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Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison. I have been an educator since 1990, and a teacher-trainer and University adjunct professor 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 stages of the writing process. I retired from the classroom in June of 2019, and I will continue to consult with schools, districts, and states who are more interested in developing quality writing plans, not buying from one-size-fits-all writing programs.

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

If you would like to check my availability for a specific date or dates for the 2019-20 school year, please contact me at this e-mail address. My calendar is already fillling up with workshop engagements.


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I spent some time over the summer of 2012, creating new units and mini-lessons inspired by current music and music videos: One of the best colleagues I have ever worked with--Mr. Rob Stone of Northern Nevada--and I once presented together at an NCTE Conference in Texas. During that presentation, Rob wisely and passionately said, "I believe that all teachers' number one piece of classroom technology must be music-related technology. Skeptical? Pull out your personal iPod in class and watch the interest immediately appear on your students' faces. Put lyrics on the overhead and watch how closely they are paying attention to those words. Hit play and they are yours. Implement a well-designed lesson attached to that song and you can do magic…"

So in fall of 2012, I became committed to using my iPod and my iPad to connect more with my students through modern music. Here is a lesson from this summer that does this! I first shared this lesson in September of 2012, and I was amazed by the excitement my students showed as they labored over the storyboard I expected from them!

Their excitement encouraged me to create a second lesson using a music video in fall of 2013. If you'd prefer your students to storyboard Sara Barellis' song "Brave," then here is the lesson I posted that fall: How Big is Your Brave?

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 lesson links to my favorite mentor texts that gives quick access to all of my favorite notebook pages--all of them are linked to a write-up that explains how to use the text in a standards-friendly writing lesson.
For best results, this lesson requires students be familiar with Mr. Stick:

Mr. Stick Resource Page

This lesson inspired another beginning-of-the-year video-inspired storyboard lesson:

How Big Is Your Brave? Lesson

If you're starting a writer's notebook routine, be sure to consider using our 366 Sacred Writing Time slides:

Sacred Writing Time Slides at TPT

Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards at TPT

A Lesson from my Classroom to Yours:
Titanium-inspired Narrative Story-Boarding
Teaching tone, pre-writing, drafting, and revision using an awesomely weird and engaging music video

Overview: Students will listen to the lyrics of David Guetta's song, Titanium, and they will assign a tone to the singer's words. They will then brainstorm an alpha-list of different tones that a writer could convey through any piece of writing. After creating their alpha-lists, they will watch the music video that goes with the song, which features a mysterious story about a boy with supernatural powers that we are not meant to fully understand. After watching the short video a second time, they will be asked to brainstorm an idea for a story that would explain what has happened to the boy in the three minutes before the music video began, or in the three minutes after the video ends. The storyboard will go through a first draft, a revised draft based on further expectations, and a third revised draft based on peer feedback. Final storyboard will be carefully published on cardstock (or cut-up manila folders) and hung in the hallway.

Personal praise for this lesson's mentor text/song: I've taught writing to every grade level out there, including college; I currently work with sixth-eighth graders at a school where our students are put on teams. I share my amazing 170+ students with the same math, history, and science teachers, and it's only during elective classes (and lunch) that our team's students mingle with other students from other teams on campus. We work hard to build a true sense of team among our own students, and our own kids really do support one another. Our administration sponsors a lot of team-against-team competitions, which in a sense is healthy and builds team spirit, but it also promotes a lot of unkind comments in the hallways and in elective classes from students who are not on our team. I hate that kids find it necessary to say unkind things to one another in school; I can forbid such behavior in my own classroom's walls, but I can't protect my 11- through 14-year-olds against criticism they might receive while elsewhere on our campus.

When I first heard the lyrics to David Guetta's song, Titanium, I knew I wanted my students to not only hear and live by the song's words. The song is about responding to unkind criticism. I particularly love the following lines:

  • "You cut me down, but it's you who have further to fall."
  • "[You criticize?] I'm bullet-proof. Fire away. It'll ricochet. I am titanium."

I wanted my students to have these words in their brains, hearts, and souls as they walked through our school this year, so I began planning a direct lesson that just focused on the song's words...then I happened to see the music video that goes along with the song. Over the summer, Dena and I do watch some news, but we prefer--while we drink our morning coffee and have unrushed breakfast--to watch VH1 in the morning and catch up on the new songs and videos. When I was a kid and MTV first started showing videos, they were fun, but they were mostly 4-minute clips of singers and bands being filmed performing their hits. Today's videos are pretty amazing in comparison, and I invite you to start watching more of them. Many have become more about telling stories than simply watching the band perform. Here are four videos I've already used this year (besides Titanium) that I've linked to the stories/poems/novels we are reading as a class because they have a sense off story in them that can be discussed:

  • "Some Nights" by Fun (shown as we started the chapters about the Civil War in Richard Peck's The River Between Us)
  • "Bottom of the River" by Delta Rae (shown as we talked about the witch Medea who held a spell over Theseus' dad, King Aegeus)
  • "Simple Song" by the Shins (shown as a visual prompt before we began writing about sibling rivalry or about unhealthy competitions)
  • "It's Not My Time" by Three Doors Down (shown as we discussed whether mankind has any control over fate when we studied Oedipus Rex)
The Mentor Text/Song that inspired this Lesson:

by David Guetta (featuring Sia)

The Titanium music video

I find it so easy these days to connect well-made music videos to themes or literature we are reading. I have those young writers in the palm of my hand when we use a music video to start a lesson or a discussion. If you have a favorite video you use to inspire writing, please share it with me: corbett@corbettharrison.com

Setting the stage for the lesson and exploring quality adjectives that describe tone in writing: Because of my Classroom of Logophiles lesson from September and our Presenting Me lesson from the first week of school, my students continue to build and develop skills in discovering what we are calling "25 cent" vocabulary words. My Fetching the Binoculars lesson from October pushed them towards exploring "25 cent" verbs, and I began this lesson by taking them back to the "25 cent" adjectives we used for the "Presenting Me" activity.

This is the fifth year our school district has actually allowed us access to You-Tube in our classrooms, and it is such a blessing. If your district still doesn't allow it, fight for it. That's what we did in our district, and now we have it. On You-Tube, I found this video of the song Titanium by David Guetta (featuring Sia), and the video simply shows the words of the song as it is being sung. I put the students in groups of four, and I told them I wanted a variety of 25-cent adjectives that could be used to describe the tone (attitude) of the singer based on what she is saying through song. I allowed each group one thesaurus, and I demanded that each group try to find a describing word that they didn't believe any other group would find. To ensure this, I actually required each group to find three adjectives, just in case another group found the same one. All of these tone-describing adjectives were recorded on a class chart for future use.

Next, I split the student groups in half so everyone had one partner to work with. I gave them an alpha-list worksheet and challenged them to come up with 26 words that could be used to describe a writer's tone in an essay, poem, song, or story. I further challenged them to come up with an even split: 13 of the words must have positive connotations (like assured for letter a, benevolent for letter b, etc.) and 13 must have negative connotations (like aggressive for a, brutal for b, etc.). Each student filled out his/her own alpha-list based on the partnership's brainstorm, they consulted the dictionary and thesaurus to double-check spelling, and then we all mingled, playing "Give one/get one." In this word exchange game, students find one word on someone else's alpha-list they really like, and they carefully add that word to their own alpha-list (underneath their own word in the same box); they also must give away a really good word. At the end of the mingling, students had more than one word in almost all of their alpha-boxes; most of the kids had a word-bank of close to fifty words.

I then challenged them to create a two-page spread in their writer's notebook called "Alpha-tones for Writing." Many of the students consulted this Mr. Stick faces handout to add decoration to the page. We spend time on this because we will continue to use this list of 26 vocabulary words throughout the year as we explore persuasive writing and tone in what we are reading and writing. Here are two really great samples from two of my students this year. It's amazing to me how students will put extra effort into these notebook tasks for just a few extra credit points or an extra credit prize from my silly little prize basket.

(click image to zoom in on details)

(click image to zoom in on details)
Ian's Alpha-Tones page in his Writer's Notebook
Brooke's Alpha-Tones page in her Writer's Notebook.

Reminding my students of my vocabulary expectations for the whole year : Because of the previously-cited Classroom of Logophiles lesson from September and our Presenting Me lesson from the first week of school, my students are continuing to build and develop skills in discovering what we are calling "25-cent" vocabulary words this school year. My Fetching the Binoculars lesson from October pushed them towards exploring "25-cent" verbs, and I began this lesson by discussing "25-cent" adjectives.

I remind my students (often!) that research says that a student will "own" a new vocabulary word after having 8-10 meaningful experiences with the word. Memorizing a definition is a meaningful experience, but it's pretty low on Blooms Taxonomy; let's face it, memorization is simply recall. I let my students know I expect them to use the following Bloom's levels when attempting to "own" new vocabulary--apply, analyze, evaluate, and create--and writing is the best place to use these levels of Blooms. With this lesson based on "Titanium," I I inform them that I want them to discover (at least) six new-to-them vocabulary words with this writing/storyboarding task, which means the words will start out as "50-cent" words to my writers, and by the time they are done with this writing task, the words should be "25-cent" adjectives to them. In my classroom, a "50-cent" word is one that sends you to a dictionary while a "25-cent" word is a vocabulary word you have learned to own or can figure out by analyzing its context. Because I still am asked by teachers using these lessons, I will again provide this explanation of the difference between our vocabulary classification system.:

  • 25-cent words are high-quality, age-appropriate vocabulary words that--based on context clues or enough meaningful uses-- the students can recall their meaning and use them correctly in their writing.
  • 50-cent words are words that--even with context clues--students would need to consult a dictionary to verify meaning.

This year, my goal for students is they discover and begin to "own" four new words a week. This lesson teaches not only the writing process but helps them see that through writing (with revising and editing) that new vocabulary words can become part of a students' vocabulary. "8-10 meaningful uses" is the research I quote, and the revision and crafting of sentences for these storyboards promotes 8-10 uses here.

Revisiting the song in its video form: A few days after our Alpha-tones assignment is due, I show the music video version of the song that I first saw on VH-1 this last summer. Before showing the music video for "Titanium," I warn my students that the story they're about to see is not going to make sense to them with the first viewing. After multiple viewings, I personally can't say I know what the plot is exactly, but that's what makes this video fun for me; one has to completely infer what's going on with the limited visual clues and storyline we are given, and no one knows if the inference I am making is actually what the filmmaker had in mind. I love thought-provoking images, poems and stories that encourage multiple interpretations based on clues. My kids ended up with so many different story ideas from this brief music video, and that is based solely on the fact the video "leaves you wondering."

To set the scene, I ask them to imagine they have gone to the movies and they have accidentally walked into the wrong theater where they happen to see three- or four-minutes of a film about a weird-but-special kid; when they walk in, the film is already in progress and has been for a while. The brief clip they see is certainly interesting on its own, but when the usher yanks them out of the theater for walking into the wrong cinema, they'll have no idea what that movie was actually about.

With that, we watch the video for the first time. The video is free to watch on You-Tube, but I am glad I purchased it from I-Tunes in high definition because it looks a lot better on my Smartboard than the You-Tube version does. At the end, my students cry, "What just happened?" and I say, "Infer! What is the bigger story here? What happened to the main character right before this video started and what do you suppose happens right after he bursts into energy at the end?"

The students talk in small groups about what they think the "deal" with the main character is. I promise them if they make excellent inferences, I will allow them to watch the video again to check if their inferences still make sense.

Before watching the video a second time for visual clues (because I believe the video-maker has left quite a few of them), I want them to note the brilliance behind the organizational structure of the video: it starts and stops with the video's main character almost in the exact same position...just in a different location. We don't have a clue what has just happened when the video starts as the kid comes out of his crouching position in the school hallway. At the end, when the kid is again in his submissive, crouching position, we have to think back on the video's opening, and we have a better idea of what has occurred. And yet (and this is what the kids loved!) we still don't understand the story completely. Before the second viewing, I ask the students to actively think about interesting questions they would ask the video-maker if they knew he/she was in the room, if they knew he/she wouldn't tell them directly what the video's storyline actually is, but they knew he/she might drop a few hints to them. I model the type of question I would ask:

  • Does the boy even realize he's erupting into this ball of energy, or does his memory wipe clean each time?
  • Where are his parents? Why was the TV left on at his home?
  • Where is he going after he leaves the house? Does he know, or is he just running away blindly?

The students' theories after the second watching go in a dozen (or more) different directions, which is so awesome. To propose a theory to the class, I insist that students must have evidence in the video to support their claim. Is the boy an alien? Is he good or evil? Are the armed men who surround him at the end police, S.W.A.T., government agents, or something else? What I ask them to really think about before going home that day are two big things: 1) What do they think happened to the character three minutes before this music video began; and 2) what do they think happens to the character in the three minutes after it ends? They will be required to choose one of those questions and storyboard it as a writing assignment.

Oh, the power of Edmodo, my fellow teachers! This is the fifth year I am requiring my students to become members of my (completely free-to-create and maintain) classroom Edmodo site. Each year, I have become so much better at making our Edmodo site a place for continuing conversations started (or about to start the next day) in class. For those who don't know, Edmodo is a completely free social network you set-up just for your students. As a teacher, you create an account, then you create a site for your classroom, and you're given a secret code to give your students. They become members by inputting the code, their parents can become "parent members" too so they can monitor the site, and students can pose questions or links or comments for the entire group. Students are not allowed to privately message one other, but they can privately message the teacher if they have a specific question or concern they don't wish everyone to see. Here are some ways I am using Edmodo for this year...in general:

  • Students are encouraged to post questions about homework or upcoming projects. My students usually answer each other's questions long before I see the questions, so I usually don't even need to answer questions of this nature;
  • Students can post electronic versions of documents and ask for feedback on them from each other, or they can post final projects that we can then look at over my Smartboard on project presentation day;
  • Students can post links to websites or other on-line resources they think would benefit their classmates on upcoming projects or current inquiries;
  • Teachers can post links or files for students to access from home. Teachers can also create polls and other interactive, on-line elements; I, for example, now host an evening trivia question/challenge based on information from the Sacred Writing Time PowerPoint slide of the day, and the kids love trying to win pencils or stickers from my extra-credit prize bucket. It's silly, but it encourages my kids to be online nightly to see what their classmates are asking/talking about.

In the beginning, you will have students who try to turn your Edmodo site into a chat room with random comments to the group like "What's up?" or "Who's on?" and you have to squelch that right away. Once students learn that all their posts must be about something class-related or school-related, or they lose the ability to post (which the teacher can easily do--temporarily or permanently!), they take it very seriously. There is an Edmodo application for the I-Pad that I use, which I check every night for less than ten minutes to make sure everything going on at my classroom site is purely educational, and that is all I have to do to maintain the online environment--other than post my nightly trivia challenge or question. My students think Edmodo--because it seems like Facebook (with a lot more teacher-controlled restrictions)--is totally relevant because it's live and real and online. I am so glad we started using Edmodo last year as a team. last year.

Because Edmodo was set-up and in place, I used it to challenge my students to go home--after we watched the video in class twice as a group--and to continue looking for clues in the video on their own. I asked them to post ideas or theories they had developed at our Edmodo site. And wow! For three straight days, the Edmodo posts were about the "Titanium" video, which they were watching on their own and discovering clues and elements that I had not seen before. For example,

  • My novice lip-readers came up with multiple theories about what the teacher at the school says while on the phone and what she says to the sheriff who arrives at the school;
  • My movie fans noticed an old movie poster behind the TV in the boy's house, and they discovered it was for an actual movie about a superhero with interesting powers, which they related to the video's storyline;
  • My setting analyzers found symbolism in the graffiti near the end of the video, and they investigated the meaning of the symbols.

In short, my students spent two or three days--based on the high interest the music video inspired in them--trying to crack the mystery embedded in this video. And because I had an on-line forum for them to talk about it, the conversations became wonderfully thoughtful.

The writing process for this lesson: Before handing out the rough draft worksheet, I review the steps of the writing process that we always use for our writer's workshop, and I review how it will work with this writing task:

  • Step #1...Pre-writing: We usually do pre-writing in our writer's notebooks, but for this assignment, the students have been chatting about story ideas in class and on Edmodo. Talking about a story idea is a great way to pre-write.
  • Step #2...Drafting: We are about to draft and commit an idea for a storyboard for this assignment by writing it on paper. Students, using Mr. Stick, will create five simple pictures and include a dialogue bubble or two to convey their story idea.
  • Step #3...Response/Feedback: We will share our storyboard drafts with peers in order to clarify that our stories make sense. We will ask our peers for detail suggestions to add to each storyboard to help tell our story idea better.
  • Step #4...Revision: We will revise our original storyboards, adding a one-sentence caption to each picture; each caption must contain a "25-cent" vocabulary word that is used correctly.
  • Step #5...Editing/Vocabulary Checking: We will check each other's captions and dialogue bubbles for spelling and punctuation, and I will let students know if they have misused their "25-cent" vocabulary words.
  • Step #6...Editing/Vocabulary Checking: On two pieces of cardstock or on two 11" x 6" file folder strips, students will carefully create a final draft that contains color and carefully-composed captions and dialogue bubbles.
  • Step #7...Publishing: We, of course, will share our completed storyboards with each other in class. In addition, the 20 best storyboards will hang in our team's hallway, which is always an incentive--I feel--for getting better effort from my kiddos. It also helps that my students know I will be posting pictures of their storyboards here at my website! I have included a link below where you can self-publish photographs of your students' best storyboards too!

Again, based on the video, students' two options here are to either a) storyboard the three minutes that--based on evidence and inference--happened to the main character before the video we have seen begins, or b) storyboard the three minutes after the character bursts into energy to save himself at the end of the video. Some cautionary notes based on my experience teaching this lesson already: 1) There are guns used in the video by the characters chasing the main character, and I ask the students to please respect my intolerance for gun-related violence by not ever putting a weapon in the main character's hand or in the hands of any character who is not a police officer. 2) A lot of the kids who focused on the three minutes that preceded the video turned their storyboard into a story about bullying, which was fine, but again I had to stress the "no weapons" rule here; some insisted there was a bullet hole in the window behind the boy when he wakes up in the school, but I told them no!

Students will, first, draft a storyboard of (a minimum of) five pictures that explain the three minutes before the video begins or the three minutes after it ends. They chose one of these two storyboard planners. I encourage simple pictures with optional and simple dialogue bubbles by saying, "Just enough visual clues so that you can tell another student your story idea by moving through the pictures on your draft." After these drafts are complete, students share their first sketches and oral versions of their stories with small groups, asking each other questions.

For the second draft, students were required to add two new elements: 1) a caption that explained what was happening in each picture, and the captions needed to contain a good vocabulary word; 2) additional visuals for the sketches, like background images or props for the characters. Again, students shared their revised drafts, but this time they did this with a new group of students. Final suggestions were given based on a) any questions about the storyline that were still not clear and b) any suggestions for adding dialogue bubbles that would help the reader understand the characters or the storyline better.

Finally, I had my aide use my paper cutter to cut up some file folders (I had an amazing excess of them for some reason). Each student received two 6.5" x 11.5" strips, which they taped together. Carefully, they crafted final drafts based on their first two drafts. As you can see from the display we ended up with in my hallway, there were many different styles and approaches to these final drafts. I am always amazed that if you throw out the "creativity gauntlet," and say the most creative ideas will go out in the hallway for the school to see, how many of the kids really make this an opportunity to shine. I was ever so proud to be able to display almost 25 truly AMAZING examples from 75 samples I received.

The best part of this lesson to me personally: Close to 90% of my students really enjoyed every step of the writing process as we created these short little pieces of writing: pre-writing, drafting, feedback, revision, publishing. Now, with every writing process assignment we work on, I am reminding them how this step is like that one day we worked on Titanium on a similar step, and they remember that working hard to improve writing is hard work...but it can also be fun.

Here are some highlights from my hallway display. Click on any image to view it in larger form:

Titanium Storyboard Highlights from my Student Writers:

If you use this lesson and end up with some storyboard you think should be featured,
I invite you to post them (as photo attachments) at the bottoms of this blog post at our Ning.

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