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.

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Here's the lesson I created to celebrate the 2012-13 school year's "Mentor Text of the Year." I am going to admit that I didn't do a very good job teaching vocabulary in 2011. My two excuses: 1) I switched grade levels and had three new grade levels to prep and 2) I had to earn twelve college credits to earn a new certification for my teaching license. This year is going to be different; vocabulary is going to take a front row seat to all that we do--during reading workshop and writing workshop. I once watched the great Nancie Atwell speak at an NCTE Convention, and she was showing slides from her classroom's Reading Workshop. Her kids were giving each other individualized vocabulary quizzes based on vocabulary they found in the independent novels they were reading. I don't think I can get my kids to that point for a while, but I know I can turn them into vocabulary collectors.

And so...I proudly present a brand new lesson I'll be using during the first few weeks of this school year to introduce the idea of collecting words.

A Lesson from my Classroom to Yours:

Root Attack Posters!
teaching students to explore a vocabulary word's etymology by learning Greek & Latin (as well as other languages) base roots

innovative (adjective): describing someone who has new and original ideas
comes from the Latin root novus, which means new
Related word #1:
novice (noun)
Someone who is new to an activity, like a sport
Related word #2:
renovate (verb)
To make something seem new again
Related word #3:
Nova Scotia (noun)
a Canadian province whose name means new Scotland
Related word #4:
novel (adjective)
describing an idea or concept that is new and original

Overview: Every week, I require my students to collect independently-discovered vocabulary words and teach their words to others in interesting ways during what I have come to call our Vocabulary Workshop. You can check out my Creating a Classroom of Logophiles lesson for more details on the lesson I do very early in the school year to help them establish these collections. Each week, one of the activities my students can choose to apply to one of the vocabulary words they find is called "Finding three (or four) related words"; this means they explore the dictionary to discover a base root within their word that comes from the vocabulary's language of origin, and they then find other words that contain said base root. For this lesson, students will--after discovering where to find the etymological base root in our classroom dictionaries--manipulate definitions in order to create root-inspired posters to hang in the hallway outside my room. Once completed and displayed, whenever a student has a question about the related words vocabulary choice, I can walk them into the hallway and point to a poster so that students understand what is meant by "Finding three (or four) related words."

A note from this lesson's author: I used to be a teacher who had a prepared list of the most common Greek and Latin roots, and I would have students memorize the roots and take weekly quizzes on them. Learning etymological base roots (like novus in the table above) is a very valuable decoding skill and helps students be less dependent on the dictionary. The intent of this activity (as well as my "Classroom of Logophiles" lesson) is to pique student interest in analyzing new words they discover on their own, not make them simply memorize my base roots that I provide them. Using this activity, then having students continue to self-discover new roots in their own words several times a month--by my way of thinking--is a much more Blooms' friendly earning experience than my old technique of having my students memorize my word list.

The Mentor Text that Inspired this Original Lesson:

(This fabulous book of 30 really unique lessons inspired me to renovate quite a few of my older vocabulary lessons. This text is especially inspiring if you want to have your students think about vocabulary at the deeper levels of Bloom's Taxonomy.)

Vocabulary Unplugged
by Alana Morris

Setting the stage: First, I invite you to share the resource "Online Etymology Dictionary" with your students early on in the school year. I did this year for the first time, and I now have many kids using this site independently when they find a word whose history they personally interested in. If you introduce etymological base roots in an interesting way, you'll have some kids who really become interested in where words originated. You can--of course--have available a physical copy of an etymology dictionary too; I keep one in the chalk tray at the front of my classroom as we learn about how some words are related to each other. There are plenty of good ones; pictured at right is the one I own.

Long before I mention we'll be doing the poster activity for this lesson, I spend some time teaching students to explore the dictionary (there's one underneath each of my students' desks) and see that each entry provides much more information than just a definition and part of speech. Using the "vocabulary word of the day" found on my Sacred Writing Time PowerPoint slides (like the slide pictured at left; these can be ordered from our Teachers Pay Teachers store), we do quite a few quick lessons after our first ten minutes of sacred writing. I'll have all students pull out the dictionary and look up certain words from the SWT Powerpoint slides. On some days, we learn how to use the pronunciation information. On other days, we look for different part-of-speech forms of the same word (please, pleasance, pleasant, pleasantly, for example). On days where I am specifically setting the stage for this page's activity, we explore the bracketed information (found in good dictionaries, usually right after a word's definition) that gives information on the etymological base roots the word was based on. I challenge them to explore the same page of the dictionary where they found the word to see if they can spot other words that are related because they too came from the same base root; you have to carefully pick and choose vocabulary words to practice with for this, as some words (like skunk) have absolutely no related words in our language, while others (like bisect) might have too many. I usually start with a word like innovate (see my table above) because it allows for some important discussions:

  • Not all related words will start with the same letter; there are plenty of nov- (new) words that start with an "n," but there are plenty more that make use of a prefix in front of the root. My kids recognize renovate and innovate as words that fit this category.
  • Just because a word has nov- in it, that doesn't mean it's a related word. November, for example, comes from the root novem-, meaning "nine." If you use the bracketed information in the dictionary, you can have your students check that fact out.

The more practice and studying of the dictionary you can teach your students to do before introducing this writing/poster activity, the better. By the time I rolled out the "Root Attack" poster in December, my students had become pretty good at quickly finding a base root's meaning, and they were pretty good at searching the dictionary for related words.

Introducing the "Root Attack" Poster: In the old Nevada standards, there was a strand in word analysis called "word attack!" It involved students looking at context clues to understand unfamiliar vocabulary and to use base roots. I always laughed that it was called an "attack," but I went with it. I find when I call this assignment "Root attack" as opposed to "Root analysis," the kids seem more interested.

At right, you'll see the sample "root attack" poster I always share with this lesson. You can click below to print your own copy.

Sometimes I love not giving the students written directions for an activity; instead, I make them work with a partner to discover my expectations by analyzing a good teacher model I have created. I printed 18 colored copies of the "territory poster" at right, and I had student partnerships analyze it. I explained, "Each of you will look back through your vocabulary collections and find a word with a base root in it you can identify. Based on that root, you will create a full-sized poster similar to example you have in your hands. This lesson has seven specific requirements, so please work with your partner to make an intelligent guess about what you think this lesson's seven requirements are."

Students talk for three or four minutes, analyzing my poster. They often don't notice spelling errors if there are none present, so I always laugh that they miss the first expectation, so I give it to them: "Final posters must have absolutely no spelling errors!" They then share their ideas so that we end up with the following poster of expectations, which we store on a chart or a flip chart on my Promethean board.

  1. The final poster must contain NO spelling errors; be neat and be accurate.
  2. The base root's language of origin must be identified (as Latin or Greek or __?); it must be colored the same color every time it appears on the poster.
  3. The base root's meaning must be identified; it must be colored a different color every time it appears on the poster;
  4. The poster must feature a "25-cent" vocabulary word that contains the root; this word must stand out near the top of the poster and be defined.
  5. The poster must feature four other related words and their definitions. (You might need to stress that a related word is a completely different word than the original word, just containing a common root; for my example, you could not identify territories or territorial related words because they are the same word just in different forms.)
  6. The related words' definitions must contain the base root's definition within their definitions. When students look up words in the dictionary, the definitions they find will quite often not contain the actual base root's meaning in the definition. You have to teach the students to manipulate the definitions to mete the requirements of the poster.
  7. Some sort of visual (hand-drawn, clip art, computer image, or sticker) must accompany each of the related words.

Manipulating definitions accurately: Remember, when students look up their related words in the dictionary, they will often NOT find their base root's definition embedded in the definition. I did NOT find the word earth in the definition for the word terrier when I created the poster example at right, so I had to manipulate a definition, keeping at accurate but explaining its link to the original base root.

Your writers--like mine--probably have trouble writing their own definitions for words that match the part of speech they are explaining. They write noun definitions when they feature the verb form of the word, or they describe a verb's action instead of the adjective they have actually written down as their vocabulary word. This lesson is about writing, and I want students to be able to compose definitions in their own words while maintaining the accurate voice of a dictionary. I, therefore, do a quick lesson on how to manipulate a dictionary definition so that they show they know the difference between the parts of speech.

Here is a "down-and-dirty" explanation of how I explain the difference between the four main parts of speech students usually find for their "root attack" posters:

  • manipulating noun definitions: these definitions must sound like you're giving information about a person place or thing. These definitions often start with the words a, an, or the, which are followed by a different noun. For example: "terrier (noun) -- a breed of dog who burrows into the earth after game."
  • manipulating verb definitions: these definitions must start with the word to followed by an action word. For example: "renovate (verb) -- to make something seem new again."
  • manipulating adjective definitions: these definitions often start with "describing a person [or place or thing] who/that _______." For example: "novel (adj) -- describing an idea or concept that is new or original."
  • manipulating adverb definitions: these definitions often start with "done in a way that shows _______." For example: "nihilistically (adv) -- done in a way that shows someone has belief in nothing religious or moralistic."

We practice using the above four dictionary definition stems by creating original definitions with words we are familiar with. We double check each other's work. We share the best-sounding definitions aloud to the whole class. And then we are ready to create our "Root Attack" posters.

Organizing the posters: This year, I have two different classes/sections of eighth graders--the grade level I decided who'd do the best job with these posters; I wanted my 65 eighth graders to create some top-notch samples that I could show my sixth and seventh graders who might eventually create similar posters, or they might just use the posters (which I've hung outside my classroom) as a guideline when they chose the "find three or four related words" option in their own vocabulary collections. When we analyzed my teacher example and charted expectations, I had warned my 8th graders they would be creating similar posters in a few days' time, and that they'd better keep their eyes open for interesting roots in words as they read and listened in my class as well as other classes. No two eighth graders would be allowed to make a poster for the same root, so I advised my kids to have several choices in case someone took theirs before they had the chance to "call it."

A few days later, we did a random draw, and we created a four-column chart that hung on the wall. As each student's name was drawn, they came up and added to the chart 1) their name, 2) their root, 3) a vocabulary word that contained their root, and 4) their root's meaning. Some students had chosen too easy of roots for eighth graders (like uni- and bi-), and I sent them back to the drawing board. A few had chosen roots that proved too hard to find enough other words (one girl really wanted to use the word nostalgia but couldn't find enough related words), and I allowed them to change.

With the chart in place, I allowed students to use the last ten-fifteen minutes of each class to search for related words for their posters. The trickiest part proved when they had to manipulate/re-write the dictionary definition so that it contained the meaning of the root word. Before they could take a piece of 11" x 17" construction paper from the supply table--on which they'd ultimately compose their final drafts--they had to have me approve their poster's five definitions; before they showed them to me for approval, I required them to show them to three other students and ask for feedback.

The best final poster drafts were laminated and now hang right outside my classroom door. Because of this assignment, my eighth graders know--without any doubt--what I expect if they choose to use the "find three or four related words" option for one of the four vocabulary words they must add to their writer's notebook each week. My sixth and seventh graders--having seen the posters too--have a better understanding of what I mean by "related words." I am still receiving the "What do you mean by related words?" question from my sixth and seventh grade writers, and it's so nice to be able to walk them into the hallway and show them exactly what I mean on my students' posters.

Some of the Student-Made Posters that Hang Outside my Classroom Door:
Sorry about the quality (or lack thereof) of these images. This winter, my hallway seems darker and harder to photograph in. I will work to obtain some better images. If you click on the posters, you can zoom in and read most of the words despite the bad focus.

Nathanael's hallway poster for the root carn- (Greek)

Jordan's poster for the root flex/flect (Latin)

Austin's root for trans- (Greek)

Nathanael's poster (above) inspires this vocabulary entry in his writer's notebook while reading The Jungle.

The wall just outside my classroom door. There are over 20 "root attack" posters displayed to inspire students to explore them.

Seventh-grader--Ryan--explores the root meta- in his writer's notebook while reading Flowers for Algernon.