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.



       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

Big news from the Harrison household: Dena said farewell to her classroom of 26 years in August of 2018, and Corbett will be joining her in retirement from his school district for the past thirty 30 years in June of 2019. The Harrisons are thrilled about this life change because it will allow them to work from home on this website and its resources. Starting in mid-June of 2019, Corbett will also be available to come do personalized 1- or 2-day workshops for your school, district, or regional educational center.

In the meantime, Corbett will continue to post these monthly free ideas, all based on techniques I am currently using with my 30th and final group of students. These final postings before retirement may be a bit shorter than usual as I have promised my sixth graders this final semester with me would be their best yet, and that's keeping me busy. I am also--in what little spare time I have--still working on my book on NOTEBOOK STRATEGIES that I'm having incredible success with during this final year.

Thanks for checking out this month's lesson (originally posted in November of 2018), and if you have any questions about it, don't hesitate to contact me: corbett@corbettharrison.com

"grammar in context" poems that work well with writers...
Prepositional Phrase Poems

a simple formula poem that: 1) teaches students what prepositions are and do; and 2) allows students to explore descriptive techniques

I devoured and analyzed Constance Weaver's "Grammar in Context" texts when I was working on my Master's Degree. Her writings encouraged me to develop writing techniques that provided students an opportunity to think about grammatical concepts in their own writing as they were composing it, as opposed to correcting grammatical errors in something someone else had written for them. I saw notable differences in my students' knowledge of grammar when I used these techniques and had students create grammar-inspired structures--like the Prepositional Phrase Poem.

My bottom line with this assignment is this: the topics for these prepositional poems MUST be the students' own topics; otherwise, they will not care enough about the writing to learn about the grammar that builds each poem's structure. That's what I when saying "grammar in context," because students are creating their own written contexts in which to practice a grammatical idea.

This poetic structure here is also one I use to "fool" my students who insist they can't write a poem into writing a "poem."

Essential Questions/Overview/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • How does varying sentence structure--especially sentence beginnings--create language that is more appealing to a reader?
  • What's the purpose of a prepositional phrase in writing?
  • How can prepositional phrases be used--structurally--to craft a better variety of sentences in one's own writing?

    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.3 -- Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to convey experiences and events.
    Vary sentence patterns for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style.
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.9-10.1a -- Use parallel structure (possible acceleration for your advanced writers)
  • An even deeper EQ: How can parallel structure and interesting sentence structures be used to create a piece of writing that's interesting to read and poetic in structure?

A prepositional phrase poem is a fairly simple structure poem. Its formula is as follows:

Line 1: Prepositional phrase #1,
Line 2: Prepositional phrase #2, (no prepositions may be repeated, by the way)
Line 3: Prepositional phrase #3
Line 4: Subject + Verb (or Verb + Subject sometimes works)

An EXAMPLE Prepositional Phrase Poem:

Line 1: Between the two lamp posts,
Line 2: Out in the empty street,
Line 3: Among swirling Autumn leaves
Line 4: Stood a policeman.

I can't say that I invented this format of "poetry," but I do distinctly remember reading a story as a pretty young child, and that story memorably began with this sentence: "Through the forest ran the deer." Even though I didn't understand grammar at all back then, I loved the way the sentence sounded when said aloud because it didn't sound like other sentences. It had a unique structure to it, which I was unable to put into words back when I first encountered that sentence: it started with a prepositional phrase, which allowed the author some grammatical liberty with the remainder of the sentence.

The sentence stuck with me over the years. "Through the forest ran the deer." I have no idea what story it came from, and believe me, I've looked for it. If you know, e-mail me.

Usually sentences share their subjects and predicates in a predictable and linear order, and prepositions start those fun phrases that can move to different places in the same sentence when you're struggling with a revision plan. Typically, you'd read: "The deer ran through the forest." The moveable preposition can jump to the sentence's beginning too: "Through the forest, the deer ran," but the author of the sentence I remember reversed the subject and predicate when creating the sentence. "Through the forest ran the deer."

One day, I was working in my writer's notebook, and I scrawled out:

Through the forest,
Beneath an evergreen canopy,
Under a concealed azure sky
Ran the deer.

Above, I expanded the memorable line from my childhood by adding two more prepositions and wrote the whole thing to resemble a poem ("You just have to use really short lines," as Jack narrates and explains in Love That Dog). I believe I invented this simple format for a poem, but if something out there inspired me that I've forgotten, I hope you'll let me know so I can share the credit for the idea with you: corbett@corbettharrison.com

Teaching the poem's format using mentor texts: A few days before I even say the words "prepositional phrase poems" to my class, I display and use the first sentence from Fox as a story-starter one day. I ask students to try and impersonate the structure of the sentence with a different topic, or I allow them to continue the description to see where they go poetically.

When we write our "practice preposition poems," I tell my students they can choose any topic they'd like to explore using the poetry format. If they struggle for topics, then I bring them my wordless picture books and say, "Choose a page with a fun-looking picture; plan to write your poem using the picture as your inspiration."

The picture less books I have the best success with are as follows:

Wordless books we use in class to inspire our first prepositional phrase poems:

by Istvan Banyai

Sector 7
by David Wiesner

Good Dog, Carl
by Alexandra Day

A favorite picture book of mine that begins with four prepositions in its first sentence:

by Margaret Wild, which begins with...

Through the charred forest,
Over hot ash,
Runs dog
With a bird clamped
In his big, gentle mouth.

(I had my students use this sentence as a story-starter several days before teaching them the prepositional phrase poem format.)

My teacher models inspired by mentor texts: Here are some simple, prepositional phrase poems I wrote, inspired by the three titles above--and a bonus title for those of you who don't see this format being applicable to high school or as a way to respond to literature. You have my permission to tell your students you wrote these examples yourself, but I dare you to write your own before easily taking my examples; by going through the process, I can talk to my students so much better than I could if I didn't write these examples. No lie.

Inspired by Zoom

In the hands of the chieftain,
On the coasts of Australia,
Before children's wondering eyes
Beckoned a strange letter.

Inspired by Sector 7

Above the cityscape,
Below the stratosphere,
Among my imagination
Float fish made of clouds.

Inspired by Good Dog, Carl

After the kitchen disaster,
On top of his trusty canine steed,
Up the stairs
Escaped the baby criminal.

Inspired by Huckleberry Finn

Inside Huck's conscience,
On a dilapidated raft,
Next to his sleeping friend on the river
Good battles evil.

Resources to practice writing prepositional phrase poems: Below, I grant you access to the two handouts I designed for my students to scaffold them to be successful when composing their own prepositional phrase poems.

Practice Session #1 Handout:

  • Distribute this handout.
  • Discuss the format and the prepositional phrase modeled in the topmost portion of the handout.
  • Have students work in pairs to create two prepositional phrase poems based on the two images on the handout.
  • Have pairs share their prepositional phrase poems with other pairs, double-checking each other's work, using this self- or peer-evaluation checklist:
    • ___ 1 point for correctly formatting the four-line poem;
    • ___ 1 point for punctuating and spelling and capitalizing correctly;
    • ___ 1 point for adding interesting descriptive words to the poem's four lines.

Practice Session #2 Handout:

  • Distribute this handout.
  • Discuss the format and the prepositional phrase modeled in the topmost portion of the handout.
  • Have students work alone to create two prepositional phrase poems based on the two images on this handout.
  • Have individuals share their prepositional phrase poems with other individuals, double-checking one other's work, using this self- or peer-evaluation checklist:
    • ___ 1 point for correctly formatting the four-line poem;
    • ___ 1 point for punctuating and spelling and capitalizing correctly;
    • ___ 1 point for adding interesting descriptive words to the poem's four lines.

Student samples (coming!): I "invite" my students to continue creating prepositional phrase poems in their writer's notebooks during sacred writing time. I also, when I need to remind them about prepositions as sentence starters, require them to write them with partners occasionally. Here are some prepositional phrase poems from some of my sixth graders.

Student Samples of Prepositional Phrase Poems
In the midst of the field,
Between the trees,
On the ground
Lies a tangerine.

In the middle of the night,
On Halloween day,
Inside the shadows lurking,
Three zombies at bay.

Betwixt the trees
In a forest sitting
Over all the noise
An air horn blows.


--6th grader Will shares three of his notebook's prepositional phrase poems.

On an island
Down by the sea
On the rocks
Lies the beautiful Annabel Lee.

Far from here
Off the pier
In a coffin,
It feels me with dread to know that she's dead.


--6th grader Elliott pays tribute to his favorite poet with the two prepositional phrase poems he shared.

More samples coming from my students! If you have student samples to share, feel free to post them in the "comment" window of our original post that announced this lesson: Blog/Posting Link for this lesson Student samples can be typed into the "comment" window or attached as a photo or file.



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The Worst School Picture Day Ever Lesson

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Primary Source Picture Books -- Lesson Link

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