Archive for writing


Hi everyone, I have re-located to Olympia, WA.

All further tutoring inquiries for in-person tutoring in Santa Fe should be directed to Orton-Gillingham tutor Hope DuBois, CALP 505-690-7460

If you are interested in online Orton-Gillingham or multisensory grammar/writing instruction, please feel free to contact me at 404-654-3557 or visit my new site:

How to Write Solid Paragraphs

The following is a guest post from Grammarly blogger Nicolas Baron:

How to Write Solid Paragraphs

Whether your kids are homeschooled or in school, they will eventually have to write an essay. And, in doing so, they’ll likely learn the fundamentals of the essay. They’ll learn about creating an outline, building a thesis, and writing introduction and conclusion paragraphs. And, most likely, they’ll learn to compose all of these in the following way:

• Introduction Paragraph

Thesis (last line in the intro)

• Supporting Paragraph #1

• Supporting Paragraph #2

• Supporting Paragraph #3

• Conclusion Paragraph

This is what we call the five-paragraph theme, and it tends to be the preferred structure for teaching the essay form. It provides a nice place for the thesis, and it builds in supporting paragraphs that work to prove the thesis. All academic essays are built around this structure. While the number of paragraphs in later papers may increase (you’d never want to write a 20-page paper with only five paragraphs), the fundamental ideas are the same.

The unfortunate part is that while plenty of attention is paid to the thesis, very little time is devoted to teaching solid paragraphs. What we end up with, then, is an excellent thesis, within a well-organized essay, but one that fails to argue anything. Or, even worse, it argues far too much, with each paragraph a mish-mash of multiple topics and ideas.

Good paragraph construction is key to writing a good paper.

How, then, do we construct good paragraphs? We must first understand the parts of the paragraph and how they work together. Most academic paragraphs can be broken into three distinct parts:

Topic Sentence – Explains what the paragraph is about. This should, in some way, relate back to your thesis.

Supporting Evidence – Gives examples of your topic sentence.

Analysis of Evidence – Describes how your evidence proves your topic sentence, thus proving your thesis.

Let’s put this into practice. Say I write the following thesis: “Because students tend to rely too much on structure, teaching the five-paragraph theme in high school does more harm than good.”

Controversial, I know. To help prove my thesis, I need to write a paragraph about why relying on a structure may be a bad thing. To help understand the different parts of the paragraph, I’ve color-coded them. Green is my topic sentence. Yellow is my supporting evidence. Red is my analysis.

While the five-paragraph theme does provide some fundamental ideas, it hurts students in the long run, as they end up considering it a be-all, end-all rule. Students start to believe that they should adapt the structure of the five-paragraph theme to any essay they write. In doing so, they develop an over-reliance on the structure, and it usually starts to overshadow the writing itself. The primary problem with this is that when they’re called to write longer papers, they find themselves ill-equipped to handle such a task.

The color-coding system I’ve used here is intentional. In my work with Grammarly, I research how people write and what tools they use to become better writers. I’ve often seen the paragraph process taught through the form of a traffic light. Your topic sentence starts the paragraph, your supporting illustrations keep the paragraph moving, and the final sentence stops the paragraph. When it’s time to start a new paragraph, the whole process starts again. I fully encourage students to use this color-coding system, as they construct paragraphs, to ensure that each paragraph is distinct, using the three fundamental parts.

Constructing your paragraph in this way also helps prevent a common issue with student paragraphs: multiple topics. Sometimes, student paragraphs try to do too much and quickly become hard to read. Using this form will help keep paragraphs focused on a single topic, making them stronger.

Here are a few other tips for writing good paragraphs:

• If you need help remembering the three parts of the paragraph, consider a good acronym.

TEA (topic-evidence-analysis) is a common one, as is PIE (point-illustration-explanation).

• Remember that every topic sentence should lead back around to the thesis in some way.

Doing this will ensure that your essay remains focused on your argument.

• After you’ve constructed your paragraph, be sure to take advantage of Grammarly’s grammar check, which will check it against 250 grammar rules to ensure that your writing is perfect.

Writing good paragraphs is an important step toward writing a good paper. Master this, and you’ll find that the quality of your papers will improve immeasurably.

By Nikolas Baron



Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

Summer Tutoring

Presenting the Summer Learning Menu

Now you can create your own summer tutorial or mini-camp!

This summer, Ladder Learning Services is offering you more choices than ever before so you can design a summer learning plan that fits your budget and schedule. You choose the skills to focus on, location, whether you want 1:1 or a small group, and the number of lessons you want to buy– all at a great discounted price!


Lessons/week (over 8 weeks)

Total # of Lessons

Total Cost (without travel)

cost per lesson

Total Cost (with travel)

cost per lesson

BASIC 2 16 $672 $42 $752 $47
PLUS 3 24 $912* $38 $1032* $43
PREMIUM 4 32 $1120* $35 $1280* $40
GROUP (1:2 or 1:3)** 3 24 $600 $25 $600 $25

*Can be split into two payments
**Individual lessons are 50-minutes; Group lessons are 65 minutes.
**Groups must be pre-approved children who are learning the same skills and at a similar level in those skills. We cannot do online group lessons. We may or may not be able to match your child with a group. You are welcome to put together your own group with prior approval from us.


Sign Up Now!

If you have any questions about our summer offerings for dyslexia, ADHD, reading skills, Orton-Gillingham, math skills, or grade-readiness skills, please contact Director Dite Bray at (505) 920-5218 or email ladderlearning at

How often to do tutoring?

Recently I have been contacted by several parents who want to do tutoring once/week. Their reasons for not being able to do more sessions vary, from a lack of funds, to not wanting to over work their child, to competing activities.

In the past, I have really tried to work with our students who could only come once/week. Ultimately, it has proven to be frustrating both for the child and the tutor, because they do not see enough progress being made. The child ends up falling farther and farther behind, and feels like just giving up.

Orton-Gillingham is an intensive style of tutoring, originally intended to be done 5 days per week for at least an hour. Many experts and programs advocate that twice/week tutoring is the bare minimum that will work. We have seen this first-hand over the years, and so we now only offer tutoring twice/week or more. (The only exceptions to this would be children who are at or above grade-level and who are not in danger of falling behind.)

Does your child’s spelling list make sense?

The spelling list your child brings home every week can tell you a lot about how they are teaching reading and spelling at his/her school. If the words are following a similar pattern, such as “bat, cat, can, lap” (short-a words) or “nation, vacation, conviction, election” (all “tion” words), then spelling is being taught as a skill that follows predictable patterns and can be learned through word-study.

However, if your child’s spelling list looks more like “autumn, apple, because, doll” and is just random words or a list of sight words that do not follow any particular pattern, then you should be concerned. Your child is being taught that spelling is random and all words must be memorized. This is not an efficient way to learn how to read and spell!

As a side-note: yes, around 10% of English words do not follow the pattern, and these must be learned by rote. But those 10% of words still all have predictable parts and only one or two letters which must be memorized! This should be pointed out to children, and studied using multisensory techniques.

Learning By Design has published this great list of Ten Things Parents Can do to Improve Spelling. I encourage you to take a look!

Online Multisensory Grammar Instruction

Does your grammar need a brush-up? Are you dyslexic or an English language learner? Does your child have dysgraphia? Is he or she struggling to learn the parts of speech?

If so, you need online multisensory grammar lessons! Here is a screen-shot of the board I use for the Basic program: Multisensory Grammar Board. I offer a free consultation and demonstration, so please contact me at santafereadingtutor at for more details!