, joy. Ask the questions that stimulate curiosity. Get kids to dig down deep. We all have the capability of generating what children’s author Ralph Fletcher calls “writing that scrapes the heart.”


I’m a teacher by trade. My reluctant writers are those who don’t write fluently. They squirm in their seat and struggle with topics, quantities, and details. They fret over getting it right versus simply getting it down.

I get it. Even though I’m also a writer, I occasionally fall into the “reluctant” category when my daily writing time gets buried in my bustling life. Habit is everything to a writer. Not just one who publishes, but one who simply writes. Habit is the process that builds fluency, and fluency shapes significance.

Well, if we want our ideas to spill over, if we want our fingers to fly when we hit the page, we have to prime the pump on a regular basis. And so, my writer self looks to my teacher self and remembers: the most important tool for living a writing kind of life is a notebook. It is, as Ralph Fletcher describes, “a place where words can grow.”

A notebook is a foundational element to living a writerly life every single day. Scrapbook, journal, diary, spiral, laptop – it’s all good. Here’s a handful of powerful resources I use with students age eight to eighteen that provide a wealth of notebook strategies.

Be sure to save this blog post on 11 ways to dive into your notebook!


Next time you sit down with your child and a great book, read twice. Writers read first to enjoy and second to hone their craft. Read through a poem, picture book, article, or chapter once just for pleasure and the second time to allow for connection and conversation around special lines and moments. Encourage your child to “lift the line” onto her writer’s notebook so that she can churn up fierce wonderings, lists, memories, and story ideas of her own. Day by day, a two-minute jot will become twenty or more.

Picture Books: A Powerful Writing Tool

Ruth Culham, the educational pioneer behind the 6+1 Traits writing model, explains that, “picture books are short, carefully crafted, and the perfect example of what good writing looks like.” They are, in essence, the perfect mentor text for every age writer.

Be sure to save this blog post on exploring the fundamental traits of good writing through picture books!


For children just learning to write, inspire them by reading their very own stories to them until they can do so themselves. Hearing one’s own language is an empowering experience for a child, and his spoken vocabulary is just a hop away from use in writing.

  • Step 1: Allow your child to dictate his story while you write it. Then read it aloud often.
  • Step 2: After several read-alouds, isolate language-building words from the story that your child can begin to use in his own writing (since it’s already in his spoken vocabulary)
  • Step 3: Extend the learning by teaching your child to read his own stories and to trace over the words, adding drawings. (Storybird is another fun way for kids to build stories inspired by world-renowned children’s art.)

Because the LEA is so interactive, a child will engage in reading and writing, even when he rarely seeks out opportunities to do so on his own. For more on the Language Experience Approach, visit our blog!


Write. Observe. Revise. Discover. REPEAT: Inspiring Kids to Keep Going!

Once we’ve captured a child’s attention, we must inspire him to keep going. We must, as the legendary educator John Dewey put it, “catch and hold” his interest by helping him to see the value of his ideas and writing abilities, again through casual conversation including “how” and “why” questions. Over time, with encouragement and practice, a child will sustain greater focus on his writing and reflect for himself on the value of his efforts. As Annie Murphy Paul explains, “Holding attention is about finding deeper meaning and purpose in the exercise of interest.”

A few more “catch and hold” techniques you can use with your kids:


Remember my student who cites “instant feedback” from friends as a huge motivator for writing her stories by text? Acknowledgement from others is a crucial part of building one’s identity as a writer. Yet during this process, the writer must first know what’s going right to motivate her to continue and show willingness to hear about improvements. “Stars” or “Wows” affirm aspects of a student’s writing, while “Next Steps” or “Wonders” focus on constructive feedback that will nudge a young writer forward. It’s important to provide an equal and manageable amount of comments, else risk overwhelming the student with too many writing goals at once. A good rule of thumb is to provide the same number of notes as is equivalent to the child’s grade level (1 and 1 for a first grader, 2 and 2 for a second grader, and so forth.)

Revision should be considered a mini process within the larger writing process, a repeated “re-visioning” of the same art canvas by adding layer upon layer of paint, one at a time. You might enjoy structuring Stars & Next Steps (or Wows & Wonders) around the 6 Traits of Writing, providing feedback on Ideas, followed by Organization then Word Choice, Voice, Sentence Fluency, and finally Conventions.


Writer’s Block can seem like a big bully or a scary beast standing on top of our paper, no matter what your age. Here are some ways you can help your child regain control of her own ideas:

  1. Listen to music. Drown the beast or bully out.
  2. Go for a quick walk.
  3. Reread the piece. Affirm what’s going right.
  4. Count and celebrate the words already on the page.
  5. Let your child draw what her Writer’s Block looks like and then name it, so she knows the face and can defend herself when it rears its ugly head the next time.
  6. Think baby steps. Break big tasks into littler parts. Come up with rewards after finishing every task.

Subscribe to our blog and discover 12 successful ways for kids to quiet writer’s block.


When the going gets tough, help your child to practice visualizing that the end result has already been achieved. Writing, like art, must be messy at the start. Talk your child through the process as a whole so that they see themselves moving from prewrite to draft and through the layers of revision to final edits and publication. You may find yourself circling back to a technique used to beat writer’s block or to a “catch and hold” question that reminds your child of the value of their ideas and efforts. The bottom line is that a positive mindset sustains motivation and gives children permission to make mistakes.


Kids need a place to tell their stories, a place to speak their mind with likeminded peers and feel validated by the work and opinions they’ve shared. Never before have so many safe, creative places and spaces been available for youth to hone their writing skills and publish their work! Knowing where and how to publish enables children to set goals for themselves that culminate in great accomplishments. Spring, summer and winter breaks offer the perfect timeframes to explore interests and develop writing goals.

W.O.R.D Ink is excited to offer innovative single-day, weeklong, and ongoing summer courses and tutoring programs for all ages such as:

  • Short But Sweet: Tell Your Story in a Tweet
  • Mapping Our Memories
  • Tabletop Moviemaking
  • Writing Skills Intensive
  • Complete Engineering & Technical Writing
  • Essay Coaching

Check out our full catalog of courses and tutoring programs!

Also save this popular post on 10 outlets for kids, tweens and teens to publish writing, along with important submission tips.


W.O.R.D. Ink stands for Writing Workshops, One-to-One Tutoring, Resource Specialists, and Digital and Print Media Services. We also stand for the greater motto that brings all those services together and infuses our approach: Write. Observe. Revise. Discover. These are the four essential ingredients we all need to embrace the writerly life, a life that’s filled with self-discovery and delight.



The W.O.R.D. Ink team is super excited! We’ve just:

We won’t delay. Check out these incredible resources for yourself and let us know how we can serve YOU!

2014 Course Catalog

 To go directly to Curtis campus workshops, Click Here to Download the Application & Complete Enrollment.


 To go directly to our Engineering Camp on the Curtis campus, Click Here to Download the Application & Complete Enrollment.


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