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.

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Contact me through my e-mail address with questions/comments about this lesson: Corbett@CorbettHarrison.com

Celebrate your Students' Uniqueness with one of three "Presenting Me!" Mural & Writing Options: I teach 6th-8th graders at a middle school that "teams," and within the first month of school, we "publish" our hallway by hanging up unique projects that celebrate our diverse students' individuality. If you're unfamiliar with teaming, it means my 175+ Language Arts students share the same math, science, and history instructors, and the five teachers who cover those subjects create projects and interdisciplinary units together. Three of the teachers on my team (I'm included in this group) share the same hallway, our classrooms sitting right next to each other; our science lab and one of our two history teachers are across the school though, and that separation sort of stinks, but we've learned to live with it, and it allows us to take over--or "publish," as I like to call it--two hallways in the school with our students' awesome work.

Follow my "Hallway Publishing" Board at Pinterest for samples of projects with which we decorate the areas outside our classroom doors.

Presenting Me!
Three Different Hallway Mural/Writing Choices, each Decorated with Thoughtful Writing about our Heads, Hands, & Hearts

On our teaching team, we have many of our students for three straight years. When your kids keep coming back, you can't start the year with the same "Get-to-Know-You-Better" projects, can you? Over the summer of 2012, I began designing the first of a three-part "Introduce yourself to us" project so that we could cycle back to the first project three years later when we'd taken the kids with us for three years.

In 2012, I designed the first "Presenting Me!" lesson, which asked the students to apply mathematical pie graphs to their HEADS, to the things they devote their thinking and day-dreaming abilities to. I borrowed the basic premise for this lesson from my author-friend Barry Lane's wonderful book 51 Wacky We-Search Reports; in that book, find the "Roman Centurion's Brain" activity (which is also pictured on the cover, in the bottom left-hand corner, next to the Dolphin News Tonight picture, which I own the original copy of and it hangs above my desk to this day). The activity from the book is just an awesome way to have kids summarize historical people's thinking and their priorities after studying them. I modified Barry's original activity to not only have students apply the technique to their own brains, but to multiple ways that their brains think about the world. Plus, I added more writing to the lesson, challenging kids to use "25-cent words," which is part of my weekly vocabulary routine. This lesson turned out to be simple and effective, our hallway looked amazing that first year, and we had the examples laminated up and on display just in time for "Open House" night with parents; of course, we had some lackluster examples, but mostly our kids all tried to outshine each other because we'd warned them they'd be on display for most of the school year...and their parents would be able to immediately compare their projects' effort with the projects of their classmates. I don't promote much purposeful competition among my middle school-ers, but I am amazed how small announcements like "Your parents are going to see your project right next to some of your classmates" inspires effort and creativity.

In 2013, and those original sixth graders were now seventh graders, we moved from celebrating our HEADS to examining our HANDS, and our second "Presenting Me!" lesson began taking shape. I had been struggling the year before with my kids totally misusing the thesaurus by finding a list of synonyms but not finding accurate synonyms that matched the context of their actual sentences during writing time. I'll bet your kids do this too! That year, I was also studying Gretchen Bernabei's awesome book--The Story of My Thinking--which had a beautifully simple graphic on the cover: two hands, one representing experience and one representing beliefs, which turns out to be a beautiful metaphor for the content of that book of expository lessons; the book focuses on how our experiences shapes our beliefs, but they work hand in hand when planning the writing of an expository essay. I was simultaneously reminded me of a painting that hung in my childhood home that read, "Give so secretly that your left hand doesn't know what your right hand is doing." Later in life, I realized this was a quote from the New Testament (Matthew 6:3), which I chose to not tell my kids when I introduced this lesson, but the quote gave me two wonderfully simple words that we could apply to everyone's hands: give and take. This second "Presenting Me!" mural had students write about the different ways they give to and take from the world, and they created a representation of their own hands, using synonyms for give and take accurately. Our hand murals were beautiful that year; of course, we still had a few lackluster examples. If you have discovered a magic technique for making 100% of your kids take an assignment seriously, knowing we plan to decorate our hallway with them for most of the year, please let me know what it is. One of our boys--Michael--came to me

In 2014, the final lesson for this trilogy of lessons shifted our focus from our HANDS to our HEARTS, and the third installment of "Presenting Me!" truly became the most detailed of this triad of assignments; remarkably, our well-trained students (we'd been their teachers now for two years, going on three) were still able to complete this project in time for Open House, and the hallways again looked fantastic. First heads, then hands, now hearts..."How is this going to work?" I asked myself. I'd first read about "Heart Maps" in Ralph Fletcher's wonderful little book that changed my entire approach to how I use writer's notebooks with my kids: A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer within You. In this book (which all my sixth graders read cover to cover...and yours should too!), Ralph suggested his "Heart Map" activity as a page for students include in their writer's notebook (or use to decorate the cover with); Ralph's activity gives each student with a visual technique to remind him/herself of specific things they love, of things they might write about with passion and conviction. It's a visual assignment that inspires future writing. I assigned heart maps a few times, but then I found I preferred assigning decorated Alpha-lists as my technique to make "topic banks" for everyone's writer's notebook. The "Heart Map" assignment has students decorate a heart with both pictures and words of things they love; true enough, these could be beautiful enough to hang in the hallways, but I want my hallway murals to contain sentences, not just words, and so I modified the activity from Ralph's book so that more writing was involved, and I called my modification "Heart Parks." My students brainstormed all the different types of parks that exist in the world, and then they had to design a park whose attractions are based on the things each student personally loves or holds dear. Their final maps had to contain a "key," and they were required to try and convince their park's metaphorical tourists into coming and visiting each attraction through voice-filled, persuasive an rhetorical writing. One final creative requirement: the shape of a heart had to inspire the shape of their park somehow; some chose valentine's-shaped hearts, some chose human hearts, and some hid hearts in their parks in highly creative ways thanks to a PowerPoint show I created to inspire creative design from them.

Below, you will find--in brief--descriptions of the three different "Presenting Me!" lessons I have created--with the input of my amazing team of fellow teachers--between 2012 and 2014. In Fall of 2014, we now have students who've completed all three versions of these lessons, and next year we will be able to go back to the original lesson--Pie Graphs in our Heads--and the cycle will begin anew. I am thrilled to have my three-year process documented here online for you to make use of.

Why do I do this? Teacher friends, I provide these lesson write-ups freely to you, hoping they inspire you to creatively adapt them because I believe it's teachers who can adapt, well, they are your GREAT TEACHERS. Mediocre and bad teachers look for scripts and prescribed programs to help them teach, to help give them the words to say and the rationale to justify their pedagogy to administration. GREAT TEACHERS don't need scripts; no, great teachers adapt thoughtful ideas they discover, and in doing so, they sharpen their own teaching skills further. Look at what I did here. I created the three projects I describe below inspired by others' great ideas; however, I made them my own. I became a better teacher through my adaptation. If you see any redeeming quality in my projects here, please don't think you have to follow my teaching process or my purposes exactly; instead, make the lesson your own by adapting it like crazy. Don't forget to credit your original sources (as I have done above out of pure respect for Barry, Gretchen and Ralph). Twenty-four years into teaching, and I still am learning from every adaptation and lesson I create. Three years after initiating this idea, as I now look back at this trilogy of projects, some thoughts that occur to me are:

  1. I am a believer in mentor texts, and I love how my three of my favorite mentor text authors (ones who write their books for other teachers)--Barry Lane, Gretchen Bernabei, and Ralph Fletcher--are all represented here. In my classroom planning, these three authors serve as personal heroes of mine.
  2. I used to be one of my district's Differentiated Instruction Trainers--or D.I. Trainers, for short. I like how if I was a teacher coming across these three lesson choices for the very first time, I could do a pre-assessment on my students' reading and writing abilities and assign these three assignments to three different ability groups. The HEAD assignment, I believe, is the easiest of the three, and it wouldn't shut-down a struggling reader or writer; the HANDS assignment requires mostly medium-level writing skills; and the HEART lesson forces metaphorical thinking and persuasive voice skills, which my stronger readers and writers would find more challenging. All three lessons could--also--be easily "beefed up" or simplified so that--within themselves--there are ways to modify the task's difficulty. A new teacher to this set of lessons could easily have three very different types of murals to hang outside his/her classroom, which would be cool to look at.
  3. I don't just assign writing and creative murals and then quietly grade them; I require kids to talk about their projects' elements with each other before they earn a grade for it. These three mural assignments all open up kids to talking to peers about what should be their favorite topic: themselves and their personal likes. Do your best to assign these projects with enough time at the end that your kids really get to share them with many other students before they are hung up in the hallway. Sometimes lessons run longer than we had anticipated, and I have always felt it to be terribly unfortunate when--in the interest of time--we eliminate the "sharing" factor because we just have to start that next lesson. Make time to have students share these with each other by designing an organized "share day." Even if your lesson "runs long," make sure the sharing actually happens and that it's not rushed. Let your kids talk to each other about the work they've done, especially with assignments like this one, assignments that celebrate them as individuals.
The three versions of this lesson that I have outlined above are brief, but they can be easily navigated and adapted with the amount of details I have shared. If you're interested in the more thorough versions of all three of these lessons (which include student handouts, supplemental resource suggestions, rubrics, and even more student samples), you can obtain those by purchasing our set of...

10 Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards
(A unique card for August, September, November, December, January, February, March, April, and May; each card comes with an engaging "center-square lesson," which teaches a unique format for writing in one's writer's notebook.)

The "Center-Square Lesson" on the set's August Bingo Card takes you to a different, more-detailed version of all three mural lessons: HEADS, HANDS, and HEARTS.

Below I provide a write-up of the steps I go through when assigning these three projects to my young writers.

This lesson is now a completed a "Trilogy" that I created over the Summers of 2012, 2013, and 2014.
Presenting Me #1!
Pie Graphs in my Two Heads


Giving credit where credit is due: This assignment was inspired by "The Roman Centurion's Brain," an activity from Barry Lane's 51 Wacky We-Search Reports. If you don't own this book, you should! Trust me...It's the best under-$15 book for those reluctant to assign more writing.


Presenting Me #2!
Giving Hands/Taking Hands


Giving credit where credit is due: This assignment was inspired by two sources: a Bible quote (Mark 6:3), and the cover of Gretchen Bernabei's fantastic book The Story of My Thinking: Expository Writing Activities for 13 Teaching Situations. I adore the ideas inside Gretchen's book too.
Presenting Me #3!
Designing a Heart Park


Giving credit where credit is due: This assignment was inspired partially by Ralph Fletcher's "Heart Map" activity, which can be found in his A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You, which all my sixth graders read cover to cover. A class set is very affordable!
In a nutshell: Students will create two pie graphs that divvy up their brains. One pie graph--called "my academic brain"--will focus on dividing their skills and passions in the core content areas of school. The second pie graph--called "my leisure time brain"--will focus on dividing their skills and passions when they are away from school. After looking at many samples, students are challenged to come up with a unique way to present their two graphs. When they publish their final product, each section of their pie graphs must be labeled with a sentence that correctly applies a sophisticated vocabulary word and a visual image to each pie graph's sections.

My basic outline for presenting this lesson/project:

  1. I like to begin by summarizing the story of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, which I explain is a story about a man with two radically different personalities. I challenge my students with the idea that they have a school personality as well as an away-from-school personality. I ask, "Are you radically different when you're in school versus when you're away from it?"
  2. After reviewing pie graphs, students create one based on how well they learn and like the four core content areas in school: English, history, math, and science. I allow them to add one optional elective to their pie graphs, but no more than one. Here is the rough draft worksheet my students use.
  3. To prepare to create a pie graph about their favorite five leisure-time activities, students make a list of all the things they enjoy (or are forced to enjoy by their parents) when they are away from school. I ask students to select their most interesting five away-from-school activities; they create their pie graph inspired by how much time they commit and how much skill they show in the five activities they choose to include in their pie graphs.
  4. I show my students my final product (pictured above; click on it to zoom in on details), which shows a competent approach but not the most creative approach. My teaching teammates also show the projects they have created, so our students see a variety of approaches from their teachers.
  5. I show my students several more-creative products from past students. Here are four, which live at my Pinterest Board: 1) Julia's Two Brains; 2) Jaron's Two Brains; 3) Sarah's Two Brains; and 4) Nico's Two Brains. We discuss who would receive the best grade if the assessment was based on creative visuals and interesting writing skills.
  6. Speaking of writing skills, after students start working on rough draft sketches of their final product's layout, we start "crafting" the sentences that will label each section of the students' two pie graphs. I require my students to use an adjective in each of their sentences, and my rule for choosing their adjectives is "They must be strong 10-cent words, or they must be 25-cent words. No 5-cent or 50-cent words." If they don't understand that metaphor, show them this Vocabulary Collecting PowerPoint (or this PDF version), and focus specifically on slides 6 through 10.
  7. After students have written their sentences for their projects, run a mini writer's workshop, where students analyze each other's adjectives (for correct meaning and use--have dictionaries ready to go!) and each other's spelling and punctuation in small groups of four or five students. I like to tell the group, "If every member of this group has all perfect sentences, then the whole group earns extra credit prizes from my extra credit prize bucket." If students haven't planned the visuals that will accompany each sentence, they can give each other interesting suggestions while in small groups this day.
  8. Publishing Day! Students bring their final products in for review. Before they turn them in, require them to share and explain their projects in pairs; I require my students to explain and share (and listen to their partners' explanations) a minimum of 5 times before they self-assess their project and leave it with me for grading.
  9. Laminate and hang these in the hallway. If you can do it in time for your school's "Open House," you will impress your parents.
In a nutshell: After debating, "What's better? Giving or Taking?" my students begin a week-long brainstorm where they keep an on-going list of all the ways they currently give to the world, and all the ways they take from the world. Once we have a thorough brainstorm based on the words give and take, we select our five best ideas for each word, and we create a sentence for each that uses the word give or take as its verb; then, we use the thesaurus to find a more interesting way to express each sentence's sentiment. Finally, we create a mural inspired by our hands that features the ten crafted, revised, and edited sentences about different ways we give and take.

My basic outline for presenting this lesson/project:

  1. We start by listing as many positive and negative ways people give in this world of ours. We do the same thing with the word take.
  2. My kids like to debate each other, so if I pose the following question and give them fifteen minutes to work with a partner and write a mock opening argument, they take that task very seriously: "To become a respected intellectual in this world, do you think you will take more or that you will give more? Be sure to think of all the different meanings and uses of the words give and take before you start writing." I put kids in small groups so they can read their opening arguments with each other.
  3. We begin a seven-day brainstorming activity. Students need to come back in one with an impressive number of sentences that explain different ways they currently give to the world and different ways they take from the world. As they move from class to class, as they move from out-of-school activity to family time at home, they are to be thinking of different sentences they can apply to themselves that use give and take as their verbs.
  4. At some point, a student will inevitably ask, "Can we put the word don't in front of give or take?" When you give them permission to do this, their lists will suddenly become interesting to them again.
  5. On the day before the week-long list is due, I ask students to think about their futures, their dreams, their aspirations. For 15 minutes in class, they have my permission to write sentences about themselves that put the word will or might in front of the words give and take.
  6. When the list is due, explain the point of the assignment was to discover that many of our English words can have many different meanings depending on the many different contexts you can use them in. Words that have too many meanings like give and take? We should learn to find better words (a.k.a. synonyms) for such words so that our vocabulary skills develop. Give and Take are both 5-cent words (again, you can show the kids slides 6-10 in this Vocabulary Collecting PowerPoint), and my kids are required to develop their vocabulary to the 10-cent and 25-cent level while they learn from me.
  7. Students must select their five favorite sentences from their "give" brainstorm, and their five favorite sentences from their "take" brainstorm. These should all be sentences about them and their lives, and there should be several examples of them giving and taking while in an academic environment. Their job is to re-write their ten best sentences so that they use better verbs than give or take. So...if the original sentence was "I give 110% when I study for math tests," their revised sentence might become "I commit myself above and beyond to master mathematics." If their original sentence was, "I will give the longest acceptance speech ever when I win my Oscar," then their revised sentence might become "I will drone on and on, thanking everyone with my speech, even when the orchestra tries to play me off at the Oscar ceremony."
  8. Lesson objective: use better verbs than give or take when writing sentences about your own personal life or your future plans. Use 10-cent and 25-cent words!
  9. Students will create a mural that features two hands--a giving hand and a taking hand--, and that mural will be decorated with the revised sentences and with visuals that complement those revised sentences.
  10. In the more detailed version of this lesson (which is available to those who've purchased our Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards--click on the link in the center square of the "August Bingo Card" to access that version of this lesson), there is a PowerPoint designed to inspire creative use of heart shapes because that shape must be somehow used to inspire the shape of their park.
  11. Here are samples I show from my Pinterest Board: 1) Sample Set A; 2) Sample Set B ; 3) Sample Set C.
  12. Before laminating and posting in the hallway (hopefully in time for "Open House," have students share and listen to a partner's explanation of his/her hands a minimum of five times before self-assessing and turning in their murals. Always find time to share!
In a nutshell: After brainstorming all the different types of parks that exist in the world, students prepare to design their own park. They will be creating a map that is--somehow--inspired by the shape of a heart or of multiple hearts. Using the written voice of someone trying to attract tourists to visit their metaphorical "heart park," the student will design up to eight attractions that can be visited. Each attraction must be inspired by something the student personally holds dear in his/her actual heart. Once students have chosen a type of park and designed eight attractions based on eight different things they love, they create a map and key that would help a tourist navigate their "heart park."

My basic outline for presenting this lesson/project:

  1. We start by brainstorming all the different types of parks that a person could visit. I put the kids with partners or in groups of three, and we run this brainstorm as a friendly competition. "Which group--in five minutes--can create the most thorough and creative list of park types?" From national parks to amusement parks to dog parks, hopefully your students--like mine--will create an amazing list of options. At this point, I share my teacher model of my final project with them, explaining my choice of a state park because of my love of hiking and nature; hopefully, they will choose a park type that fits something they love too. You can see my heart park by clicking the image above, and you can zoom in on details.
  2. Next, students make a list of 12-24 nouns they hold dear in their own hearts. These can be people, places, things, or abstract concepts. I encourage them to make a diverse list of items, not simply listing their 15 favorite singers or rock bands. "Choose one favorite musician, then focus on a different category, like food that you love."
  3. Explain to students that they will be taking eight things that they personally love, and they will turn them into specific tourist attractions that could be visited and enjoyed. My example? I have two Westie dogs (West Highland Terriers) that--on the days they behave--I love to death. Because I had already determined that I wanted to make a state park with all natural attractions, I decided to name a spectacular waterfall in my park "Westie Falls," and--boom!--I have a tourist attraction inspired by something I love. If I was designing an water park, I could have easily created an attraction--like the "Westie Wading Pool." At this point, students need to commit to a TYPE of park they will design, and they need to start naming their park's ATTRACTIONS.
  4. Once the Heart Park's attractions have been named, students need to begin writing rough drafts of two- or three-sentence descriptions for each attraction. My students were told to assume the role of an advertiser, and they were charged with the task of creating a short description that made each attraction seem like an exciting place to visit. The beauty of me having my teacher model is that I could zoom in on my final map (remember, it's pictured above for your teaching convenience), and I could zoom in specifically on the description I made for "Westie Falls," which is attraction #5 on my map. Those descriptions of nudging mammals are direct references to how my dogs behave when you ignore them, so I was including personal, relevant information in my description. Can you believe I forgot a period on my final draft too? It has been fixed on my actual copy that hangs just outside my classroom.
  5. I run this as a miniature writer's workshop, so a day or two after we wrote rough drafts for our attractions, we read them aloud to each other in groups, giving each other suggestions on improving voice and details.
  6. In the more detailed version of this lesson (which is available to those who've purchased our Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards--click on the link in the center square of the "August Bingo Card" to access that version of this lesson), there is a PowerPoint designed to inspire creative use of heart shapes because that shape must be somehow used to inspire the shape of their park.
  7. After showing some student samples from my Pinterest Board, my students are off and designing: 1) Sample A; 2) Sample B; 3) Sample C; 4) Sample D.
  8. Assess using this rubric. The more detailed version of this lesson features a seven-page worksheet for helping students plan, this rubric being that packet's 7th page.
  9. Laminate and hang around your classroom door so that your classroom looks as inviting as this or as this.

There you have it. Those are my three "Presenting Me!" mural and writing activities! Which one would you try? How will you ADAPT the lesson?

The three versions of this lesson that I have outlined above are brief, but they can be easily navigated and adapted with the amount of details I have shared. If you're interested in the more thorough versions of all three of these lessons (which include student handouts, supplemental resource suggestions, rubrics, and even more student samples), you can obtain those by purchasing our set of...

10 Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards
(A unique card for August, September, November, December, January, February, March, April, and May; each card comes with an engaging "center-square lesson," which teaches a unique format for writing in one's writer's notebook.)

The "Center-Square Lesson" on the set's August Bingo Card takes you to a different, more-detailed version of all three mural lessons: HEADS, HANDS, and HEARTS.

 

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