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Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison. I have been an educator since 1990, and a teacher-trainer and University adjunct professor since 1998. I specialize in teaching writing using differentiated instruction techniques. I also focus on critical thinking skills, especially during the pre-writing and revision stages of the writing process. I retired from the classroom in June of 2019, and I will continue to consult with schools, districts, and states who are more interested in developing quality writing plans, not buying from one-size-fits-all writing programs.

Beginning over the summer of 2019, I will be available once again to train teachers your school or district if you would like to hire a qualified and dynamic trainer. You can find general information about my workshops here.

If you would like to check my availability for a specific date or dates for the 2019-20 school year, please contact me at this e-mail address. My calendar is already fillling up with workshop engagements.


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Giving Credit Where Credit is Due... I wish to now openly give 85% of the credit for this lesson to my Northern Nevada Writing Project friend and colleague--Holly Esposito. Holly was a superb high school English teacher who became (and still is) an amazing high school librarian, and I'm lucky in that I get to see her on a regular basis these days. What I admired about her most was that--even as a high school teacher--she saw the power of using extremely well-written picture books as mentor texts for her students. Like me, she often passed out typed copies of the picture books so her students--at first--didn't realize what they were actually reading; of course, she properly gave credit to the author who'd written the picture book on these typed handouts, and she didn't show them what the picture book even looked like until the students had read it as a typed piece of prose. From WritingFix, I have always loved and used Holly's original "Four Metaphor Poem" assignment with my own middle school students, and we even used it one year at our annual Piñon Poetry Festival when I was the NNWP's Director. This year (2014), I've decided to "amp up" Holly's original lesson idea by adding some deeper level literature discussion activities--because that is something suggested by Common Core State Standards.

The lesson found on this webpage is my "Common Core adaptation" of Holly's original lesson, but please know, I give complete credit to Holly Esposito for this original writing idea attached here. Thanks, Holly! You've made my classroom a better place year after year with this assignment, and I'm thrilled to claim that you are the inspiration for the following lesson write-up!

The Lesson on this Page:
One's Easy, But Can You Make Four Metaphors?

Because if you can make four, you really understand what a metaphor's for!

Lesson Background & Overview: One school year several years back, I decided to host a "Metaphor of the Week Contest," but the idea lasted only one year because I noticed only about 25% of my kids bothered to enter metaphors, or too many of the entries that didn't win were neither thoughtful, detailed, nor original; as a Differentiated Instruction Teacher-Trainer for my district,I have known for quite some time that not every students' thinking style is capable of creating quality metaphors like the ones I attempt to, but I also suspect that it's easy to be lazy with metaphor writing. When I teach figurative language, especially similes and metaphors, I receive a lot of "rough draft" ideas from many of my students; they haven't taken the time to really explore and craft a good metaphor; more likely, they immediately write down the first comparison that occurs to their brains, and that's good enough for them. Not every one's a metaphorical thinker like I am, but it's good for thinking to require students to try using the metaphorical parts of their brains once in a while. The trick is you have to teach them to be thoughtful--not lazy--metaphor writers. After reading and analyzing a variety of published poems with metaphors, this lesson asks students to self-select one personally interesting abstract noun, and over multiple weeks, revisit that abstraction and create multiple metaphorical possibilities for it; a writer's notebook is an ideal place to dabble with metaphorical rough drafts. At lesson's end, students can choose to write a single poem that explores all four of their metaphors in one poem (like they did in Holly's original lesson at WritingFix and in my new teacher model about writer's notebooks above), or they can choose to write a longer poem wherein they explore and utilize their favorite metaphor from the multiple ideas they have explored over time. The big learning here happens when they spend time crafting the best metaphor over several weeks in their writer's notebooks, not just scrawling down the first idea that occurs to them; that's the writing process in action, my friends! During this learning, students also utilize this original discussion tool (that I proudly created as I adapted this lesson, which was originally posted to WritingFix back in 2006) to widen their thinking about grammar and metaphors as they are used in famous--and often classical--poems that I have attached below. The output of the lesson is not only a metaphor poem, but it's also a writer's notebook page that explores a metaphor of their own choosing. It's also a series of poems that can go in a student's notebook once they have been discussed in a way that promotes deeper-than-mere-comprehension thinking.

My Common Core Connection: In case your administrator takes the time to ask you where the Core fits into this, well first, good for them, and here's how I'd respond: The CCSS ask us to incorporate use of more challenging texts with all of our students, and I have had great success in primarily beefing up excerpts from challenging texts I use with my students during reading and writing mini-lessons. The longer texts my students and I read and analyze together, well, I will admit that some of the really good ones are certainly not as challenging as some of the suggested texts listed in the CCSS documents, but I had already collaborated with colleagues, selecting some great novels and short stories long before CCSS came our way, and our intention was to incorporate these novels in the bigger interdisciplinary projects my team has developed over the years. I wasn't about to give up my best classroom novel sets just because CCSS suggested that Tom Sawyer was a challenging text for student readers; instead, I started using short excerpts from Tom Sawyer in my vocabulary lessons and in my skill-focused writing lessons, and those excerpt-inspired lessons focused on specific writing strategies, like dialogue or dialect. There is no place in CCSS where it says you have to read the entire Mark Twain text, and I'm going to brag and say I have since created some pretty great vocabulary lessons in my for-sale vocabulary packet that introduce my kids to well-written excerpts from that classic of literature (that I personally love but don't believe every kid in my classroom would benefit from me making them read it). The lesson below doesn't use an excerpt from Twain's T.S., but it makes use of a variety of pretty great poems--some harder and some easier--and I'll leave it to you to choose which metaphor-based poems your kids could have a good comprehension and grammatical discussion using in class. Common Core wants me to incorporate more challenging texts, I say those more challenging texts can be shorter ones, like excerpts and classics of poetry.

PLEASE REMEMBER ALWAYS that I provide these online lessons from my own classroom with the following disclaimer: these lessons are not meant to serve as some scripted lesson. Your job as a fellow teacher is to decide how you would adapt my idea here to fit your own classroom and its different set of students. One becomes a great writing teacher through borrowing and adapting; at least, that's how it happened to me. On this page is my teaching idea, and as you use it, you are instructed to adapt it recklessly. Make it your own somehow. And give credit for the things you choose to borrow at face value or pretty close to it, just as I have done with Holly's original lesson here and below.

Beginning the Lesson: Let us make that Common Core Police Patrol happy and start this lesson with a thoughtful, deep discussion about how poets and writers use metaphors differently; by the way, there are (hopefully) no Common Core Police actually at your school or mine...I'm playing with a metaphor as an attempt to be humorous in this time of educational reform. I don't mean to sound glib because I do believe that more teachers should be teaching well by using harder texts in thoughtful ways. For my lesson here, let's remember our Bloom's taxonomy as we plan a deep discussion, specifically remembering that the three highest levels of Bloom's are labeled with these three action verbs: analyze, evaluate, and create. Our goal here is to analyze the poems with the discussion tool I have created, to evaluate--at least--two of the provided poems by determining which author used his/her metaphor best--and why--, then ultimately to leave the lesson with the skill set to create an original metaphor (actually four of them!) in our writer's notebook for future reference. Ready? Let's prepare for a Common Core-worthy discussion.

First, you might want to review the difference between an abstract and a concrete noun, since that's what the deeper-level discussion tool is based on. To help you review, just below in the yellow table, you will find the original metaphor maker I created for the WritingFix website back in 2006 or 2007. One button reveals abstract nouns and the other button reveals concrete nouns. Using serendipity and random chance, can you press the buttons and end up with a justifiable metaphor? Try it! It's supposed to be fun and, every once in a while, you make a metaphor worth exploring.

Mr. Harrison's Serendipitous Metaphor Maker:
(link to this interactive prompt directly using this address at your own website: http://corbettharrison.com/free_lessons/Four-Metaphor-Poems.htm#button)
Does serendipity work as a writing prompt for you?
See if you can randomly create a metaphor your might use pressing the two buttons below...


A thoughtful tip from one writer to another: Don't forget about those lovely parts of speech known as adjectives. Pressing the two buttons will put some unmodified nouns in those two white fields, but there is no reason that you can't add a 10-cent or a 25-cent adjective in front either noun. If the first button comes up with "love," why not make your metaphor focus on "unconditional love" or "platonic love"? If the second noun comes up as "a fence," who's to say your metaphor can't make use of a "barbed wire fence" or a "white picket fence"? A good way to make a metaphor unique and one of a kind is to insert an interesting adjective in front of one or both of your nouns. Trust me...it works.


My kids like to play the above "button pressing" game best when we play this version of it: We have a Promethean Board up front, so I select one student writer to be "it." That student takes my Promethean pen and presses either the 'Abstract' or the 'Concrete' button once, then he/she turns his/her back to the Promethean after handing me back the Promethean pen. I start clicking the other button--once every four or five seconds--until someone shouts "Stop! That's a good one" when the serendipitous machine has created a useable metaphor. Let's say the student who is "It" has selected the abstract noun "luck" before turning his back to the board. The other students yelled "Stop! That's a good one" when the second noun--the concrete one--came up as "a dice." Everyone in the room can see the metaphor "Luck is a dice" except the "it" kid. Understand so far?

Students chat with a partner, and their task is to come up with a verb- or an adjective-inspired description that describes the second half of the metaphor poetically, without identifying it directly. I call on students to share, and we see how many descriptions it takes to clue the "it" kid in on the second half of his/her metaphor. I usually have to start the game with a great, cryptic teacher-model, like "It dances across a field of green felt." Then the other students start brainstorming and helping, and as I record their answers on the board, we end up with something that sounds poetic. We slap the original metaphor up above our five or six lines, and we have a metaphor poem.

Luck is a dice

It can dance lightly across a field of green felt.
When moshing with friends, it sounds like bones that are rattling.
Add what's on his opposite face to come up with a fortunate number.
He's the first piece lost when the new game has been unpacked.
Only six possibilities but it seems like so many more.

Discussing quality poems that contain a variety of metaphors...with some interesting thoughts about copyright included: I've always suspected that most metaphors are built using an abstract noun that is compared to a concrete noun--like the random metaphors that my yellow box above creates when you press the two buttons. I'm not sure how true my suspicion is, however, since I've never really analyzed any database of famous metaphor poems for that purpose. Shakespeare--and this I'm very sure of--preferred his metaphors to be abstract ideas compared to more concrete items. Other poets are different, and so this next portion of this lesson asks students to analyze the four possible types of metaphors that can be created if one is focusing on abstract and concrete nouns.

One of the two sets of handouts and poems just below are all poems that I would label with the term "classic" for want of more precise term. CCSS is asking me to include more sophisticated texts with my lessons, and I have very little problem doing that. The nice thing about the "classics" of poetry is that so many of the poems are pretty much in the "public domain" these days as far as copyright goes. As I stressed near the top of this lesson (stressed pretty vehemently, I might add!), I want this particular online lesson to do a competent job of show-casing what "giving credit when credit is due" looks like because--of late--I'm finding an awful lot of educators doing a pretty lousy job of citing or crediting me and my wife when they post our materials at their own websites. Poetry on the Internet can admittedly be tricky because there are a lot of people posting favorite poems--some modern, some classic--to their blogs and other online spaces, and it becomes a little muddled trying to figure out if a lot of those people even have the right to be posting the poems they are sharing and blogging about. Just below, I am going to post two things with the following important disclaimer:

  • First, and at left, I am going to post a six-page discussion handout I created for this lesson that contains six poems I am fairly confident are in the public domain; I feel confident enough that I am not violating anyone's copyright that I am actually saving and storing the six-page handout on my actual web server. The discussion prompts and questions I've included to foster a discussion are definitely my own creation, but the poems belong to Emily Dickinson, Edgar Lee Masters, and the other four poets whom I cite.
  • In researching poetic "mentor texts" for this lesson, I also found a cool one-page handout (it's the link on the right below) built using more modern metaphor poems posted at another teacher's website. I recognize many of these fine poems from one of the best student-friendly poetry anthologies that I've ever used: Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle. I know, it's a weird name; in fact, it's the name of one of the poems in the anthology. Here's what I want you to hear from me: I am not certain the teacher who posted this had the legal right to do so, and so--to cover my own educational rear-end (and I wish other teachers would do more of this too)--I am simply posting a link to it, and I am explaining why I am doing this. These poems and this second handout are NOT stored on my website. As long as someone else keeps the website where they are posted up and functioning, then these poems will be available as an additional discussion tool. If someone has a claim to the posted materials and wants to contact the owner of the website, they can, and the materials should be taken down. In truth, AUTHORS OF POEMS shouldn't have to do that; anyone posting anything that is not there own intellectual property at their own on-line spaces (websites, blogs, Weeblies, Wikispaces, etc.) needs to explain exactly where they found that material so that the origins can be traced and proper credit can be given.

I make my kids write every single class day, we revise some of our writing every week, and we publish something we're proud of every month for our portfolios. I go through the same writing process that I expect of them when I write up these free monthly lessons I share. In doing so, I have created some pretty smart educational tools for the web that accompany these free-to-access online lessons--like this really cool metaphor discussion prompt that goes specifically with this online lesson, which--except for the four revered poems and poets whom I openly cite--is totally a Corbett Harrison classroom original teaching tool. I post this educational document freely and have absolutely no expectation that it will make me any money at all. I just like to share as long as those who borrow from me somehow attempt to show me their gratitude by citing me with credit for the tool. If a fellow teacher wants to link to my document from their own website, oh my gosh, please do--I'll make it easy for you by providing you with the link to copy and paste into your own website's coding: http://corbettharrison.com/documents/lesson-docs/Metaphors/Metaphor-discussion-sheet.pdf By linking to this original version of the document found on my webpage, you keep all my page citations intact and the credit giving I intended is still present, which is usually all I want when I put a document like this out into the electronic world of the Internet. Sadly, there are some teachers out there who--instead of creating a link to my document-- do something they shouldn't do and that they most definitely know they shouldn't be doing: they save a copy from my website, they tweak and modify my original resource (often in doing so, they completely remove my attempt to share credit for an idea), and then they post a slightly different version of my work to their websites in a changed format; worse yet, when they post their modified version, they often do not bother to leave a note that explains where the document or its big idea originally came from. This means that in the future, teachers who happen across my document on another teacher's website may never know what really smart teacher (a.k.a. "Me!" and the other teachers I share credit with) created and posted the original idea way back in November of 2014. In my generous world of Internet sharing, that's just not okay, and if you know a teacher who is behaving in this way, we all need to work together to tell that teacher to stop it. Dena and I know it's a small minority of teachers who do this, but she and I have had numerous discussions where we've ultimately asked ourselves, "Why are we even sharing materials online when some teachers out there take the opportunity to steal from not only us but also from the teachers we've borrowed from and given credit to.

Handouts to Use When Discussing Different Types of Metaphors in Poetry...and a Simple Copyright Consideration
This is a 7-Page Handout I created using six poems that I feel pretty confident are in the public domain of the Internet.The initial page of my 7-page packet explains (using four examples from four of my absolute favorite poets) how I teach my students to classify metaphorical poems based on the types of nouns the poet used when making their comparisons. Following the initial page, you will have access to six different metaphor poems worthy of discussion. I have not numbered the pages because I leave it to you--oh, fellow teacher--to decide which of the six poems are appropriate and challenging enough for the students you are currently teaching. Me? I used all six and we rotate through 6 different stations with them in small groups, but admittedly some of the poems are a bit out of some of my students' ability to grasp their meaning at the truly deep level I believe the poets intended. Common Core asks us to make smarter use of more challenging texts, so I am providing a range of them here, but you don't have to use every poem that I have included in this 7-page resource packet.

Feel free to create a link to this handout from your own website. Please, however, don't save this document, modify it (even slightly), then repost it to a different website without--at the very least--explaining to your website's users, "This document was originally found at http://corbettharrison.com, and I modified it before re-posting it here at my website." I think that is common educational courtesy.

My initial interpretations of the six metaphor poems...these are certainly debate-able (and hopefully will be in your classroom)
"Hope is the Thing with Feathers"
by Emily Dickinson
Abstraction being compared to a concrete noun

"Roger Heston"
by Edgar Lee Masters
Abstraction being compared to a concrete noun

"Mother to Son"
by Langston Hughes
Abstraction being compared to a concrete noun

by Sylvia Plath
Abstraction being compared to an abstract noun

"Stopping by Woods on Snowy Evening"
by Robert Frost
Concrete noun being compared to an abstract noun

by Margaret Atwood
Abstract noun being compared to another abstract noun

This second handout I found at another writer's website (doing a simple Google search for "classic poems with metaphors," I believe it was), and I'll simply tell you I don't know if the person who posted this document violated any copyright laws, or if they are even the original creator of the document; I recognize many of the poems on this one-page handout as coming from the poetry anthology posted just above--it's got a boat on the cover. So I have simply provided a link to it instead of storing what might be an illegally posted series of poems. If you choose to use this other teacher's handout, I'm fine with that, but you should consider buying the pictured book (because it's a favorite anthology I use with my kids). Begin your discussion of that page of poems by discussing the classification system I introduce in this remarkable handout, which I did create and copyrighted and post here at my website. You have my permission, fellow educators, to reproduce as many hard copies of it as you need for use with your students; heck, you can even take the copyright off when running my one-page handout off for your student writers, but if you share it with another educator, I require that you keep my citation at the bottom of the page intact. Fair enough?

Thanks for respecting my metaphor discussion tool enough to honor it and citing me with the credit of its creation. I'd do the same for you if you shared an original document with me.

After a Group Discussion of Different Types of Metaphors, it's time to write a whole-class or small group "Four Metaphor Poem" inspired by the great children's book author, Mem Fox: I've met the wonderful author Mem Fox twice in my travels, and what an amazing lady with a sassy, sharp sense of humor. At each of those two meetings, we talked about a different favorite tome from her impressive collection. The first time we chatted about "Tough Boris" when I made it to the front of her autograph line, and I wanted to know which came first? The words to the book, or the idea behind the visual story that is told about the young stow-away? Mem revealed no secrets to that one, but I still have that autographed copy upstairs in my office. The second time I met her, it was at a fancy party with limited tickets put on by publishers at an IRA Conference in New Orleans. Two of my favorite Nevada teaching colleagues/personal mentors--Karen McGee and Carol Harriman--snuck me in to that exclusive party, and Carol and I ended up having a fantastic chat about "Wilfrid Gordon Partridge McDonald over a glass of wine with Mem. Just the three of us for probably no more than five minutes at a bar while they poured us some better-than-mediocre publisher-provided cabernet sauvignon. You know, There are cool moments you remember from a long career in education. Some involve "ah-ha" moments with students, some involve collaborative and inspiring moments with wonderful colleagues, and--if you're lucky--some involve the occasional gracious and wonderful author you get to meet and have a great moment to chat with.

If you're reading this by any chance, Mem, you totally touched my heart twice and probably didn't even know it.

"Tough Boris," in case you don't know this amazing picture book, is probably the shortest collection of patterned words that--along with the amazing side-story that's told exclusively in the illustrations--wallops an emotional punch and touches my cynical heart every time I flip through its pages. "Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge"--by comparison--uses considerably more language and tells an equally touching story. Wilfrid is a young boy growing up next door to an old folks' home. His favorite resident--Miss Nancy--is losing her memory, and Wilfrid is way too young to understand what that even means. Innocently, he asks, "What's a memory?" from five of his other favorite residents of the old folks home, and he receives five different answers, like "It's something warm" and "It's something that makes you laugh." Determined to bring memories back to his friend, he gathers a series of concrete nouns inspired by the different answers he has received. When he places the items in Miss Nancy's withered hands, she--at first--seems puzzled by the "gifts," but then she remembers. Each concrete noun he hands his friend triggers an abstract memory that Miss Nancy is able to share with her young friend.

My generous NNWP colleague and talented teaching friend Holly Esposito--who originally shared with me the poetry and writing lessons she created inspired by this sweet little mentor text back in 2005--she uses the book differently than I do when I present this lesson. I believe--when teaching students new writing activities and writing formats--that you need to follow the following formula to ensure that everyone has had enough experience before they are asked to write something independently: 1) after sharing the format/idea for writing, compose a whole-class version of the writing that can be posted as a reminder at any time; 2) after writing a whole-class piece of writing, ask students to write a new model (using a different topic) with a small group or a capable partner; 3) only after having written something twice with support should you challenge kids to write an example on their own. I follow this formula for dozens of my Writer's Notebook challenges, for all of my vocabulary & writing activities, and for many of my poetry challenges. Holly assigned this poetry task to her freshmen and sophomores, so they went straight to writing independent drafts without all the bonus group-writing support I try to put in place for my middle school writers. Here is a Wilfrid-Gordon-inspired poem written by a ninth grade writer:

Metaphor #1 by Jenna
Metaphor #2 by Jenna
Metaphor #3 by Jenna
Metaphor #4 by Jenna
A memory is a tarnished copper coin concealed under leaves in the gutter on the walk home from school, waiting for a child to find it.  Or is it? A memory is the warm smell of fresh bread, wafting from your mother's kitchen, teasing one's taste buds an hour before dinner.  Or is it? A memory is that texture of sand pebbles scratching between the toes of beach-goers who dash towards the tide.  Or is it? A memory is the nameless song that you hear on the radio that always makes you think of that certain someone, and that always makes you want to dance.  Or is it?
These four metaphors then came together to create a four-stanza poem, that we call a "Four Metaphor Poem"
My Poem for Miss Nancy by Jenna T., ninth grade poet from Sparks, Nevada. Click title to open poem.

So here's how ninth-grader Jenna created her Mem Fox-inspired poem. In the picture book, the five different responses Wilfrid receives to his question "What's a memory?" that Wilfrid asks of five different characters are:

  • It's something warm...
  • It's something that makes you laugh...
  • It's something as precious as gold...
  • It's something that makes you cry...
  • It's something from long ago...

Of course, let's address the white elephant in the room (which is an expression I made up from two other expressions, by the way, and it always makes my wife laugh). Based on this mentor text, we could have written a "Five-metaphor Poem," but how much more fun is it to say "Four-Metaphor Poem" than 'Five-Metaphor Poem"? Am I right? Can I get an "Amen!" in the spirit of word-play. Feel free to adapt Holly's original idea into a "Five Metaphor Poetry" assignment, if you must, just be sure to cite her original idea properly: "This lesson is an adaptation of Holly Esposito's 'Four-Metaphor Poetry Lesson,' which was originally posted at the WritingFix website." See how easy it is to cite? On another side note, I like how students will have an idea brainstorm for five different possibilities for this four stanza poetry task. This will allow students to eliminate the stanza brainstorm that seemed the weakest of the lot.

In small groups or as a whole class, my students can very easily brainstorm as many concrete nouns in each of these five categories as possible, which--after brainstorming poetic descriptions for their concrete nouns (see my "Luck is a Dice" poem above)--will enable to them to begin creating a rough draft of a 'Four Metaphor Poem" for a whole-class poem or a small group poem or a partner poem, or an individual poem. My goal is that I want students to create an original "Four-Metaphor Poem" that incorporates one thoughtful abstract noun (that is not "memory," since that's the topic explored by this lesson's mentor text). The trick of this brainstorm is that you have to guide students to brainstorm "warm things" that also help their reader think logically about memories. If a student claims "Lava is warm," you need to point out that very people have personal memories of a time they saw actual lava that created a warm a memory for them in the spirit of the warm idea the author was hinting at. The "warm items" they ultimately list must be things that many people would say, "Oh yeah, that's a memory a lot of other people have in their brains too." If you help your students think about things like "warm oatmeal cookies fresh from Grandma's oven" or "eating s'mores by the campfire while on our annual Memorial Day camping trip," or "snuggling with the family's now-deceased labrador under afghan blankets while watching television at night," then those are things that make sense on this brainstorm, not "lava."

It's now time to start exploring interesting nouns for unique metaphors. After we've written a practice "Four-Metaphor Poem" about Memory thanks to the inspiration of Mem Fox's children's book and 9th-grade Nevada poet Jenna T., it's time to start brainstorming other metaphor nouns with possibility. The metaphors chosen for this next portion of the writing process have to have "possibility" because the student is actually going to create four different metaphors that are linked by one shared concrete or abstract noun. Me? I've had much more luck with this poetry assignment and exploration of metaphors with abstract nouns, but I'm always on the look out for a student who defies the trend I just established with that sentence! Send me your concrete-noun-inspired Four-Metaphor Poems to me any time at corbett@corbettharrison.com. If you send me a really good one,I'll make sure tens of thousands of people see it. I seriously will.

I have had my students set-up a page with four quadrants in their writer's notebooks, but there are certainly other ways to ensure that the students' developing brainstorms (which I like to keep coming back to over and over again for three to four weeks) are safely stored in one place. I like the Writer's Notebook idea because I regularly host "Best Writer's Notebook Page of the Month" or "...of the Week" to inspire excellence in planning and decorating of students' great ideas in their notebooks. Before students set-up their page, they really should have gone through a thinking exercise wherein they brainstorm and commit to an interesting enough topic (be it concrete or abstract) that is worthy of four interesting metaphors, and--with my kids' limited experiences in the world--can be tough on them.

Here are some techniques I've successfully used in the past to help my young writers commit to a worthwhile topic for the metaphors that "drive" their Four-Metaphor Poems::

  • If you know my Mr. Stick Resource Page (which I hope you cite properly at your own websites!), then you definitely know how cool my "Mr. Stick's Emotional Faces Handout" is (see thumbnail at right). Ironically after all this spouting off about the importance of citing materials well, this document is one resource I share here at my website that I have no idea where it actually came from; someone sent it to me electronically after watching my "Mr. Stick Demonstration Lesson" that I used to do for my Northern Nevada Writing Project when they used to sponsor local conferences and cool classes that gave out a smorgasbord of fun ways to improve the writing strategies you used with your students. Anyway, after you've deleted the 'hung over' and the 'loaded' faces, have students analyze the remaining faces for three three or four emotions they have had the most personal experience with. I've had many a student in the past who found the topic for their "Four-Metaphor Poems" from the emotions listed and illustrated on that wonderful handout that I can't properly cite...as much as I'd like to.
  • We play fun game called "Abstract Noun ABCs," where my students are required to create an ABC list of 26 unique abstractions. My students' goal: have ten abstract nouns on their list that not one other person in class thought to include. Here is my ABC list from my writer's notebooks with M. C. Hammer ("Can't Touch This!") as my Abstract Noun 'Poster Child.' When we are brainstorming interesting topics for our Four-Metaphor Poems, we hoot and holler as we look back at these decorated lists from our own notebooks. Click on the image at right to experience the whole M. C. Hammer Writer' Notebook experience with all its pomp, circumstance, and grandeur.
  • For the fast version of the two bulleted techniques above, you can simply hand out a list of abstract nouns. They are easy enough to find using Google and typing search strings as logical as "list of abstract noun," but you obviously have to preview the lists before running them off; there are a lot of adult-themed abstract nouns out there. But why give them a list, I always ask. I am a believer in student brainstorming their own lists, and there are easy parameters/formats (like an ABC list or an acrostic poem for any word(s) to challenge them to follow that would encourage a thorough and uniquely interesting list from each student. If you're rushed for time, though, here are two lists I have found, edited for student appropriateness, (and properly cited!) on the documents because that's what a responsible educator who posts electronic versions of documents does. Enough already, right, Corbett?

Are You Really Teaching the Writing Process? If so, you should have student samples of this poetry lesson to share. Shhhh....don't tell my wife's students this fact, but she used to create fictional student samples the first time she'd teach a new lesson. Her invented student was named "Joey--age 12," and he authored quite a few pseudo-samples over the years for her. Why? Because my wife is an incredibly wise teacher who understands that when students see a fairly competent (though still with minor mistakes) example of the writing, they are more likely to believe that they--too--can create a competent example. Over the years, Dena and I invented some fabulously fake back-stories for young Joey. He became more interesting than quite a few of our actual students.

Me? I try not to publish any of my lessons online without having run through them more than one time because I like to iron out any rough patches, so by the time year two comes around, I usually have numerous student samples to choose from and post once I ask my students' permission. When I authored and self-published my "7 Elements of a Differentiated Writing Lesson" workshop back in 2007, I made sure that modeling was broken into two separate-but-equally-important elements when planning and building a high-caliber, differentiated writing lesson: 1) student models and 2) teacher models. As part of the pre-writing process, I think it's very important for students to intelligently analyze and discuss others students' and their own teacher's writing. Why? They see high quality (though not perfect) examples, and they can borrow structural or stylistic techniques from the models that really speak to them.

Please enjoy the following samples, and please know that I've quite intentionally included samples from a wide variety of grade levels to prove a point that I will now explain to you. At least five times a month, some kind-hearted teacher emails me and says something along the lines of, "I like your website's ideas, but is there anyone publishing lessons for grades other than middle school?" Hey! I'm tired of hearing this question. You know what makes a good writing teacher? Someone who reads another lesson (like this one) and says, "I really like this idea, and I couldn't do it exactly the way it's presented here, but here's how I could modify it to inspire my kids with similar thinking and similar expectations." I'm not lying when I say the following: Some of the very best ideas I brought into my own high school writing classes were stolen and adapted from the amazing kindergarten teacher who co-taught our university's K-16 Writing Methods Summer School Class with me between 2003-and 2008. Her name is Jodie Black (check out her website!) , and she stole and adapted just as many ideas from to try with her 5-year-olds. Teachers who will never be great writing teachers honestly think that ideas for writing assignments can be isolated to certain grade levels,or that writing challenges are too easy or too hard for their own kids, or they want someone to provide them an exact script and list of resource to teach their specialized group of kids. My friend Jodie (who is also my mentor, my colleague, and my constant inspiration) and I never think that way; instead, we say, "That's a cool idea from your classroom. Here's how I'd make that work with my students."

Four Four-Metaphor Poems by Student Writers of Many Ages
by Joseph, third grade poet

A dream is a door
To wonderful worlds
Where everything can be anything
And nothing can be harmed.

A dream is a birthday cake
A sweet thing to make us happy
And wishes made will come true
To fill our lives with glee.

A dream is a pillow
To soften hard times
And help us forget bad events
To make things easy in your sleep.

A dream is a campfire
To glow and light the path
To brighten your life
And to warm and protect you.

by Danielle, fourth grade poet

Pride is a rock
Hard and smooth
Pretty yet ugly
Light yet heavy.

Pride is a good grade
Given to us by hard work
Smiles yet frowns
Clapping and cheering.

Pride is your kin and friends
Sad and happy moments
Looking back
Laughing yet crying.

Pride is a smart decision
Difficult yet easy
Right but wrong
Truthful yet lying.

by Ben, fifth grade poet

Happiness is a book,
Changing on every page,
Sometimes you'll get a milkshake; sometimes you'll get spinach,
Like an ocean wave, going up and down.

Happiness is a ship,
Sailing on an ocean,
Like notes in a song, up and down,
A work of art.

Happiness is a milkshake,
Cold and tasty,
Quite a treat,
Until you get a brain freeze.

Happiness is a piece of chocolate,
Sweet and tasty,
Melts in your mouth,
But doesn't last forever.

by Mikayla, eighth grade poet

Is a pillow
It’s comfortable to lay
your head on, but after time
it loses its fluff.

Is a vacuum
It eventually sucks up
all the fun out of life.

is an ocean, it can
pull you under and
make you drown.

Is a ball, it bounces
back and hits you in the face.
Click here to print this poem as well as three of Joseph's classmates' poems. Thanks to WritingFix for still housing these student samples worthy of discussion! Click here to print this poem as well as three of Danielle's classmates' poems. Thanks to WritingFix for still housing these student samples worthy of discussion! Click here to print this poem as well as three of Ben's classmates' poems. Thanks to WritingFix for still housing these student samples worthy of discussion! Click here to print this poem as well as two of Mikayla's classmates' poems. Thanks to WritingFix for still housing these student samples worthy of discussion!
Celebrate your students' best four-metaphor poems by publishing them online using our "Writing Lesson of the Month" Ning.

In its heyday, teachers were self-publishing to WritingFix's Ning, and over a dozen new pieces of original student writing were going up every week. Dena & I took over the expense of keeping both WritingFix and its Ning online because we didn't want to ever lose those amazing samples (at the Ning) which were inspired by those amazing teacher-related lessons (at WritingFix). If you teach this "Four Metaphor Poem" lesson and end up with several examples that really outshine the others, celebrate those students' words by publishing them at the Ning. Show Dena and me that it's worth our time to keep paying for the Ning's existence. You can publish "Four Metaphor Poems" using this link; you do need to be a member of the Ning to post, and you do need to join the Ning's "Online Student Publishing" group.

You know me...It would be amiss to not give out a shout-out idea for linking this poetry lesson to writer's notebook opportunity! I used to require journals, but my students disliked keeping them as much as I disliked maintaining mine back in high school. Six years ago, after reading the awesome handbook by Ralph Fletcher--A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You--I tried again. Without any doubt, my writer's notebook routine is one of the best things going on in my classroom. My kids are doing more writing than any past group of students ever has, and they actually like the writing they put into their writer's notebooks.

I'm sitting here right now, putting finishing touches on this lesson here at my new desk in my newly renovated home office, and I have to confess that I purposely created a new shelf right above my printer where I can store and easily access my own growing collection of personal writer's notebooks. I now have six of them, and each of them is wonderful in its own unique way. Each month--as some of you are now noticing at the Lesson of the Month Page--I have been posting a different page from one of my six notebooks, and I am forever encouraging teachers during my workshops and keynotes to begin a writer's notebook of their own. I used to have zero of my own writer's notebooks; now I have six, and soon there will be a seventh and an eighth on the shelf. I remember how daunting the idea of starting a notebook sounded when I had zero of them, but I started, and now I can't and won't stop. Just start one if you haven't. A year from now, your kids are so going to want to hear about the things you've taken the time to write about in yours. Mine do. And I love to hear about theirs, and I love to encourage them to experiment in a fun way with topics in their notebooks.

I said earlier in this lesson write-up that I used to receive some pretty shallow, insipid metaphors from my students who didn't prefer to think metaphorically if given the option. A writer's notebook is a great tool for developing a deeper-than-shallow ideas because you can "reserve" a page (by giving it a title and drawing a set of empty boxes you can later fill with writing), and I thought it would be fun to require students to start a metaphor, write it down in one of four boxes you sketch on a notebook page, then come back to it a week and fill in another box with a different metaphor for the same topic. My next sentence is a long one, but it's worth reading a few times, I think. If you faithfully had students add a new metaphor--say every Friday for four weeks-- then announced, "By the way, boys and girls, we're going to start a poetry lesson called 'Four Metaphor Poems,' and look, you have a page in your notebook with four metaphors on it that can start your brain thinking about what this poetry assignment asks your to do." Me? I wouldn't let them use the four notebook metaphors from the four weeks to write their actual poem; instead, I would use it as their official practice poem before they wrote a Four-Metaphor Poem on a topic of true importance to them. You--of course--are invited at every twist and turn at this website to adapt my ideas so that they work for you, your students, and any administrator with a clipboard who may be lurking around the corner, so you don't have to follow my advice on that at all. A writer's notebook should be about giving your students the freedom to write about any topic they're interested in using unique styles and structures. My kids would never think of writing four metaphors about the same item (abstract or concrete) on their own, but if I had them do it for fun as an exercise in class to prep their brains for a lesson, then if I reminded (several times over the school year) that we had had fun with creating that page, I can guarantee that I would have wonderful kids who would start independently creating one-page tributes in their notebooks to topics they were interested in, and their pages would be built from four or more metaphors.

To prep for Valentine's Day a few years back in January, I had my writers set-up a four-quadrant page and then--over four weeks--they created four metaphorical tributes to the emotion of love. Each week we came back to the same notebook page, and they had ten minutes to add and decorate a new metaphor they'd thought of about love. When we were finished, everyone nominated their favorite metaphor from their four, and I photographed just the nominated ones. We printed them in black and white, then hung them up and down the hallway, and on Valentine's Day, they had to walk up and down the hallway and write a Four-Metaphor Poem using the best ideas they borrowed from their classmates. We'd already done a "Four Metaphor Poem" about a self-chosen topic in the Fall, and this was a great way to revisit metaphors and the poetry format, but also to remind them that their writer's notebook is the perfect place to write interesting metaphors; I particularly loved how it gave them permission to call three of their metaphors "stinky" and to choose only one that we would photograph and post.

I'm glad Isaveed these. Below, you can click on my teacher-model (which has all four of my love metaphors ready to be analyzed) and you can click on four of my past students' "best metaphors" from the exercise. These then-seventh-graders are now all high school juniors. I wonder if their attitudes about the emotion love has changed at all?

Writer's Notebook Pages: Develop a Page Over Time that Creates Four Metaphorical Comparisons about Something Interesting

Mr. Harrison's complete page of 4 metaphors

7th grader Toni's favorite love metaphor

7th grader Wonje's favorite love metaphor

7th grader Mitchell's favorite love metaphor

7th grader Chris's favorite love metaphor

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Our Annual September Writer's Notebook Metaphor Contest: Entries are Due September 30, 2017
We are proud to now be hosting an annual Writer's Notebook Metaphor Contest every September. We began this idea formally in 2014, and when we saw such amazing new metaphors in 2015 when we ran it again, we felt we could really develop and celebrate a place to celebrate metaphorical thinking about one's own writer's notebook.

The contest is simple: After learning to like their writers' notebooks because of your quality teaching, have your students create and decorate an original metaphor about their writer's notebook! My students use their metaphors as a "cover page" to their own writer's notebooks. Any K-12 teacher is allowed to send three entries from their classrooms! Four winners will be chosen, and those winners will be used to inspire a "Four Metaphor Poem" (written by me--Corbett Harrison!) about writer's notebooks that will be published here at this website.

The idea for this contest came from two of our favorite mentor texts:

  1. In the great Ralph Fletcher's A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer within You, his introductory chapter establishes a beautiful metaphor about his own writer's notebook, and I use that metaphor as an example of a unique way to think about a writer's notebook. Fletcher says his writer's notebook is a ditch you dig. Read the chapter aloud with your students because he explains his thinking beautifully and let it inspire your students to craft their own unique metaphors;
  2. Mem Fox's Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (one of the books cited in the poetry lesson above) is one I bring out to teach my students to write four-metaphor poems about topics they care about in their writer's notebook. Each year, I try to write a new four-metaphor poem about writer's notebooks, and I use the winning student metaphors from this contest to inspire my new poem each year!

September 30 is always the deadline for teachers to enter up to three entries of writer's notebook metaphors; entries can be e-mailed to me at corbett@corbettharrison.com as either scans or as digital photos of students' work. I will contact the teachers whose students' metaphors are chosen, and they will receive a free copy of any product from our Teachers Pay Teachers Store; in addition, winning metaphors will be put into a Four-Metaphor Poem that other teachers can use and share when teaching the popular lesson above, and my hope in doing this is to give you and your students credit for their wonderful ideas.

Below, you will see the past three years' winning metaphors as well as the four-metaphor poems I created inspired by those students' wonderful ideas!

My 2016 Four-Metaphor Poem about Writer's Notebooks
(Click poem to open a printable PDF copy)
The Winning 2016 Student Metaphors
(Click images to open/repin them at Pinterest)

Sixth grader Shayna's metaphor:
"My writer's notebook is a train."
Shayna's teacher: Ms. Rosenthal (Pennsylvania)

Seventh grader Ali's metaphor:
"My writer's notebook is a dandelion field."
Ali's teacher: Ms. Stein (Washington)

Sixth grader Ella's metaphor:
"My writer's notebook is a vein."
Ella's teacher: Ms. Murray (Ohio)

Seventh grader Emilia's simile:
"My writer's notebook is like a caterpillar."
Emilia's teacher: Ms. Gruenhagen (Michigan)


My 2015 Four-Metaphor Poem about Writer's Notebooks The Winning 2015 Student Metaphors

Seventh grader Aaron's metaphor:
"My writer's notebook is an ocean..."
Aaron's teacher: Ms. Stein (Washington)

Eighth grader Will's metaphor:
"My writer's notebook is like the wind..."
Will's teacher: Ms. Shanahan (Kansas)

Sixth grader Jelanique's metaphor:
"My writer's notebook is my fabric...."
Jela's teacher: Ms. Sklar (Illinois)

Eighth grader Collin's metaphor:
"My writer's notebook is a popcorn bowl..."
Collin's teacher: Ms. Gruenhagen (Michigan)


My 2014 Four-Metaphor Poem about Writer's Notebooks The Winning 2014 Student Metaphors

Seventh grader Hannah's metaphor:
"My writer's notebook is a beehive..."
Hannah's teacher: Ms. Kimball (California)

Eighth grader Tim's simile:
"My writer's notebook is like the wind..."
Tim's teacher: Ms. Shanahan (Kansas)

Sixth grader Kazi's metaphor:
"My writer's notebook is a crystal jar."
Kazi's teacher: Ms. Napoli (New York)

Ninth grader Lily's metaphor:
"Writing is a car."
Lily's teacher: Ms. Potenzini (Ohio)