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.

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.

I have no available dates left in 2017.

In 2018, I may have availability between January 8-12, March 26- April 6, and June 11 - July 27, October 1-5.

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Here's the writing lesson I created to celebrate a great picture book about writing: Show, Don't Tell: Secrets of Writing by Josephine Nobisso: One of my favorite things to teach students in English class is inference. I took high school English classes where--instead of being invited to explore interpretations of literature and poetry--we were led to believe there was one "right answer" when the teacher asked for our interpretations. The teacher always seemed to know the "right" interpretation, and I always seemed to be there to provide the "probably not" interpretation for my class. I left high school believing there was an "answer key" to how and what I should infer from text; as an adult, I understand that encouraging multiple interpretations (based on thoughtful textual evidence) is important. I have created lots of lessons that show students that it's permissible to infer.

My sixth graders always start the year with this story-boarding lesson based almost completely based on inference; my seventh graders always start the year with this poetry lesson, which is based on multiple inferences gleaned from the same poem; my eighth graders re-read this poem (which they first saw in sixth grade), and we discover new interpretations for a poem they haven't seen in over two years.

When you teach showing, if you're doing it right, the students realize that good authors design their text so that it forces their readers to infer based on limited, but precise details. Josephine Nobisso talks about this nicely in the mentor text cited below; she directly tries to link the idea of "planned inference" to a writer's job.

Like this lesson's creative approach? Like the teacher samples? Follow Me at Pinterest to access all my educational boards. I even have a special board featuring pages from my own writer's notebooks that gives quick access to all of my favorite notebook pages--many of them are linked to a write-up that explains how to use the idea as a Common Core-friendly lesson.

 

A Writer's Notebook Challenge... from my notebook to yours:
Showing Riddles for Interactive Writer's Notebooks
creating a "showing riddles" page in a writer's notebook with Post-its and adjective skills

Overview: This lesson celebrates how carefully chosen words in a crafted phrase can create an image on a reader's mind without specifically naming the precise image. Choosing a fairly specific noun and the perfect adjective or two can show the exact image to a reader that the writer intended. This showing skill is demonstrated in the mentor text: Show; Don't Tell: Secrets of Writing.

This is also a writer's notebook-friendly lesson. As students create the writer's notebook page assigned here, demonstrating authentic showing skills, this lesson will also introduce them to the idea that their writer's notebooks can be a place to capture skillfully-written small ideas (that could become larger ideas during a future writer's block) and that those ideas can be playfully shared with classmates. When you have a good writer's notebook program in place, students love to share with each other.

Focus Trait/Objective for this lesson: Idea development, especially "showing versus telling," is the focus skill being worked on here. You can certainly talk about word choice as well, especially focusing students in on specific nouns and image-provoking adjectives.

Interacting with the Mentor Text:

Show; Don't Tell: Secrets of Writing (by Josephine Nobisso) is not your typical picture book. It's not really a story so much as it's numerous pieces of good advice from a real author to student writers. If you are thinking this book would make a great read-aloud and a captivating story, then you might be disappointed with it; however, if you're looking for a book with direct, playful advice to writers that can be used to guide multiple writing lessons, this is a great text to have on hand. The lesson on this page shows just one of many lessons that can be inspired from this book's student-friendly advice.

Near the beginning of this picture book, the author talks about the importance of balancing specific nouns with the perfect adjective or two. You don't want to flood the reader with too many adjectives, and you don't always want to simply tell the reader the image you're thinking of; when showing, you are providing just the perfect amount of words so that you convey an image, and your reader should be expected to do some of the work to picture the idea you're writing about.

There's a series of fourteen adjectives Josephine Nobisso provides in her text which attempt to put an image in the reader's mind. Share that list with your students. Ask them, "What do you think the author is trying to make you visualize by providing these fourteen descriptive words?" The mud-loving descriptor often aims some students right at the correct answer (a pig), but you'll have plenty of students who see other images based on the other thirteen descriptors. The author is trying to prove the point that an abundance of adjectives doesn't necessarily paint the same image on every readers' minds. Adjectives are useful when showing, but a good writer knows how to carefully select just one or two.

The author doesn't want to simply tell you she's describing a pig, because that's too easy on everyone's part; she wants to show you pig, and she wants the reader to participate in discovering that image as they read her words. Ultimately, she shares a fairly specific noun (pet) with two carefully-chosen adjectives (mud-loving and intelligent) to create a phrase that pretty much shows everyone the image she intends her reader to see: a pig.

And it's true. Share the phrase a mud-loving pet that's intelligent, and most of your students will identify a pig as the answer. She hasn't told you the answer; she's used a small amount of showing words to help almost everyone arrive at the same image. This is a good writing skill students should learn early on so they can hone their showing skills all year long.

Ask students, "If you were showing a pig, what different words would you have chosen?" Let students talk, craft original phrases about pigs, and share the best ideas out-loud. Record the best ones on a chart for later reference.

The Mentor Texts that inspired this Lesson:

Show; Don't Tell: Secrets of Writing
by Josephine Nobisso


If Not for the Cat
by Jack Prelutsky

Brainstorming Nouns that are Nice:

The goal of this lesson is for students to create a writer's notebook page that shares "show-y"noun phrases for four different things the writer has determined are nice. The lesson provides a brainstorming worksheet where students can practice the skill with many different nouns, then self-select the four showing phrases they think they did the best work with; these are to go in the writer's notebook with illustrations.

Pass out this two-page brainstorming sheet (pictured at right). Students should first go through all the lightly-gray shaded boxes and name nouns that answer the different questions; don't let them do the bottom half of each box until they have come up with nouns in every gray box. On the backside, there are four gray boxes at the bottom that allow the student to come up with a different category; your class can decide on these categories together, or they can work on creating them in small groups. Challenge students to try and write unique (and correctly-spelled) nouns in the gray boxes; if everyone has the same nouns on the brainstorming worksheet, then the "riddle" part of this lesson won't be very challenging...or fun.

After the gray boxes are filled in, do a demonstration similar to the one Josephine Nobisso did for the word pig. Share a very specific noun (perhaps from your own brainstorming sheet), then do a think-aloud where you choose two interesting adjectives and a less specific noun that--when put in a phrase together--can paint an image in reader's minds of the original noun. Remember the mentor text's a mud-loving pet that's intelligent. Remember how it never names the original noun: a pig

And remember an adjective doesn't have to be a single-word that can sit in front of a noun; an adjective can be a phrase or clause that follows a noun; that is intelligent is a clause that follows the noun pet and modifies it just as a single-word adjective might. If all your students' phrases follow the adjective, adjective noun pattern (like intelligent, mud-loving pet would be), this could become dull. It's a nice opportunity to teach students to use adjective phrases and clauses after their nouns.

Here are some teacher-made examples from WritingFix's Webmaster, Corbett Harrison. Feel free to use these, but your students would surely appreciate it if you had some personal examples from your own life to share.

My nice or good vacation activity:
Snorkeling
My nice or good restaurant:
The Olive Garden
My showing phrase:
colorful, peaceful
fish-spotting
My showing phrase:
commercialized Italian food
in a crowded place
My nice or good book character:
Harry Potter
My nice or good fruit:
Orange
My showing phrase:
scarred wizard
with a true heart
My showing phrase:
thick-skinned,
citrus snack


Students should be given enough time to create their showing phrases for both sides of the brainstorming worksheet, and also to talk about them with writers so that ideas can be revised before finalizing the four "best showing phrases" your students will put in their writer's notebook.

Establishing a Riddle Page in the Notebook:

Show students what the "riddle page" will look like before there are any riddles added to it. Our webmaster photographed his, which you can click on at right to see in larger form. For this riddle page, students will conceal illustrated "answers" underneath four Post-its. Beneath the Post-its, in a small box, the students will write their four best showing phrases, so that when they show their page to a classmate, said classmate can make a guess to what nice or good noun hides underneath the Post-it.

Pass out four 3" x 3" Post-its to each student, and have them trace each Post-it, leaving room beneath the square to write their best showing phrases from their brainstorming worksheet. Students should write, "What/Who am I showing with these words?" on the four Post-its, as seen in the example above.

Stress correct spelling as students copy their four best showing phrases in the boxes beneath the four Post-its. Stress once again that the name of the original noun's name and the adjectives nice and good should not be in their showing phrases.

With the words written down, have students remove the four Post-its and place them aside temporarily, so they can illustrate and record the original nouns from their worksheets in the space the Post-its will cover. Remind them there is a small space at the top of the Post-it that is sticky and will stay stuck to the paper; they should attempt to not write or draw in that small space that will be covered by the sticky part.

Our webmaster (Corbett Harrison) suggests you teach students to use Mr. Stick as their illustrating tool for their notebooks or journals; pictures and words underneath the Post-it® Note-sized templates make the exchange of riddle pages that much more fun. Anyone can draw, especially if the standard set by the teacher is a pretty simple stick-man. At Corbett's personal website, you can freely access all of his Mr. Stick materials.

When illustrations have been added, it is advisable to reinforce the Post-its' stickiness with a piece of scotch tape to guarantee it will stay stuck to the page. Students will be lifting these Post-its a lot, and the Post-its' gum is only so strong.

Sharing/Guessing Riddle Pages:

Have students move around the room and sit with a fellow classmate; they are to exchange notebooks and do the following:

  1. Make a logical guess what's underneath each Post-it before lifting it;
  2. Explain to the writer how they arrived at the right/wrong answer for each riddle;
  3. Rank the other classmates' four riddles against each other, choosing which was their best showing phrase, which was second best, etc.
  4. Have their partner, then, take a turn at guessing their four showing riddles.

Repeat the riddle-guessing process several times. On a different day--one where you need to do a review of showing skills--you can have students partner up with different people.

As often as possible, remind your students of the showing technique this mentor text set them up to think about. To quote the book's author:

"There are no 'bad' adjectives! To be useful to a writer, an adjective does not have to be fancy. It just has to be right."

--Josephine Nobisso, Show; Don't Tell: Secrets of Writing

You might also quote Ralph Fletcher when teaching/reviewing this lesson; he is the author of our other Mentor Text of the Year for 2011-12, a book that totally complements the ideas in Show; Don't Tell.

"Details create the images in your writing, but be careful you don't go overboard and bury your reader in mountain of trivia. Instead, try to dig up the odd details that will stick in a reader's mind."

--Ralph Fletcher, Live Writing: Breathing Life into your Words

Please Share Photos of Your Students' Showing Riddles:

Want to motivate your students as they prepare to create this assignment's writer's notebook page? There really is no better way than to inform them up front that you will be photographing the two or three best riddles made by your students and post them here at our on-line forum about this lesson.

Our Lessons of the Month Ning is accessed by over 20,000 teachers who know to show off student samples before starting this type of lesson. Those teachers each have large numbers of students they show these samples to. It's a pretty exciting thing to know your hard work might be seen by that many people!

We've established a special posting page at our Ning where members can post up to three digital photo examples from students who did a fabulous job with this lesson. We don't want to see them all (we have limited hard drive space), but we want to see and celebrate the best riddles from your classroom.

Please consider this option and read the information in the blue box below about posting.

Thanks for using this lesson! Be sure to send this link to your teacher-friends who aren't members of the NNWP's Writing Lesson of the Month Network!

Some Student Showing Riddles Worth Sharing!
These five riddles come from my classroom.

From Crissey (8th grader):
Confusing, body-bending activity

Answer:
Twister

From Eric (7th grader):
A striped, multi-colored horse

Answer:
Zebra

From Jared (7th grader):
Circular bread with a hole

Answer:
Bagel

From Hunter (7th grader):
Bumpy, connectable bricks

Answer:
Lego

From Jessica (7th grader):
Fun instructor with a big ego

Answer:
Mr. Harrison (a perceptive student!!)

 

Extending this Lesson...Focus on Organization and "Showing" Introductions:

I have to un-teach my kids the habit of starting their writing with a question, especially the expository and argumentative writer. A question addressed to the reader at the very beginning ("Would you like to hear about hermit crabs?") serves as a recognizable introduction, but it's not a very competent one. Teach them to use questions during prewriting, but all those questions should become bold statements and thoughtful theses in their rough drafting. Question writing is--in my opinion--a cheap technique for placing an introduction in place when there's not time enough to teach better introduction techniques. One of my favorite techniques to teach the kids for a strong introduction is linked to this lesson about showing riddles. It's called the "Showing introduction."

I don't teach strict formula, but my kids benefit from seeing a loose design of a graphic organizer I use when talking about this type of introduction for expository and argumentative. Mine looks like this, but I give myself permission to stray away from the formula if I find a different way to achieve the same purpose.

The formula:
Showing Sentence #1 + Showing Sentence #2 + Reveal of Topic Sentence = Strong Introduction

The key to this formula:

  • Showing Sentence #1: Like the showing riddles under Post-its from above, the purpose of a showing sentence is to craft a sentence that infers the topic, but doesn't say it directly.
  • Showing Sentence #2: A second sentence follows the first, and it contains another showing description that describes but doesn't state the topic of the writing by name.
  • Reveal of Topic Sentence: This is the sentence where you finally state your topic by name, and begin moving towards your thesis/topic statement.
My Example Showing Introduction (Expository)
A Student's Example Showing Introduction (Argumentative)
He swooped at me, then disappeared into the darkness before the dawn. The next day, he repeated this gesture, and I decided I had to learn more about him. An American Kestrel, also known as a “Sparrow Hawk,” has decided the post holding up my front porch should serve as his perch for morning hunting.
They line the store shelves like plastic mushrooms. They're here to protect people from unfortunate accidents, but many of those people walk right on by these safety devices at stores without even blinking. Bicycle helmets are not optional accessories for today's bike rider; on the contrary, they are safety necessities that many people overlook.

The writer's notebook lesson at the top of the page is a great one to review right before teaching Showing Introductions.

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