Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison, and I have been an educator since 1990, and a teacher-trainer 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 steps of the writing process. Every year, I challenge myself to improve my writing instruction even more, and this website is where I post my most successful new ideas.

I have been on hiatus from doing out-of-state teacher trainings recently for two reasons: 1) I'm writng a book on teaching writing, and 2) I'm preparing to retire from the classroom at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

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

If you would like to verify my availability for a specific date or dates starting in June of 2019, 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

Hands down, the best writing teacher I know is my wife, Dena Harrison. Recently, she retired after giving 26 energetic years to our school district here in Northern Nevada. In her retirement, from her comfortable chair, Dena will be using her laptop to create new adaptations of some of her favorite techniques and resources she used over the past quarter of a century. This lesson is the first of many new lessons she will be posting here.

Dena is the originator of the "Little Red Riding Hooks" handout that gained its best popularity when we featured it at both the WritingFix website as well as using it in our 2005 Going Deep with 6 Trait Writing Guide that we published while I was serving as Director of the Northern Nevada Writing Project between 2003 and 2008. Over the years, we've seen many variations and adaptations from other educations--most of whom gave Dena credit for the original idea, and we thank them for that. Giving credit where credit is due is something both Dena and I have noticed has gone missing from many online teachers' handouts, we've noticed, and we'd like to think that educators are better than that.

At this lesson--originally posted for September of 2018 as part of our Lesson of the Month program--you will find the original Little Red Riding Hooks and Dena's new adaptation based on frog research; this new adaptation is focused on writing leads, hooks or introductions for expository writing.

perfect for Halloween or anytime the kids feel like making monsters...
Expository Monster Sketches

Students design their own simple-to-sketch creatures, then create illustration directions, then attempt to accurately draw others' monsters

Essential Questions/Overview/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • How much detail should be included in instructions?
  • How do precise WORD CHOICES and FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE improve written instructions?

    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.2.D -- Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.4 -- Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. 

  • An even deeper EQ: How can I combine landmarks on a blank page, simple measurements, and similes to create the perfect set of drawing directions?

A week or more before doing the writing portion of this lesson, begin setting the mood for the lesson's monster focus. How I do this: every two or three days, before we have our ten minutes of daily Sacred Writing Time, I quickly share from a book. I also suggest something the students might do for their ten minutes of SWT with each title.

  • There's a Nightmare in my Closet by Mercer Mayer is the first book I share. It's about overcoming a "personified" fear that takes the shape of a monster. I like to challenge my SWT writers to quickly sketch their own personification of the word nightmare and then write about it.
  • The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone (and Grover) begs the question, "What if we are the monsters and we just don't know it yet?" My students, during SWT, love to write about Twilight Zone-ish tales like this question begs.
  • Finally, Harry and the Terrible Whatzit by Dick Gackenbach is just a classic tale to make sure you have in your classroom mentor text library, and the Whatzit monster is visually cool. It's another simple tale of overcoming fears, but it's visually wonderful for the writing task we are sharing on this page.

Overview of Writing Task: Students create a fairly simple sketch of an original monster or a personified nightmare or fear. They may not use ideas from pictures of monsters that already exist; this is about using 100% of one's creativity. After (or while) sketching their monsters, students write out step-by-step instructions for duplicating the monster they have sketched. Finally, students share their written directions with partners or small groups, comparing the others' drawings to the original to find places in the directions where revision would help.

When Dena does this learning task with students, she requires the students write out their directions neatly enough so that other students can simply read the directions quietly to themselves while attempting to draw.

When Corbett does this learning task with students, he has his students--working in small groups of four--each read their directions aloud while the other members of the same group try to draw. This way, three students at once are attempting to make sense of the directions. This technique takes longer, so Corbett makes sure he's left extra time in the schedule when preparing to do this writing task with his students.

Both Dena and Corbett share below how they each present this lesson.

Corbett's Monster/Classroom Directions -- I am still building my writer's workshop groups, and I believe this writing task would show me how well a group of writers would work together. For this reason, I plan to have my students do this writing task in groups of four--their potential writing groups for writer's workshop. Each student, while reading his/her directions for drawing the monster, will have three members of his/her group attempting the picture at the same time. When you do it this way. you have to stress: 1) no peeking at each other's work while the three artists are drawing; 2) no allowing the instruction-giver to see what is being drawn, thus keeping him/her from revising directions out loud on the spot.

I always begin with a demonstration. I created the model building-shaped monster, see it below and at left, inspired by a line from the movie Big with Tom Hanks. "What's fun about a building?" Hanks' character asks everyone else at a toy executive meeting. I decided by making a building into a monster I would make it fun. Somehow. That is my artistic explanation of my drawing process.

I ask half my students to turn their backs to the wall where I project my lessons' elements. The other half of my students gets to see the drawing I am attempting to teach those who've turned their backs and are sketching for me; my "building monster" is projected where the half who are NOT drawing can see as they listen to my directions and peek at a nearby student who is attempting to draw.

We set the mood for creating monsters with these mentor texts:

There's a Nightmare in my Closet
by Mercer Mayer


The Monster at the End of this Book
by Jon Stone and Grover


Harry and the Terrible Whatzit
by Dick Gackenbach

 

I read these drawing directions--repeating each step once slowly after reading through the entire instruction first--and students attempt to draw from my step-by-step writing. As I said, the half not drawing are there to monitor the progress/mistakes of a drawer based on the visual I have projected for their eyes only.

When I am done with the last direction, the students who drew turn around to compare their own attempts to my original, which is still projected. They discuss where they messed up with the non-drawing student who watched them make their attempt to follow my directions. Then, they suggest improvements to my instructions.

I show them Dena (my wife's) attempt at drawing to my instructions and ask students if they can relate to any mistakes she made. From these two discussions, students formulate an opinion about what makes a good set of instructions for drawing a simple monster.

Next, students have five to eight minutes (no more!) to draw and add simple color to their simplistic picture of an original monster; students can't base monsters on any pre-existing creature they know about.

Next, on day two, students write out step-by-step instructions that would help someone else replicate the monster on a blank piece of typing paper. This will take extra time for some students (but not all of them) so have something differentiated ready for the students who move through the writing a bit quicker than the others. I like to encourage them to add both numbers and similes to their drafts, if they're truly done early.

Typing up of instructions is optional, but if you want students to actually revise after sharing, then having them typed would be ideal. My students don't type theirs even though my directions are typed.

With their monster drawing concealed, my students take turns sharing their directions in their writing groups of 4 students. While each artist shares his/her directions, the other three students (without peeking at each other's work) carefully try to follow the directions. When done with a monster, immediately share the drawings, laugh, and make suggestions to the person who'd created the directions.

Repeat this process until all four members of the group have shared their directions. When all is said and done, I spread this lesson out over three days:

  • On day 1, we do the demonstration with my model, critique my instructions, and we draw our own monsters.
  • On day 2, we write out our directions. Students wrestle with using too many details and using details that might be too specific.
  • On day 3, we share our directions and draw each other's monsters. They will laugh a lot this day!

Below, find the write-up from Dena that I used when I made my adaptations to her original idea.

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Dena's Monster/Classroom Directions -- Unlike my husband, I have my students switch direction pages and quietly read each other's descriptions, so I structure my lesson a bit differently. It is very important that they do not switch drawings at the beginning. (Students should keep drawings hidden in their binders until the big reveal! #NoSpoilers!)

Day One-- Begin by talking about why accuracy when writing expository types of writing is important. Let the students give examples of writing that would be bad if the step-by-step directions where unclear or inaccurate (Instruction manuals, recipes etc). Tell them the learning task they are doing today is a prime example of showing accuracy through use of details.

Next, do a practice monster with student writers. Read your set of directions aloud and have them also displayed on your Smartboard as well. This will keep you from having to repeat them. Once they have completed their drawings, I reveal the original drawing of my monster (at right--click on it because it's a printable PDF), and we critique my directions.

  • Where could they have been clearer?
  • Were they confused by any direction in particular?
  • What advice would you give this author/direction writer about how to improve?

Right at right, you can see my husband's attempt at following my directions. Click on the image to open it as a printable PDF for classroom use. I was tempted to improve my written directions after seeing his mistakes, but I chose not to fix them because I wanted there to be minor mistakes in my directions that students could provide feedback for.

Next, I have them draw their own monsters on an unlined piece of typing paper and prepare to write their directions neatly on a lined piece of paper. Absolutely no famous or already-known monsters can be used; this is about pure creativity and originality. I tell them they can either begin by drawing their monster first or write directions and draw at the same time. Most students will get about half way completed the first day. To avoid them creating monsters that are too small, require their monsters to take up--at least--half the page.

Day Two-- Have students finish up their monsters and directions. I start pairing up students as they finish, so that some may have the opportunity to attempt to draw more than one monster with a different partner.

Students are handed their partner's written directions and sent to their seats to draw. I remind them that the drawings do not have to be perfect. They shouldn't spend more than 10 minutes on them.

Once both partners have drawn using their partner's directions, I have them reveal the original drawings to each other. Students will compare and contrast the two drawings. Next, they discuss where the other student could add more information to their directions to make them even more accurate.

Finally, I have each student write a reflection of this activity and process where they could improve for next time, making sure they use the information their partner shared about their drawing.

I hope you have enjoyed our two-voiced method of presenting this month's writing lesson.

 

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Links to
Dena's Best Lessons at WritingFix

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RheTURKical Triangle -- Lesson Link

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Primary Source Picture Books -- Lesson Link

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Notebook Mentor Texts that Inspire Student Writers:
This resource page features one of the freely posted ideas we share with our fellow writing teachers. We hope this page's idea inspires the establishment of a writer's notebook routine in your classroom.

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