Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison, and I have been an educator and a teacher-trainer since August of 1990. 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. Every year, I challenge myself to improve my instruction: I am curretly developing grammar and vocabulary lessons so that they're differentiated and promote deep, critical thinking skills, and I incorporate them into my classroom routines to promote a student-centered classroom environment.

The Northern Nevada district I serve has a "balanced calendar" that has me teaching from early August to early June, and during my 7 weeks of summer and during my two annual two-week breaks, I independently contract to present workshops to school districts and professional organizations around the country.

The winter and spring of 2017 are mostly booked up at this point. Beginning in mid-June, I will be available to present at summer workshops in your district or state.

You can find general information about my workshops here.

If you would like to check my availability for summer of 2017, please contact me at this 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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Contact me through my e-mail address with questions/comments about this lesson: Corbett@CorbettHarrison.com

Here's one of my original Vocabulary & Mr. Stick-inspired lessons. Way back when, over the summer of 1996, I embarked on one of the most life-changing professional experiences of my career: The Northern Nevada Writing Project's Summer Invitational. Our local National Writing Project chapter--the NNWP--is one of the oldest in the country. I was just beginning my Master's Degree that summer, and I applied for their summer institute, which promised to make me a better writing teacher. They accepted my application, and five weeks later, I left that class ready to be the best writing teacher I could be. I owe every ounce of my writing teaching skills to this summer program. It began my transformation from "teacher who assigns writing" to "teacher who teaches writing." I loved that Summer Institute so much, that I eventually agreed to serve as the NNWP's director from 2002-2007.

Not only did the NNWP turn me into a better writing teacher, they turned me into a teacher leader for my state and district. Back then, I admittedly had a lot of charisma, drive, and developing educator skills that I wanted to develop further, but I had no venue to prove my potential to anyone other than my own 175+ high school students that I inherited each year. Our local NNWP used to sponsor theme-based teacher-workshops and institutes for principals, and they began hiring me to present at these functions, and it didn't take long for people to know my name and to know I was a go-to-guy if a school was trying to improve its writing curriculum. Earning my Masters was the accomplishment I needed to do to be asked to start teaching the NNWP's college courses, both graduate and undergraduate, and that's eventually what got me noticed enough to be asked to serve as the NNWP's Director for five years. I still--on occasion--present for the NNWP, but these days I'm hired more to present outside of Nevada than I am hired to present in my own county.

When you are an active member of a local chapter of the National Writing Project, you become involved in (or you initiate) local projects that are intended to improve the quality of writing instruction in your region. I have three favorite NNWP projects that I initiated, hired fellow consultants to help me with, and put out there for fellow teachers to learn from: 1) the development of the WritingFix website; 2) the creation of the "Going Deep with 6 Trait Language" Guide; and 3) our "iPods across the Curriculum" workshops, which solidly made use of great music as mentor texts for writing lessons. WritingFix was a website that I had purchased with the intent to develop in 1999, and in 2001 the NNWP (along with several other sponsors) helped us hire some really smart teachers to grow the website into an amazing resource. The "Going Deep..." guide was a print resource we created using local teachers' best 6-trait ideas, and we used the guide as the "textbook" in all of our 6-trait workshops and inservice classes; we, also, began selling that guide (through WritingFix), and we made some impressive money that--in a time of national educational funding crises--kept our NNWP thriving for many years while other writing project chapters floundered. The 'iPods Workshop" was just the coolest idea for a grant, and the lessons our participants crafted using music as a mentor text, brought so much attention to our Northern Nevada Writing Project; when we presented that music/technology-inspired grant at the NCTE in San Antonio, our NNWP was in its heyday of being noticed on the national level. I wish our NNWP was still thriving as much as it did in that now-past heyday, but the organization is still kicking and making some good things happen at a local level.

I cite the above, long-winded story as my introduction to this lesson for a reason. I did great things for my NNWP during the years I was an active member. Why? Because my NNWP had done great things for me, starting way back in the summer of 1996. The dozen or so projects I oversaw as Director were all smart, well-planned and research-based, and they made our NNWP stand out on a national level. By all rights, I should be remembered for the three awesome projects I mention above...and yet...what the majority of local teachers and administrators remember me most for was my silly workshop: "Mr. Stick and the Cave-Wall Journal." My goodness, it was a trivial little idea. Sigh, it wasn't based on any real research. It was just fun, and it made my kids like writing in their journals more. And it became weirdly popular.

Between1999 and 2007 (the years I was doing regular side-work for my NNWP), I'll bet I delivered that hysterically fun workshop to everyone from kindergartners and college professors, and I probably close to 100 times. Now don't get me wrong, my "Mr. Stick materials" became smarter over the years and and I added research after-the-fact. I still use them in teaching today because they're both good and they're ffective...but they're not the best idea I ever pushed on people. I genuinely worry that--after all the big, amazing things I have done, it's Mr. Stick that will be mentioned on my epitaph.

There, I said it. Now...enjoy this lesson. My students had a great time playing with Mr. Stick as we wrote parodies. If you click on Mark's parody (above-right image), you can zoom in on its details, but more importantly, you can read the interesting words Mark has attempted to use in a classroom context as required by this lesson.

Like this lesson's big idea? Like my students' writing samples? Follow Me at Pinterest to access all my educational boards. I have a special "Mr. Stick as Writer's Notebook Mascot" board that shows off some pretty impressive writer's notebook pages from my writers. My kids used to hate their "journals," but when we changed them to 'writer's notebooks,' and I allowed them to use Mr. Stick as a visual tool after they've written for ten minutes, they stopped hating those spiral-bound places to record thinking skills. If you really want to be impressed, check out my Mr. Stick of the Year Contest Winners board; those examples are from the kids who truly care about making their notebook visual and amazing. Be prepare to be a bit intimidated.

This lesson in a nutshell: Students, working with partners and inspired by strong vocabulary words, brainstormed, drafted, revised, and published a four-panel comic strip that showed two dichotomous extremes of acceptable and non-acceptable student behavior during class time at our school and on our teams. My soon-to-graduate eighth graders created these, and the best ones will hang in our various classrooms next year to educate and entertain our eighth graders (who were last year's seventh graders), as well as our new incoming seventh and sixth graders. The eighth graders knew they would have this potential audience for this task next year because we believe in having an authentic audience in mind on all our writing across the curriculum tasks.

My nutty philosophy that drives this assignment: This spring, we certainly did a lot of academic prep work for our final test during the 90-minute block periods they gave us in the weeks before final exams were upon us. I like block schedule a lot, and I have become pretty skilled as integrating fun-but-useful writing activities to help break up the monotony of the 100% academic subject matter we must cover and practice during that time as well. Ten minutes of Sacred Writing Time is always my classroom opener where students have fun with writing, and they must write, but they aren't required to be focused on anything too rigid or academic. This "Goofus & Gallant Parody" task was an assignment we spread out over three different days, giving about twenty-five minutes on each of those days to progress through the assignment. These twenty-five minute "breaks" came at convenient stopping points in the middle of the highly academic preparatory work we were doing for the final. The kids had to physically get up and move to their "Goofus & Gallant Partners," which is always important, and they had to laugh while they drafted and finalized these.

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A Mr. Stick-inspired Vocabulary & Storyboarding Activity
reviewing vocabulary while having fun with the word dichotomy:
Goofus & Gallant Parodies
establishing/reviewing classroom rules/routines while creative writing

My wife and I debate over how you say the second character's name in this comic strip which debuted in Children's Highlights magazine in 1948. I believe I first encountered the cartoon pair in our family dentist's office back in the 1970's, and I was more of a reader than a talker back then; as a result, I mispronounced a lot of words that I read and never asked about. My wife puts the stress on Gallant's name on the first syllable, so it almost rhymes with talent; she is probably right, but I still like to use my pronunciation: gull-AWNT.

I teach the tar out of THEME in my classroom. Common Core Standards never worried me much because all of my literature units' essential questions are purposely theme-based, not reading comprehension based. I have learned a lot of tricks over the years for helping kids discuss and discover thematic elements in the novels we read without me having to tell them exactly what to look for. One of those tricks/tools is to teach them to search for characters who are or who represent dichotomies of each other. If you compare Napoleon and Snowball in Animal Farm to each other, discussing exactly how those two pigs are are opposites, well, that begins the discovery of a theme from the novel, and I want my kids to be able to spot those types of things on their own and to be able to discuss themes they can put into their own words.

A month or so before I did the story-boarding assignment below, we used a partner-rotation game and this worksheet to brainstorm a list of interestingly-worded dichotomies: no good versus bad's were allowed on their lists; I was looking for devilish versus angelic. Working with a series of partners, at the end of our rotations and our quick discussions, each student had composed a definition and a list of ten unique, well-worded dichotomies. I then ask students to store their lists in their writer's notebook pockets, and during the next week or two, before they started their ten minute bouts of Sacred Writing, they were asked to look at their list to see if any of the dichotomous pairs jumped out at them as a "writing spark."

Having students discuss and discover dichotomies is something they're very used to doing when we talk about the books, stories, and poetry we read. It's just one of many tricks (or tools) you give students when you want them to always be searching for theme.

Goofus and Gallant are dichotomous characters; one is so good, you kind of almost want to punch him, and the other is so inconsiderate, all you can do is wonder what the heck his parents were doing when he was supposed to be learning social skills. To me, the brilliance of Goofus and Gallant are the names they were given. "The Simpsons," still one of my favorite shows because of its writing team, ruined the name Bart for probably the rest of time. I went to school with a kid named Bart, and he was a nice enough kid, and I have been teaching for the entire run of "The SImpsons," and I feel pretty confident I will never meet a kid named Bart again. Goofus and Gallant aren't real names, but they're based on English words that have definite positive and negative connotations, so no names have actually been tainted.

A beginning of the year or an end of the year activity? This assignment could easily be used as both. I chose to use it in the late spring, and I chose to use it as a fun way for my graduating eighth graders to leave something fun behind for their teachers to hang in their classrooms for next year's eighth graders to see. It could just as easily work in the fall, when rules or routines are being taught. If you've not used Mr. Stick before, it could be the perfect way to introduce him as a tool for adding visuals to their writing assignments.

My mentor text for this lesson:

"Highlights" Magazine, which celebrated its 65th birthday in 2011.

 


Goofus and Gallant became a regular feature almost two years after the magazine began being published in 1946.

I started the lesson by first showing them some classic Goofus and Gallant comics I found posted on the Internet:

I then showed them some of the modern variations of Goofus and Gallant that have occurred in the past 65+ years they been regular features in the magazine:

Vocabulary activity: With each example set of Goofus & Gallant comics I show them, they receive a vocabulary challenge. We collect "25-cent words" in my classroom; a "25-cent" word is one that requires a context clue or a dictionary to define (like inexorable). If you follow my work here at my website, you know that each week my students "publish" four 25-cent words they discover in their reading assignments. This is our vocabulary program, and it really works for me. A 10-cent word is a high-quality word that we can explain without needing context clues or dictionaries (like reckless), a 5-cent word is one that the brain has learned so well that an explanation seems ridiculous (like pretty), and our 1-cent words are your "sight words" from kindergarten and first grade. 1-cent words include most prepositions and pronouns too.

The vocabulary challenge we do with the Goofus & Gallant comics is two-part:

  • Part one: With partners, students have to brainstorm three 10-cent words for the two boys' behavior. In the example above, students might come up with 10-cent examples like careless, risky, and hazardous for Goofus, and cautious, alert, and shielded for Gallant. I like to play this part of the game like you play Boggle or Scattegories, which means if another group think is the same 10-cent word you did, you both have to cross it off. We don't really play for points or prizes, but this extra element to the "game" makes the kids try to think of more original 10-cent words.
  • Part two : Switch partners and have students share their 10-cent words to note differences in the lists. Students will now need a thesaurus and a dictionary, so we ended up doing this part in small groups of four--since I don't have as many thesauruses as I dictionaries. They now owe you two 25-cent words for each boy's action. Words must be found in the thesaurus and verified in the dictionary. I don't know about you, but I have a bunch of kids who find a thesaurus word that they use, but they use it incorrectly, even though I tell them that some synonyms only work in certain contexts. If they look up dangerous in the thesaurus and find murderous or desperate, they need to understand that in the context of the picture, they are misusing a synonym. If they find negligent and check it in the dictionary to find it means "failing to take proper care in doing something," then they can justify the context of the synonym. Here is a worksheet I used during this portion of the activity; please note to your students that I made sure I found a comic example that cited the original version of the magazine the comic appeared in, and that not all Internet finds are that generous in helping a searcher find the most original source of an image. We wrote our 25-cent words for the four comic panels shown on the worksheet right next to the pictures of the boys. I showed them three other panels on the Smartboard, and that's what the space for "25-cent" adjectives at the bottom of the page was for. Part two of the activity took two days to compete, devoting about 20 minutes of time to each day to completing the worksheet and learn to check the dictionary to make sure they've chosen synonyms that actually make sense. 8th graders Jess & Jacie (their sample is at right) did a pretty good job of integrating 25-cent words correctly into their comic strip parody, which featured Atrocio & Merit as their two dichotomous characters. Click on the image to be able to read their sentences and take note of their visual details.

Storyboarding activity: My student share the same math, science, history, and Language Arts teacher (me). When I assigned this activity to my 8th graders, they knew each of their core curriculum teachers pretty well, they knew our routines, our idiosyncrasies, and our ways of dealing with their occasional mischief. I believe in assignments with options and choices, and I believe in assignments that reward the students who go above and beyond. So I set this up as a little friendly competition, and because we were running out of time before finals, I allowed this to be a partner-task. Next year, I'll be sure to make it an individual assignment as I am sure I had some partnerships out there with only half the partnership really contributing to the final product. We live, we teach, we learn from our mistakes; each lesson is a learning experience for this twenty-four year veteran teacher too.

Anyway, the assignment was straight-forward enough. Using this rough draft worksheet, the students were to plan for:

  1. Original character names that couldn't be real names for people--like Goofus & Gallant;
  2. Original dichotomous forms of behavior to illustrate for and provide a caption for; I asked them to focus all four of their comic panels on the same teacher's classrooms, mainly so we could hang the really good ones up in that teacher's room at the beginning of next year;
  3. A 25-cent adjective or verb that fits the character's behavior in each of their four comic panels.

Once the rough drafts were created, we shared them in small groups, asking for improvement suggestions. With the go-ahead from me, students were allowed to create a final draft of their Goofus & Gallant parodies. Below are some examples from my students.

Eighth Student Samples from my Goofus & Gallant Parody Assignment
All right, here's my disclaimer before you start clicking on these. These were due one week before we took our 8th grade Language Arts final exam, and if you've never met an eighth grader during the last month of school, you should know that they've mentally checked out of school just about completely at that point. These samples are good and competent, but they're not as excellent as I had hoped for...forgive their sloppy spelling and occasional overlooking of one of the assignment's requirements.

Hannah and Sydni submitted this parody which features the characters Amiable and Blatant. Click on the image to be able to zoom in on all of these samples to read the writing. Nico chose to go solo with this task, which I was fine with. I asked them to use their own paper to publish final drafts, but a few of them--like Nico--used a second copy of my rough draft sheet to finalize his draft. Lexi & Irene forgot to include the 25-cent vocabulary word for their final draft, and they also used real names, but I know one of my teaching partners will hang this one inside the classroom nexto to our team rules. Tayler was another of my eighth grade boys who chose to "go solo" with this assignment; I think he was absent the day we chose partners because he is a great partner. His work is always pretty great too.
I'm not sure about the 25-cent adjectives Josh and Amanda chose to label some of their pictures with, and I can't believe how many of them who focused on science class spelled dissect wrong, but this one is humorous, and I know Miss Maldo--our science teacher--will hang this one up. Another example where--when they transferred their rough draft to their own paper for publishing--they forgot to include their 25-cent words for each comic panel from Kendall and Audrey, but this one made me laugh out loud. It'll make Miss Maldo laugh out loud too. A good-looking final draft from Taylor & Kyra, but I will be using this one as my "What would have been a more accurate 25-cent word to label the characters' actions with?" discussion tool next year. You should save samples like that because they make great discussion pieces. Mr. Cope was a student intern in our science classes this semester, and he had a great sense of humor. Kaleigh and Victoria asked his permission to turn him into the good girl/bad girl characters they created, and Mr. Cope is receiving the original to hang by his new desk at his first job this August. Go, Mr. Cope!
Did you make any variations to this assignment that are worth sharing? Did your kids do quality work on their final drafts that deserves to be seen? If you are a member of our "Writing Lesson of the Month Ning," you can post images and comments about this lesson in the "Comment" box that follows all posts at that site. If you share a really great example from your kids or an adaptive idea, I'll send you something nice from my Products Page at our website at no cost.

Click here to share a picture or an idea back with us using the Ning!

 

 


A final note just for teachers using/adapting this lesson. Be careful if you choose not to use the images of Goofus & Gallant I have directly linked to on this page. In researching visual resources I wanted to share with my students, I discovered an amazing amount of clever-but-often-adult-oriented parodies that grown-up writers have made based on these two beloved characters from Highlights Magazine. Doing a live Google search for Goofus & Gallant images in front of your students may yeild some inappropriate things to be up on your Smartboards, so be careful. I'm not saying the adult parodies aren't worth looking at, but don't show them your students.

Thanks for using our site! Dena and I appreciate e-mail feedback on our lessons anytime: corbett@corbettharrison.com .

 

 

 

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