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Blackbird & Company

In these semi-regular email newsletters, we have been slowly but surely working our way through each section of our literature guides to give you a deeper understanding of the content and to help you get the most out of our product. So far, we have talked about the value of developing note taking skills, the worth of words, and reading for comprehension. In this edition, we discuss some of our thoughts on writing and the value of developing a writer’s unique voice.

Voice: The Writer's Fingerprint

FingerprintJust as no two fingerprints are alike, every author has a distinct writing style.

Voice is the fingerprint of an author.

When I begin a writer’s workshop I ask my students a simple question, “Why do we write?”

The standard response is, “To get a grade."

My response is always, “Writing is a gift you give to the reader.”

Whether the work is scientific, analytical, editorial, fictional, or poetic, words should be crafted with an audience in mind. Communicating to my students to value their “voice” is a simple encouragement, but I have discovered it is key to unlocking all sorts of writer’s block! When I say to my students, “Your writing has a tremendously one of a kind voice,” their faces beam. Helping students to discover this truth is foundational to the teaching of writing!

Effective writing may contain feelings and emotions, other times it informs in an encyclopedic fashion. Sophisticated writing often paints clever word pictures for the reader. Helping students keep an audience and purpose in mind helps them to become effective gift givers. Above all else, the reader should be able to sense sincerity, regardless of the purpose of the writing. Writing should be authentic and come straight from the heart.

Marks, symbols, and signs, word choice, the crafting of phrases, form, and rhythm all work together to bring a topic to life for the reader. This is a gargantuan task. When you get right down to it, writing is an abstract, complex, and somewhat mysterious craft. Enabling your students to confidently develop and express their ideas happens over time by immersing them in great books and providing them with rich, relevant opportunities for writing practice.

The right kind of practice makes perfect.


Expoloring Voice Through Writing...
and Reading!

Three projects


Reading a wide variety of great stories—well written stories—can help students improve their writing skills. As students engage with words on a page, books become powerful mentors, modeling to young writers the potential of language, often teaching what a board lesson on topic sentences and paragraph structure can’t teach. Books are, quite simply, one of the best teachers of “voice” in writing. The more students read, the more they learn to appreciate the potential of language.

Blackbird & Company has developed literature guides for a diverse range of classic, contemporary and award-winning books that children love. Within the structure of each guide, weekly opportunities are given to practice note taking and sentence writing--foundational skills to the art of writing. Beyond this, our guides provide young writers with the opportunity to work through the writing process to explore and develop voice as they are challenged to respond to a directive related to the week’s reading.

Some sample directives:

Describe how you would feel to wake up one morning and find yourself flat. What would you do?
Flat Stanley, Level 1

Wolfgang and his mother react differently to being trapped inside the piano. Write a paragraph comparing and contrasting their reactions.
A Mouse Called Wolf, Level 1

The lamppost, the toffee tree, and the gold and silver trees all grew from objects planted in the new soil of Narnia. What would you want to plant in Narnia? Describe what it would grow into and how it would be useful.
The Magician's Nephew, Level 2

Imagine you are a dog. What would you look for in a person that would make you trust him and want to be his friend?
Because of Winn-Dixie, Level 2

Describe how your picture of Hollis Woods has changed since you first met her. Why do you think it has changed?
Pictures of Hollis Woods, Level 3

Widge is amazed at his first sight of London and gives a detailed description of what he sees. Describe something that you were amazed by when you first saw it and tell how it made you feel.
The Shakespeare Stealer, Level 3

Over time, students not only explore a variety of writing domains including, observational, persuasive, narrative, analytical, descriptive, and more. More importantly our guides will encourage your students to develop the confidence that leads to authenticity in writing. By providing this consistent framework for practice, you are challenging your students, “Let your beautiful voice ring!”


Show Us What You’re Up to and Win!

Nothing inspires us more than receiving notes and pictures from you, so we decided to have a contest to receive even more!

Starting in November we want you to send us photos of anything related to our literature guides, from final projects, to snapshots of your book club, to creative activities you have been inspired to do. Everyone who sends us images will be entered into a drawing for a free Level 1, 2 or 3 bundle.

We will be giving away three literature bundles so start sending us your best photos!

Photos may either be submitted via email to takeflight@blackbirdandco.com or posted to our flickr group pool.

Entries will be accepted through December 31, 2009 and the drawing will take place on January 5, 2010. We will contact you by email if you are a winner!

Good luck and thanks for sharing!

“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”

—Ray Bradbury   

NANOWRIMO is back!


What would happen if you dropped all writing related work for one month and just gave your students space and time to furiously and freely explore an idea?

November 1st launches National Novel Writing Month, a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing.

Last year, without the pressure of the hovering red pen, our group of 15 boys (grades 4-8) collectively wrote 71,595 words in 30 days! The boys were really apprehensive to start, but were completely awestruck with their accomplishment. They've been counting down to this November event since the first week of school!

Visit the Young Writers Program for more information and to take the challenge!

A sampling of excerpts from the boys:

Believing Possibility
He did the same thing everyday for three years. One day, while strumming his guitar for a crowd, a strange man pushed his way to Jason. His name was Jerry Johnson. He hired all the big time bands. He approached Jason and gave him an offer of working for him and getting 1500 dollars a month. Jason wasn’t sure what he should do. But he soon decided he should and so he took up on his offer. Jerry told him to gather his things, then he would take off to where his dreams would come true.

Gathering Courage
For once I was almost excited about my foolish nature. Even though I didn’t say it, my face spoke louder then my voice ever could. "It’s a civil war” he said glaring at me. My smile disappeared. I knew what that meant.

Pure Suspense
He walked into the forest and looked behind him. When he was reassured beyond doubt that he wasn’t being followed, he stalked into the woods ready for almost anything that awaited him.

Struggling with Selflessness
She took a small bite of cranberries. They were tart, yet sweet, against the other savory flavors. When she ate the small bite of stuffing she had helped herself to, she didn’t care for how it tasted and didn’t feel as bad eating it in war time.

Simple Delight
Henry woke up wanting coffee, black and sweet. He walked down stairs and turned on the coffee machine. He sat down and read the newspaper until it was done. “DING!” went the machine. Henry walked over to it and made his coffee. He glanced up at the calendar.


call for entries!

Is your jr. high or high school student a budding writer, musician, or artist? Visit CollectiveBanter.com a place for young creators.


The Collective Banter Salon is an online community where students can post their creative work and receive critique, encouragement, and inspiration from fellow students.

The Collective Banter Challenge is a biannual creative arts competiton where students must respond to a specific directive with their chosen art form.

Fall 2009 Challenge:
Communicate the concept of freedom within boundaries.

Cash prizes will be awarded for short stories, poetry, instrumental compositions, songs, drawing, painting, mixed-media, 3-Dimensional works, photography, and computer generated artwork. Visit CollectiveBanter.com for more details.


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Blackbird & Company Educational Press

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