Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison, and I have been an educator and a teacher-trainer since 1991. I specialize in teaching writing using differentiated instruction. I also focus on critical thinking techniques, especially during the pre-writing and revision steps of the writing process.

I serve Northern Nevada for nine months of the year (August-May), and during summers and during our two-weeek breaks during the school year, I hire myself out to school districts and professional organizations around the country.

Summer of 2014 is all booked. If you would like to check my availability for the summer of 2015, please contact me at my e-mail address.

 

Always
Write

 
       Because writing--when taught right--can be the most enjoyable part of your teaching day, I created this website.

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My Reading Workshop became my solution to never having to assign or assess another book report again. My Reading Workshop was inspired by a colleague who had grown terribly tired of teaching!

On my very first day of teaching back in the Fall of 1991, as I smiled in the hallway outside my door and watched the students enter my very first classroom, I sidled up to the teacher whose classroom was right next to mine and asked her, "So what do you have them do for writing?" I had created half a dozen novel-study units in college for my student teaching that I felt pretty confident about, but I really had nothing substantial to start the students with practicing writing skills. Teaching writing is learned on one's feet, and sometimes we have to teach it badly for a while to understand how to do it right. The story I introduce this page with is my example of this truism.

That teacher in the next classroom, sounding both incredibly bored at my question and wistfully wishful for another month of summer vacation, flatly replied, "My students write book reports." She was clearly a veteran teacher, so I nodded politely and suspected she was spouting some sort of wisdom; this proved to be a wrong assumption on my part, one that sadly affected the next four years' of students--students who were never taught by me to excitedly discuss their book projects (not reports) with each other, as seen by my current students in the picture at left. I'll continue my story having said that.

A day later, I sidled up to that teacher again. "So how many book reports do you assign your students?" Within twenty-fours hours I had already learned to not care very much for this neighboring veteran educator; I could hear her screaming at her students through my concrete wall the entire first day, which bothered me. A seasoned teacher should have better classroom control than that, and I will admit that I was asking her my question for a selfishly competitive reason. Without even looking my way, she responded with, "Three. They write three." I could tell she rolled her eyes at my question even though she was looking in the other direction.

And thus, my goal for my first year of writing had been set by a sad need to compete with this cranky teacher. In my classroom--next door--my students would write four--count them, FOUR!--book reports, thus making me (in my stupid opinion) a better teacher than "Ms. Screams-a-lot and Rolls-her-eyes-at-me." I'm not particularly proud of my knee-jerk, not-based-on-wisdom reaction to her, but when I share how I became the quality teacher I am today with students, parents, or fellow educators, I always tell the truth. And the truth is this: sometimes you learn the most when you teach badly for a while; over the next four years--two years after that lackadaisical neighbor of mine had retired from the profession completely--my writing program still focused on having my students write a new book report every nine weeks. They hated writing them, and I hated reading them. In year five of my teaching, I vowed to never assign another traditional book report again, and my students have never loved reading more.

In my classroom, starting in 1996, we began exploring both reading and writing workshop models.

Today, twenty-two years after that brief encounter with an unhappy teacher, I have learned to love our classroom's Reading Workshop days because they include no more book reports. Inspired by the wonderful books of Nancie Atwell and countless presenters I borrowed from while attending dozens of NCTE and IRA Conferences over the years, my students persuade each other to read (or not read) books through a variety of projects that can be presented in small groups. In order to persuade each other, the students must first assume a variety of roles that help them plan how they will "sell" or "advocate for" their book to my other students:

  • Book Reviewer: A reviewer--unlike a book reporter--assumes persuasion as his/her main purpose of writing (as opposed to expository). In my classroom, book reviews take many forms (magazine-inspired reviews, web casts or fake newscasts about the book, opinion editorial columns, or propaganda campaigns--like the pamphlet campaign that you see going on in the picture at right between my sixth graders). These tasks attempt to showcase reasons why the reviewer wants someone else to enjoy or learn from the book.
  • Book Marketer: A marketer designs other products inspired by the book (board or video or strategy games, movie trailers or movie story-boards, ABC books, and even theme-based restaurants) in order to "capitalize" off the book's great ideas. When you assume the role of a marketer, you are building something new based on the book that ultimately could be "sold" to a consumer; we practice marketing without making money off each other.
  • Book Artist/Sculptor/Poet: An artist shows his/her admiration of a book and its elements by designing a different medium of art (sculpture, painting, poetry) that--when explained to a group of attentive listeners--helps those others want to read the book too. Artists, poets, and sculptors inspire deeper thinking about something they love and/or admire--in this case, a book plot.
  • Book Fan: A fan creates a tribute to the book (a webpage tribute, a letter praising the author or publisher, a piece of fan fiction, a survival guide for a character) that shows a devotion to the author or the subject matter. There are so many popular books today that already have such a fan base; the role of "fan" comes very naturally to many of my students.
  • Book "Free Spirit" Agent : A free-spirit agent is a student who wants to share his/her passion for a book that's been read but has more creative ideas than the ones I share on my Reading Workshop handout. My handout always contains an "own choice" option, which requires students to explain their original project idea to me before they begin work on it. Quite often, my free-spirits' ideas become part of my Reading Workshop Menu when it goes through annual revisions. I try to name the new products after the free-spirited children who invent them (see "Crissey's Character Cut-Ups") below.

Once a month or every five weeks, my students break into small groups and become "advocates" for what they've read by presenting their completed projects to each other. Their projects are then displayed inside the classroom, outside the classroom, and on our classroom Edmodo page. Students love it when their displayed products convince another student to read the book they have advocated for.

I've worked at schools where students wrote nothing but dull book reports, and I've worked at school where expensive computer-generated multiple choice tests dangle points in front of my readers as some sort of reward for having comprehended a text from the library. After watching the genuine enthusiasm my students show each other on Reading Workshop presentation day, I know I am genuinely teaching my students to think and write about what they're reading at little or no cost to my school...or to my students' love of writing.

On this page, I will share several of the projects choices my students are allowed to complete as they attempt to fulfill their roles as advocates for the books they read. If

Mentor Texts that influence my Reading Workshop:

If you appreciate the lessons I am freely posting here at my website, kindly consider using the links below to purchase the mentor texts I am recommending; a very small percentage of each sale from Amazon helps me keep this website free and on-line for all to use. Thanks in advance for helping me out!


The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell
Reluctant boy readers? Here's my go-to book to help them start reading for me!

Guys Write for Guys Read
edited by Jon Scieszka
These Sites Help Build Projects:
  • Animoto (Ask Mr. H for his classroom code)
  • Prezi (Fancier than PowerPoint)
  • More to Come, Kids!
Mr. Harrison's Favorite Eight Images from our Most Recent Reading Workshop Presentation Day

I love listening in as my students present their Reading Workshop projects to each other, and I help them provide good feedback that will help students score better with our future reading projects (based on my rubric). This is my new student-feedback/self-evaluation form, and it worked well. I took some fun pictures this last week as my students presented their first projects to each other; these projects were based on their favorite new-to-them book they'd read over the summer.

You can click on the photos to see them in a larger format.

 

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Welcome to Mr. Harrison's Reading Workshop Page

On this Page:
Assigned and Free-Choice Titles:
The Books We Will Read
Mr. Harrison's One-Size-Fits-All
Rubric for Reading Workshop Projects
Project Option #1:
Book Reviewer
Project Option #2:
Book Marketer
Project Option #3:
Book Artist
Project Option #4:
Book Fan
Project Option #5:
Book "Free-Spirit" Agent
Commonly -requested documents I use for Reading Workshop:

To my students (and their parents): To earn an A or B in my class, you will read and create projects for seven books this year: four titles that I choose for you, and three titles that I allow you to choose for yourself. The books I have chosen, we will read them at the same time, and we will discuss them according to specific calendars you are given. The books you choose independently, they need to be challenging to your reading level, and I will help you discover what that reading level is if you need my help to do so.

My "Always Homework" for Reading Workshop:
I expect each of my students to always be carrying a reading-level appropriate book with them that they're currently reading, and I expect each of them to find (at least) 3-4 hours a week to read from that book at home. Every four weeks, each student must complete reading a new-to-them book; during the fifth week that follows, students will design a product/project to present to their classmates in order to show off the book's best elements.

Read every week for 3-4 hours (minimum), then set aside a week to create your "Reading Workshop" Project. This is your "Always Homework" from me. You will not have additional homework unless you are not using our time in class well; only then, would you possibly have more homework (finishing incomplete class work tasks) than just reading and working on reading projects.

After four weeks of reading a book, we spend a week creating projects to present to each other. At right, students learn about a classmate's novel by participating in a "restaurant simulation" as a fellow student takes their orders from a menu at a diner based on the book Night by Elie Wiesel.


The books that I will assign are listed below by grade level in the blue rows; for each book I choose, you will complete a "Reading Workshop" project to present in class. In between these assigned books, as you can see by looking at the pink rows below, you will be allowed to choose any book you'd like to base your "Reading Workshop" projects on.

6th Grade
7th Grade
8th Grade
Assigned non-fiction: A Writer's Notebook, and Live Writing, How Writer's Work, or How to Write Your Life Story by Ralph Fletcher Assigned novel: Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson Assigned novel: The River Between Us by Richard Peck and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs
Own Choice Novel #1: Choose wisely! Own Choice Novel #1: Choose wisely! Own Choice Novel #1: Choose wisely!
Assigned allegory: Animal Farm by George Orwell Assigned novel: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes Assigned novel: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Own Choice Novel #2: Choose wisely! Own Choice Novel #2: Choose wisely! Own Choice Novel #2: Choose wisely!
Assigned dystopian novel choices: Unwind or The Barcode Tattoo or House of the Scorpion Assigned non-fiction: Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose Assigned novel choices: I Have Lived a Thousand Years and/or A Separate Peace and/or A Farewell to Arms
Own Choice Novel #3: Choose wisely! Own Choice Novel #3: Choose wisely! Own Choice Novel #3: Choose wisely!
Assigned memoir: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck Assigned novel choices: Tortilla Flat, and The Pearl or The Red Pony by John Steinbeck Assigned memoir: Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, Jr.

For each assigned novel and each "own choice" novel, you will complete a project worthy of being seen by your classmates. About every five weeks, a new one will be due; these seven Reading Workshop projects count towards about 40% of your report card grade, so you will want to put a lot of time and effort into these projects. All seven projects are assessed using the exact same rubric, so you will need to learn to use this rubric well. Why, here it is for you to begin becoming familiar with it.

Mr. Harrison's Reading Workshop Rubric
Click on the rubric below to open it up as a printable PDF document

In my Writing Workshop, the number of different rubrics we use can be a bit overwhelming. Why? In my version of Writing Workshop, students are allowed to choose one trait they absolutely want me to assess them on. I choose two more that I want them to work on during revision and editing, but they are allowed to choose one of the three.

That means I have to have a lot of different rubrics and feedback cards ready. Writing Workshop makes up about 40% of my students' final grades. Because I have so many different rubrics for Writing Workshop, I wanted my Reading Workshop Project rubric to be one-size-fits-all.

My students' Reading Workshop projects, when totaled, make up close to another 40% of students' final grades. The hardest part of having a one-size-fits-all rubric that is used seven or eight times every school year is that students seem to quickly forget what the rubric is asking for; they figure, "Oh, I've seen this, so I don't need to look at this closely another time."

As a result, I have created dozens of "refresh your memory about this rubric" mini lessons over the past school year; they are especially pertinent when reminding students what those story element things are in the middle row of this rubric. In December of 2012, I hope to have these refresher mini-lessons pieced together in a new packet I will be offering for sale here at my website.

In the meantime, here is a link to the Reading Workshop Project Rubric I introduce to my students in the very first week of every new school year.

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Project Option #1: Become a Book Reviewer

We write no book reports in my Reading Workshop; instead, we write book reviews. A reviewer--unlike a reporter--focuses on his/her opinion (be it favorable or unfavorable) when determining a purpose for the writing. A book report simply focuses on facts about the book, while a book review makes use of those facts but applies critical thinking skills to those facts.

"But it's so much easier to just write a book report," one of my students whined at me last year. Yes, my students, Mr. Harrison knows this; persuasion and propaganda techniques are the two areas of language focus I want you, my students, to work on if you assume the role of a "Book Reviewer" for Reading Workshop, and these are harder skills to work on than flatly presenting the facts like you'd do when writing a simple book report.

Now, I truly believe it's critically important to establish an authentic audience before beginning any important writing assignment, so with book reviews I ask students to have an audience in mind before they begin pre-writing and planning their reviews. If writing an actual book review, which students can do as a project option for Reading Workshop, I want students to imagine they are writing their reviews for an actual magazine they might read. Both The New Yorker and Entertainment Weekly contain book reviews, and the style of those book reviews is very different depending on the magazine. What both magazines' reviews have in common is that they're usually fairly brief; a magazine has limited room, so its contributors work with word limits. I establish a 500-750 word limit with the book review option. To talk persuasively about multiple story elements in a less-than-1000-words limitation is challenging.

Here are the two book reviews I share to show my students what brevity looks like in a thoughtful book review. One review was written by a student; one review was written by me. After sharing these reviews, the two books they're about (I have one copy of each in our classroom library for check-out) suddenly have a "waiting list" of students interested in checking the book after the lucky student who checked out my single copy on the day we read these. I suppose that's a sign that they are both decent book reviews.

Two Book Reviews to Serve as both Models and Discussion Starters about the Reading Workshop Rubric

Eighth-grader Alex's 564-word review of The Catcher in the Rye can be accessed and discussed by clicking on the image above or by clicking here.

Mr. Harrison's 559-word review of Fair Weather can be accessed and discussed by clicking on the image above or by clicking here.


Using Technology Skills to Creatively Review Books
In addition to old-fashioned, magazine-inspired book reviews, I allow my students to create other projects that allow them to review their novels by sharing their opinions of the book's plot, characters, setting, theme, as well as the author's writing style. Remembering that the goal of the reviewer is to convince one's audience to read (or not read) the novel through shared critical thinking, there are creative approaches a student can take to review without having a written review to turn in to me.

I have always loved innovative uses of technology, and in my classroom the students can easily display their final products on my Promethean Board on our Reading Workshop presentation day; I am, therefore, always encouraging my students to discover unique formats for book reviews. My students really like creating fake newscasts or podcasts about their books, and they like to script and produce fake "Call-in" shows (like Garrett--one of my more charismatic seventh graders--is doing in the picture at right). These projects allow students to "cast" their friends or family while showing off their technology skills.

You always have to warn them about sloppy video production, which can cost students points in the "Polished Final Product" row of the Reading Workshop rubric. When a student films himself simply reading a review out loud. To score well with projects (like Garrett's, at right), I require students to show me production skills as well as have evidence they actually rehearsed a few times before clicking the "record" button.

And for even more options, don't forget to remind students if they use Microsoft Publisher (or some like-program), they have access to some amazing templates for easily creating propaganda that can be shared and distributed in class on Reading Workshop day. One of my favorite propaganda suggestions for students is to encourage them design a tri-fold pamphlet that--in the spirit of Thomas Payne and his "Common Sense"--can be handed out in the hallway, or put in a display near my check-out library in the back of my classroom. I had one student who gained permission from our school librarian to create a pamphlet based on his book that he wanted distributed among the entire school's population, not just the students on our team.

Now with the "Pamphlet Campaign," as it's called on my list of Reading Workshop Project options, students are required to print a minimum of ten copies of the final product so that they know ahead of time they are actually putting it into the hands of--at least--that many students. My student who had gained permission from the school librarian to display his pamphlet where the whole school might take one, well, he faithfully (with the help of me and the Xerox machine) kept his pamphlet-holder stocked all year long.

To help my students envision a tri-fold pamphlet and to cleverly trick them to revisit our Reading Workshop Project rubric once again, I designed two pamphlets for the exact same book. "One of these pamphlets," I explain after putting them in partners, "would score very well on the rubric, and the other would probably earn a B or a C. Which is which?"

I offer you access to the two pamphlets below. Without my help, can you figure out which piece of propaganda feels more like a book report, and which one feels more like a book review? If you carefully apply the Reading Workshop rubric to both products, you should be able to; if you need a hint, focus on the "Persuasive Purpose Achieved" row.

Compare Pamphlet #1 to Pamphlet #2

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Project Option #2: Become a Book Marketer
A Book Marketer sees the possibilities of creating products related to to the book for the purpose of "selling" those products. This, in turn, makes readers interested in the book. Although my students don't literally "sell" any item to fellow classmates about the books they've read, they have created great projects based on the following tasks a "marketer" might dream up:
  • Direct and film a favorite scene from the novel **
  • If you can't film a scene, design a storyboard for one from the book
  • Design a restaurant & menu with dishes that celebrate the novel
  • Design action figures and display boxes based on the novel's characters.
  • Make a book trailer (like a movie trailer) that captures interest **
  • Create a children's book (like an ABC book) based on the novel
  • Design a board (or strategy or computer) game inspired by the novel
  • Or...Come on, impress me with your marketing creativity!

**Here's a respectful warning from your teacher and final grader, Mr. Harrison: I have had a lot of students take me up on the "Video Tape a Favorite Scene " or "Make a Book Trailer" option from my list of project options. Many of the movies are--quite frankly--terrible, and they don't score very well on my grading rubric. Why? It's simple. Making a good movie/trailer is hard. Coordinating actors, costumes, props, and a script is a lot of work. It's very easy to forget my scoring rubric as you become lost in the craziness of film production. If you're making a video scene or a movie trailer, make sure it conveys a thorough understanding of your book's elements: plot, character, setting, theme, and writing style. And please...ake sure you either pay attention to sound quality, or that you add subtitles if we can't understand what the actors are saying!

One of my favorite photos from the 2011-12 school year:

Melanie Wilkes, Rhett Butler, and Scarlet O'Hara prepare for their scene in their Gone With the Wind movie project after school in my classroom. I had to stay late that day to supervise the production, but quite frankly, my dears, I didn't give a darn.

 

Some Photos of/Links to Inspiring Marketing Projects from my Students

An image-based "book trailer" I show students:

This is a "book trailer," and it was not made by one of my students. It was created by DeAnna Hamblin (from Illinois?) and I think it was made using Animoto. I show it to my students as an exemplar and to explain what I mean by "book trailer." As soon as they see it, both copies of The Compound are immediately checked out. I am still waiting for one of my students to make a trailer this good so that I can feature it here instead of only having this one. C'mon, my students, that was a challenge from your teacher!

A video-based "book trailer" I show students:

Another "book trailer," and it was filmed and narrated to resemble one of the previews you watch before the feature film begins. My wife's students think this The Forest of Hands and Teeth trailer is much more appealing than the one for The Compound (at left), but I disagree. WIth both trailers shown, my students are excited to market their novels as a video project. I have to caution them to read my rubric very closely, as neither of these exemplars mention theme or writing style.

Making a storyboard instead of a video product:

Not all students feel confident making an actual video or trailer; thus, I allow them to create movie storyboards as an alternative way to "market" their Reading Workshop projects as though it was a film. Some students (like 7th grader Andrea) storyboard the best scene from a novel, but others (like 7th grader Dani, whose creative storyboard is pictured above) create several scenes from the novel. Click here for a detail from this huge poster, but click here to see how Danielle added unconventional elements to the storyboard to align with my rubric. Creative, right?

Students must play the board games they design...

At lunch, my 8th graders came in to play this student-designed board game based on Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne.

...during Reading Workshop day or during lunch...

Before playing, 7th graders listen to the rules for a board game inspired by Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

...so that others can watch and ask questions.

At lunch, a 7th grader explains his original strategy card game (inspired by Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings) to two fellow 7th graders while several 6th graders listen in.

A pretty fancy menu/restaurant:

Nate, one of my 6th graders, created a pretty fancy menu for a restaurant inspired by The Princess Bride; it contained a page of appetizers and soups and salads, a page of seafood and entrees, and a separate dessert menu.

An ABC List :

We do a lot of writer's notebook work that takes the shape of ABC lists. When I suggest designing a "children's book" to market the novel, many of my students gravitate to an ABC book. Some illustrate (like Hannah did here) but others publish the project as a list, like this example from Tayler, which has a built-in discussion tool.

An ABC Children's Book in PowerPoint format:

Our students admittedly do a lot of presenting to each other in my class, in their math class, in social studies, and in science, so they are pretty good with PowerPoint skills. I appreciated how 7th grader Bree took the initiative to "publish" her ABC book as a PowerPoint slide show.


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Project Option #3: Become a Book Artist: Sculptor, Painter, or Poet?

For this project option, the student is choosing to make a physical representation of the book as a means to persuade and to appeal to others' artistic sensibilities.

Don't mistake this option for those old diorama projects made out of shoe-boxes, sugar cubes, and your younger siblings' discarded action figures. I don't want you to simply design a physical representation from your book unless it is both interactive and it is covered with words. These words must be both persuasive, and they must share the story elements found on my rubric: setting, character, theme, plot, and writing style.

With both the examples below, please note that the book bas become a physical representation of the story, and the words that accompany the representation both explain and persuade.

Sixth-grader Mimi's artistic representation of
Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life
Seventh-grader Jordan's artistic representation of
Flowers for Algernon

Hidden in this box with four locks, are artifacts from the story and written explanations about them. Here are just a few of the artifacts.


Interpretation is in the eye of the beholder. I often try to decipher my students' artistic representations before I have them present the ideas to others. In Flowers for Algernon, the main character is a scientific experiment being observed by others, which is why I thought Jordan chose to create a box with the following instructions: 1) Open both green flaps; 2) Look through green opening and read while rotating blue handle.

Jordan is a young man who can build anything out of paper and tape. When he found out he had to present the book-inspired "progress reports" found inside this box (on a rotating spindle) to adult judges, he took the opportunity to show-off his paper-construction skills. I didn't actually get to watch Jordan presenting this sculpture to the adults (I had presentations going on in multiple classrooms that evening), so I'm not sure how he interpreted his representation for them, but when I explained my interpretation to him, he looked as though he'd not thought of being observed as though a scientific experiment. But he liked my interpretation because it made him think. That's what I ultimately like about art and artistic representations; hearing others' interpretations of your work can be very informative.

I'm not very good at filming things, but I made my best attempt to quickly film Jordan's project as it scrolled through the information written inside the box. Of course, I held the camera sideways in order to include more in the shot, not realizing that you would have to hold your head sideways! There are many good reasons why I teach English and why I don't have an Oscar in cinematography!

Click the image below to access the video I took of Jordan's artistic sculpture in action:


Two of Mr. Harrison's Favorite Poetry "Formats" to Use for Reading Workshop Projects!
One of my favorite things in the world is poetry, and one of my favorite poets--Naomi Shihab Nye--once wrote in one of my favorite poems, "Poems hide. In the bottom of our shoes, they are sleeping...What we have to do is live in a way that lets us find them." I try to enrich my classroom activities with poetry, and because I know poems are sleeping in my students' shoes, there is always an open-ended invitation to write a poem in response to what we are working on. Always.

For reading workshop, one of my favorite options is for students to choose three or four different characters, and they write a poem for each of those characters. In doing so, and this is the trick, their poems have to persuade someone else to read the book while sharing the required story elements from the rubric.

I enjoy free-verse poetry as much as I enjoy poetry that rhymes. Because I know any type of poetry is hard for some students, I teach numerous poetry formats that can be easily used when writing about characters from books. Here are two of my favorites:

I Can Change the World Poems
Verb Phrase Character Poems
I love any lesson that starts by having a student listen to and analyze a piece of music. The lesson I borrow from for this type of poem analyzes the message from two pieces of music and two videos. It was written up by my friend and teaching colleague, Rob Stone, and posted at WritingFix. Over the years, I have adapted it in several ways, but the original lesson is very easy to access by clicking here.

Here are two sixth grader's I Can Change the World poems based on two characters' points-of-view in the novel Animal Farm.

Napoleon's I Can Change the World Poem
by Jenny, a 6th grader

I see an opportunity and I grab it.
Things are going to change around here
Because I am the leader now. I wasn't born with power,
But no one will take it from me now.
The other animals will sacrifice a bit,
But that doesn't matter to me.
I will change these rules to benefit myself.
I have that power and it has corrupted me.
If the animals act up, I will simply use my whip.
To show my power, I will wear clothes.
I ran Snowball out, and I sold Boxer for booze.
I can change the world to benefit me,
And I will.

Snowball's I Can Change the World Poem
by Jenny, a 6th grader

I saw a new future,
One with gadgets and gizmos,
One with an easier life for animals.
All that was gone in an instant.
Suddenly I was run out,
Shunned and exiled.
I had the chance to change the world,
But he took it from me.
I built their trust, only to lose it.
I have the potential to change things,
But I can't use it anymore.


Call me dogmatic if you must, but I think verbs are the most important part of speech to teach student writers to use well. Verbs drive good writing; they can make sentences powerful or utterly forgettable. This type of poem is a list of 10-20 verb phrases about a character and his/her actions.

Before writing, I require students to rate the character on a scale of 1-100 based on an interesting adjective: charismatic, empathetic, or heroic, for example. If they say a character is 40% charismatic, then 40% of the verb phrases they put into their poem must be based on charisma.

After reading Undaunted Courage as a class, one seventh grader decided that Meriwether Lewis was 60% heroic, and her verb phrase poem attempts to prove that to her readers. I don't always require the students to cite the chapters where their specific verb phrases came from, but for this particular lesson I did.

Being Meriwether Lewis (60% Heroic)
by Emily, a 7th grader

Volunteer to lead the expedition to the Pacific at just 18 years old (chapt. 6),
Spend time at Monticello, talking about little more than the challenge to
___ reach the Pacific (chapt. 6),
Meet and try to form alliances with the Natives and try to change their
___ agriculture and take their land (chapt. 13),
With a good friend, set off to the West on a great expedition that will go down
___ in history for all to remember (chapts. 11-33),
Be shot in the rear while hunting and blame it on a member of your crew
___ (chapt. 32),
Discover new species and record them to bring back for scientific research
___ (chapt. 12),
Try and come across as the "white savior" to the natives by handing them
___ American flags and explaining of the "new father" (chapt. 13),
Allow impatience to cloud your judgment while waiting for guides to show up
___ who never did (chapt. 30),
Let the expedition change your personality, turning you into more of a leader
___ than before (chapt. 30),
Be willing to earn more of an education before setting off on the expedition
___ (chapts 7-11).


Click here to see Emily's presentation poster, which featured this poem.

Free-Verse/Free-Spirit Poetic Tributes

For my poets who don't need a format or formula to create poetry, I allow free verse poetry to be used in creating four poems about the book. With the four poems below, I especially liked how this sixth grader worked a stanza about writing style into one of her poems, knowing that was something I looked for using our Reading Workshop rubric.

Jacie, one of my poetic sixth graders, created four poems inspired by Everlost by Neal Shusterman. When they write the poems, they are required to create a project that can be presented to a small group; Jacie's product actually was this poster, which tore a little when I took it down.

Four Free-Verse Poems based on Everlost by Neal Shusterman
by Jacinda, a 6th grader

The idea of the
Afterlife
Can be oh, so scary, but
Neal Shusterman
Has a creative theory of
Where the dead go.

He expresses it in his
Descriptive
Writing style.
What if there was an in-between world
For souls that lose their way on the
Journey to the light?

In between life and death
Lies the dangerous and terrifying
World of
Everlost.

If you weren't already dead,
This place would
Kill you.

With mysterious souls
And evil monsters,
No one,
Not even the McGill himself, is safe.

To relax and linger, you must find
One of the rare
Dead spots scattered around
Everlost
And pray that the McGill won't find it
Too.

A car crash on the highway
Proves deadly.
Nick and Allie
Know that all too well.

A head-on collision
Sent them on the pathway to
Everlost,
A land of wandering souls.

There they meet the great
Mary Hightower,
Who takes them in to live with her
And other afterlights.

When a child, younger than 17,
Dies an unexpected death,
A afterlight in Everlost they will become.

A land far from normal is the
Final destination for these
Souls who were
Lost
On the journey to the light.

Allie soon arrives in this world and
Her new
Reality flips upside-down.

And below, I really appreciated how my 6th-grader, Hannah, used a combination of suggested poetry formats from me with free-verse poetry. Here are four of the six poems she wrote about the novel Unwind, which is coincidentally also by the same author who inspired Jacinda above.

Four Poems based on Unwind by Neal Shusterman
by Hannah, a 6th grader

Hannah started with a free-verse poem that directly speaks to the author's writing style.

She then used the I Can Change the World format to write about a main character.

She then used the I Can Change the World format to write about a main character.

And she finished with a free-verse poem about the theme of the book.

 



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Project Option #4: Become a Book Fan

In truth, if you genuinely like the book you're creating a project for, any of the projects on this page could be considered the project of a "Book Fan." I suspect I made the role of "Book Fan" on this page to serve as a catch-all for projects that don't fit the other categories. Yes, it's my miscellaneous category.

I will share three of the more popular "Book Fan" ideas from my master list of Reading Workshop projects.

Character Scrapbook Pages

Imagine a character from your favorite book kept a scrapbook while the story was going on. How could you--a fan of the book--create interesting scrapbook pages on behalf of a character that also shared information about the plot of your novel, its setting, its characters, its theme, and the writing style of the author.

7th-grader Danielle's four scrapbook pages for Code Orange.

I always appreciate seeing some Mr. Sticks on students' projects.

A few misspellings but some clever attempts to include writing style...

...and thematic information as well as plot, character, and setting.

 

7th-grader Nathanael surprised me with his scrap-booking skills...

...on this elaborate project he created for the book Geek.

Lots of information about plot, character, and setting here...

...but more on theme and writing style could be included. See his Page 5.

 

8th-grader Rachel created seven scrapbook pages for a book I love...

...The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles.

Each picture here is actually showing two scrapbook pages...

...stacked on top of each other. You can zoom in on pages for details.


Fan Fiction, Option 1:
Write Yourself into the Story
Fan Fiction, Option 2:
A Character's Survival Guide

This last Spring, I asked students to brainstorm in small groups, then make suggestions of Reading Workshop projects they think would be fun for them. I had, at the time, eighteen project suggestions on my list, and I wanted to make it an even twenty. My students--as usual--didn't disappoint me. They came up with two ideas for our last Reading Workshop that were tremendously popular:

  • Students wanted to write themselves into a pivotal scene from the novel so they could interact with the characters.
  • Students wanted to create a "Survival Guide" that would help a character make it through one of the adventure-genre novels they had read.

The "Write Yourself into the Story" option launched some huge, ambitious pieces of writing from my students. They loved casting themselves as a "character" who shows up just in time to change a sad outcome from their novels, or to help the main character save the day. What was most impressive was that they really showed me they understood the writing style of the author (from our Project Rubric) by having to imitate it as they created new sentences that never actually appeared in the novel.

Alas, since it was Spring, I did not organize myself very well, and thus, I do not have any student models to show here...yet. In August, I plan to run a little contest with my students' first Reading Workshop to post the very best "Write Yourself into the Story" examples from my seventh and eighth graders.

I did save one of these "Survival Guide" projects from the Spring, although I received dozens of examples of this project. You know what most of them had in common? Burned edges of paper. This project brought out the inner-pyro in a lot of my boys.

Take Ian's example below for the novel The Blue Shield.

Ian's project was actually a five-page booklet. The excerpt in the photo above right is simply his introduction.

 

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Project Option #5: Become your Book's Free-Spirit Advocate

On my list of project choices for "Reading Workshop," my students, you will always find an "Own Choice" option, and you are required to directly gain my permission to follow through on this option provided that you bring me a really succinct explanation of your idea. You should really only select this option if you have studied my Reading Workshop project rubric very carefully; this is not a reckless free-choice option so much as it's a chance to show me how creative you are based on the rubric I am holding you to with these options. Over the years, I have had some awesome "free-spirit" options, but the best example I have to show you remains the following example, which I will always call the "Crissey Character Cluster" in honor of an amazingly thoughtful and free-spirited eighth grader.

Crissey--one of my most brilliant 8th graders in 2011--had already designed a board game and had already designed a book review for Reading Workshop; for a final project in the Spring, she wanted to build an activity that would engage students in a game-like situation but would also persuade them to read the book based on her reporting of the book's plot, characters, setting, and theme. The Crissey Character Cut-Up was her own brainchild. I fell in love with her wonderful idea.

The book on which Crissey was free-spirit reporting was entitled Entwined by Heather Dixon. Crissey approached me early one morning in March, explaining how she wanted to use one of those photo albums--with three photos per page--to design an interactive experience where other students tried to align three different heads, torsos, and legs to accurately build one of the characters from her book. On the back-side of each card, she would provide information about the story's elements that would persuade and inform the reader about the novel's elements that my rubric required.

By far, this is one of the better "free-spirit" projects I ever received from a student for Reading Workshop. When I photographed her project, I promised Crissey that her first name would remain the eponymous inspiration of this project choice--the Crissey Character Cluster--and I request that you use her name if ever suggesting this idea to your own students. Please, Crissey is one of those students who deserves to have her name remembered as a classroom inspiration.

When you open Crissey's project, this is the first page that you see. She has created portraits of her characters that divide each person into three parts.

Crissey's instructions on the inside
cover of her photo album:

  1. Flip the top, middle, and bottom sections until you have a match that you like.
  2. Turn to the back of the cards to find an explanation for the drawing.
  3. Don't forget to have fun and be creative!

 

Click on any photo in this section to be able to view the images in a much larger format.

Students can flip each each of the three body parts separately so that they can create some pretty scrambled characters.

A Crissey "Character Cut-up" Example:
Another Crissey "Character Cut-up" Example:

Please take a close look at my rubric (especially the second row--story elements) and be prepared to explain why Crissey earned a perfect score on this project.

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