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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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       Because writing--when taught well--can be the most enjoyable part of your teaching day, we created this website to provide fun, adaptable ideas for teachers.

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Background information for this lesson: Like one of my favorite authors Ralph Fletcher, I believe in exploring the power of verbs when writing. In his very well-written manuals for student writers, like How to Write Your Life Story--Ralph advises students to "invigorate their verbs," and I use the same terminology with my kiddos, but I also push them to be creative with their use of verbs. I also believe in students understanding verbs at the grammatical level; as I stressed in part three of my December of 2014 lesson of the month--which tried to show how academic grammar vocabulary can be taught better through interesting writing tasks than it can with old-fashioned grammar worksheets--I expect my students to have enough control over their sentences to know exactly where their verb(s) is and how to use grammatical knowledge to turn their verbs into nouns (gerunds) or adjectives (participial phrases) so that they can jam-pack certain sentences with verb power. This month's lesson share five ideas where I ask students to write and show off their knowledge of verbs simultaneously.

Six Verb Strategies to Invigorate Writing
four verb reviews inspired by fun mentor texts, and two verb writing tasks to ready your students for revision

In Order, my Four Favorite Verb Reviews based on Four Great Picture Book Mentors Texts

Kites Sail High
by Ruth Heller

If you were a Verb
by Michael Dahl
  • My latest verb review activity, which I'll be using this spring as a new writer's notebook challenge: I just acquired If you Were a Verb this past summer, and it's awesome, so I'm still figuring out how to exactly incorporate it with my students. When I'm first trying out a book or an idea, I usually use it with all my grade levels, which is what I'm planning to do this spring. My kids all come to me knowing what an acrostic poem is, and they always ask me if they can write acrostic poems based on the weekly vocabulary words they collect for me, and I've always told them "no" because what they give me--more often than not--shows minimal thinking; they just throw the first word that comes to mind at me in their quickly-written poems, and I think a good acrostic poem is one where each word has been carefully thought about, not haphazardly splashed on the page.

    My idea for thoughtful acrostic poems inspired by verbs is as follows. First rule, students must choose interesting verbs that are in simple present tense form for third-person point-of-view; simply put, that means the challenging verb they choose must end in -s (or -es or -ies, depending on the spelling of the original verb). I want to make sure my kids hear me using those fancy grammatical terms as they prepare for this task because Common Core asks me to teach and review that type of academic language. My philosophy with teaching grammar terminology will always be this: use the academic language a lot, make sure they repeat the academic language a lot, and then have them write something creative or logical that is original. No worksheets!

    So let's say you've chosen the verb SMITES or SIZZLES or SALVAGES. You then ask yourself, "Who or what does that action?" You must find a logical or creative answer for that question that begins with each of the letters in the word, thus creating your acrostic. I'm going to have my students--as usual--write these vocabulary/verb acrostic poems together at first; then, once they have had practice and discovered different ways to think about coming up with great answers for each letter of the word through meaningful collaboration, ultimately they will create a page in their writer's notebooks that celebrates three great verbs that all start with the same letter. At right, you can click the example from my writer's notebook that I'll be using as my teacher model. When I create a lesson that involves any type of writing, me having my own teacher model is an absolute non-negotiable because going through the writing process myself helps me explain my own writing process to my students. You're certainly welcome to print or show the teacher model I am sharing here and pretend you wrote it as your own teacher-model, but you won't be able to explain your own meta-cognition to your students. So make your own! Creating mine was actually fun! Dena helped me out a little bit, which reminded me how it'll be important--during the first few times you try this activity--to allow for group and partner collaboration when writing these. Most of my students welcome a partner, but I do have a few students who would so much rather work in isolation so as to not have their creative ideas squelched by a partner. Depending on the mood I'm in and the previous day's success (or lack thereof) with partners and collaboration, I either assign or let students choose to work alone or with their own idea for a partner.


  • Verb review for my sixth graders: By the end of their school year with me, my sixth graders eventually personify six of the eight parts of speech in their writer's notebooks (I save pronouns and conjunctions for the seventh grade year). The idea of personifying the parts of speech was inspired by Robin Pulver's Nouns and Verbs Have a Field Day. In class, we first use Pulver's picture book as an "idea mentor text." Working with partners, they create a funny sentences that would be found in our own version of this story, which we choose to call "Nouns and Verbs Fake a Sick Day." The partners negotiate a rough draft together, then end up sharing their stories with other partners. Teaching my students to personify vocabulary words (here's the same lesson in PDF format)--especially academic grammatical terms like noun and verb--is a great way to teach potentially boring topic while reviewing a poetic tool

  • My seventh graders are the grade level I currently have that uses my favorite picture book that focuses on verbs and reviewing what they are: Brian Cleary's To Root, to Toot, to Parachute. Working with partners or in groups of three, students compete for ten minutes against other groups to see who can come up with the best and/or the longest list of three action verbs that rhyme with each other--just like the title of Cleary's book; with seventh graders, there tends to be a lot of giggling with this lesson, because--let's face it--there are a lot of action verbs that take the form of "bad words" that we don't say out loud in class. Rhyming is funny though, isn't it; when a group member brainstorms out loud , "To sit," suddenly they all start giggling without having to vocalize the "bad word" that rhymes with sit. I have to say several times, "All this giggling over words you can't use is going to keep you from winning the competition with words that you can use," and while it doesn't completely put a stop to the giggling, seventh graders are generally competitive enough that they become focused again on the prize.

    With those lists completed, I challenge them to go back to the title of Cleary's book ("To Root, To Toot, To Parachute") and ask, "If there was a creative story/narrative where those three verbs happened in that order, what would the story be? Who would root, why would there be tooting, and what's going on with that parachute?"** I ask the students to look over their own original sets of verb and to propose their idea for the best narrative. The kids always have some fun ideas for stories based on just three verbs that rhyme, and I think it's totally worth the time it takes to share and laugh here as we hear all the different verbs that our fellow classmates have brainstormed and integrated into short descriptions of narratives.

    • **I have to recount a side-story here, of course, because what would one of my on-line lessons be with a possibly inappropriate side-story; there's a reason I was a popular provider of professional developer during my time working at our State Department of Education, and I suspect it's because I can tell an inappropriate story without every using an inappropriate word. Here's the side-story: At our house, our "nice way" say fart is to say "toot," and it's not original because every year, I have at least one student whose family uses the same substitute verb in their house. As I assign this part of the group discussion, I have to carefully look for these students (you can tell by their eyes and/or their muffled giggles) and warn them that they're looking for the official dictionary definition of toot, which is not the definition their family uses. To toot is also--and I only had one student in my history know this...thank goodness--is to take a nasal snort of a drug, like cocaine. I guess, depending on where you teach, you may choose to forbid this use of the verb toot in their thinking too. Anyway, it's good to know these things up front and to address them before they ruin your whole lesson by allowing the giggles to get out of hand.

    Back the my seventh graders' review task, I make the next step harder by pointing out to them the formula that Cleary uses with his title: "to" and a one-syllable verb + "to" and a one-syllable verb + "to" and a three-syllable verb--and it makes for a nice rhythm when you read it aloud. I offer them a writer's notebook challenge, which I offer extra credit for every month to every student who accepts the challenge, that I want to see--at least--three "Tri-Verb Rhyming Comics." They follow the syllable pattern that Cleary used exactly, and they have to include a picture that helps me to visualize the narrative story they would tell based on their three verbs. For my example, which is now a cherished page in my fancy writer's notebook, I have five examples, and I still don't know which one I like the best; I think each of them could become charming stories in their own way. Remember, that's the purpose of a good writer's notebook: to house potential ideas (no matter how short) that can become fun pieces of more detailed writing later on.

  • My eighth graders go deeper with their verb knowledge as we review; I require them to review and master the terms transitive and intransitive verbs before they head to high school so that they can absolutely use new verbs correctly in sentences when they find an interesting one for their "Vocabulary Collections." Even my eighth graders (as old and wise as they think they are) still struggle with verbs that are brand new to them and how to use them correctly. Now...if they are trying to use new verbs as adjectives or nouns in their original writing (which still happens on occasion), I know I have to initiate some one-on-one review with them. More commonly with eighth grade, however, the mistake they make is they add direct objects (or neglect to) when the new verb they discover requires it; thus, I need to help them understand the labels transitive and intransitive, which are two terms we actually start using in seventh grade in my classroom when I am teaching them to master prepositions and adverbial phrases. The class-set of dictionaries I have are pretty old, but they do a nice job of labeling the verbs as v.t. or v.i., so the kids hear those two academic labels for action verbs from me each time that question is broached. It's a hard concept to master, however, and I'll freely admit that I don't think I personally mastered my three main verb labels (transitive, intransitive, and linking) until late in high school. I'm proud that--at year's end in my current classroom--I can say to any of my eighth graders, "You're using an intransitive verb here but you have no direct object in the sentence," and they know exactly what that means and how to fix it. What's the best book that taught me just about everything I know about grammar in a fun way? It's The Transitive Vampire by Karen Elizabeth Gordon, which now comes in an improved "Deluxe" version since its original printing back in the late 80's. I never learned more about grammar than I did from this cleverly-written handbook, which features some of the most enjoyable example sentences ever.

    Way back in sixth grade, when I'm teaching minimum sentence basics and how to deconstruct a sentence, I introduce what we call "Tarzan talk" or "Tonto talk." Both those literary characters, I explain to my writers, mastered grammar at its most basic form. Not always--but quite often--their sentences follow absolute bare bones grammar rules, and they generally don't fluff up their sentences with articles and adverbs and prepositions. "Tarzan likes Jane." and " Enemy comes." are the sorts of sentences we heard from these characters in the books, the radio plays, and the movies.

    All sentences in English must contain a verb. This is an absolute rule of grammar. Imperative commands allow you to have sentences without a spoken subject, but the verb is an absolute requirement in creating a sentence, as in: "Sit!" & "Go!" & "Think!" We call most imperative commands "One-word sentences" in my class, and some of my kids like the challenge of creating an entire page of them in their writer's notebooks. I've even have had some students create graphs for the "One-word sentences" they hear their parents say the most. See, students can learn and practice grammar while doing ten-minute (Sacred Writing Time) challenges in their writer's notebooks.

    Basic intransitive and transitive sentences allow students to start grammatically exploring bare-minimum two- and three-word sentences during class. When we all learned to diagram sentences back in the day (which I always enjoyed and which I think is a lost art--and I'll bet that thinking puts me in the grammar teacher minority), our diagrams required us to deconstruct longer sentences into their basic two- or three-word chunks: "People like waffles" is a just-minimal three-word, transitive sentence with its subject + tr. verb + direct object; "Wolves howl" is a just-minimal two-word, intransitive sentence with its subject + intr. verb. In seventh grade, we usually create a page in our writer's notebooks that celebrates our coolest sounding two- and three-word grammatically complete sentences.

    Let's jump to my eighth grade review of verbs! Ruth Heller's verb book which is titled--"Kites Sail High."--opens up a transitive versus intransitive verb debate as a review to my eighth graders. When I ask, "Is this book's title a transitive or intransitive sentence?" and I add the challenge "I bet less than half of you can not only get the right answer but have every member of your group explain it to me intelligently." The five-minute debate starts. Those who don't want to think about it very hard claim it's transitive just by the presence of its three words, but those who have become my "grammar debaters" see something weird in word high. They have a hard time seeing high as an adverb (which is what it is: it's an intransitive sentence with an adverb modifier) because it feels more like an adjective to them, but they're pretty sure it's not a noun. It takes them a little bit of discussion to apply the right words to their thinking since this is a review, but quite a few of get there. And quite a few of them help their group members to be able to explain it too, even though their group members disagreed from the beginning of the discussion.

    My eighth graders then create a ten-sentence quiz for each other. The rules for the quiz are simple: 1) All sentences must be three-word, grammatically correct sentences that use action verbs (no linking verbs, like was or is or are); 2) half must use transitive sentences (so they'll be noun + verb + noun; 3) the other half must use intransitive sentences (so they'll probably be noun + verb + adverb). Students will be rewarded points for their sentences that consistently fool their classmates, so if they choose nothing but -ly adverbs, they won't fool anyone. Again, I draw their attention back to the title of Heller's book, which uses an unusual adverb that started out fooling many of them.

    Students work on their three-word sentence quizzes for each other. The biggest mistake they make is they forget they're supposed to use an action verb and try to give me sentences like "Sailors are untrustworthy." And so, I circulate among them, looking for sentences that have three words but don't follow the required pattern or aren't grammatically correct at all. I correct them as I see them. When students have ten correct sentences, they create their quizzes, which I like to have them do in their writer's notebooks because I like them to be reminded of grammatical concepts and sentences (even short ones) that they put a lot of thought into. At right, is my writer's notebook quiz that I share as my teacher model.

    Extension activity: The students' ten three-word sentences are raw grammar. They're our own version of "Tarzan" or "Tonto talk." We read some pretty difficult texts in eighth grade, and we jokingly say, "You'd never catch [insert current author's name here] using a three-word sentence; no, they'd fluff it up with articles and modifiers and phrases and clauses and make it really hard for you guys to read." We do a fun extension activity with this completed writer's notebook page a short sentences. Students move from partner to partner, showing each other these pages they created. With each partner, they are supposed to select one short sentence and rewrite it to a degree that Upton Sinclair, Charles Dickens, or John Steinbeck would approve of the sentence in its new form. So "Cattle lowed soft" might become "As though on cue, the cattle belonging to his neighbor and arch enemy, Ralston Davies, lowed, at first soft, but then loud in what was no doubt meant to be a warning or portent." We have little contests for extra credit prizes to see who can "beef up" each other's three-word sentences the best...and they're learning grammatical structures while we laugh and enjoy the creation of single, original sentences. Who knew grammar could be this fun!

Two Weekly Writing Routines that Require Students to Demonstrate Verb Knowledge
having students review and practice their verb knowledge when assigning other types of writing in class
As a middle school teacher who is married to another middle school teacher, we often argue over who has the most disorganized group of students. Dena usually wins those debates, but only because she has the time to put together a better personal campaign than I do. Me? I never picked up on personal basic organization skills until I was halfway through my junior year in high school, and Dena will claim she is naturally organized but you should see the number of un-opened emails in her inbox. Anyway, both of us recognize that our early teen years were probably the worst for us at being personally organized, and--thus--we both see the absolute value of establishing weekly routines with our students so they have something predictable we do with which they can practice and develop organizational skills.

The following two verb-inspired activities come from two routines: one that I developed for my students, and one that Dena developed for her students. Students regularly write for us about what they're reading, and we teach them multiple options for their writing to take. I put a huge amount of my teaching focus into my students "Writing about Vocabulary" options, which I collect weekly, and Dena puts a huge amount of effort into teaching her "Writing about the Reading you Completed this Week" options, which she has the students store in a Reader's Notebook, and which she collects monthly.

We ALWAYS invite you to adapt any of our ideas if your schedule is set up differently than ours, but we feel it important to share how often we require small pieces of writing from our students. Our way or routine is not necessarily the best option for all, but it's the routine that works best for our classroom contexts and schedules. We don't want teachers to copy our routines exactly; we want them to adapt our ideas like crazy because--and this has been our own experience after 45+ years of combined teaching experience--is that our best discoveries about what makes students become better writers is when we adapted others' ideas like crazy.

Below on the left, you will find Dena's write-up for "Verbing it Up!' which is one of the twenty-five activity choices she provides her students who are using her Reading Bingo Cards and maintaining a Reading Notebook.

Below on the right, you will find Corbett's write-up for "Showing Sentences," which is one of the ten activities my students can choose from when they are publishing four of their weekly vocabulary words as small pieces of writing that I assess carefully.

From Dena's Classroom
"Verbing it Up!"
From Corbett's Classroom
"Vocabulary Showing Sentences"
Again, this activity is just one of twenty-five choices students can select from for writing a weekly summary of their writing. If you'd like access to all 25 of Dena's Bingo Cards Activities, we sell them for a very reasonable price to keep our website advertising-free and free-to-use.

Click the PowerPoint slide image below to gain free access to three of the twenty-five summary activities from Dena's Reading Bingo Card set. The activities are:

  1. "Character: Cook, Bake or Broil?" -- students use recipe verbs creatively
  2. "Going Gangbusters with Got!" -- In Vicki Spandel's awesome book The 9 Rights of Every Writer, one of the rights she thinks they should have is the right to sometimes just write badly. This activity has students have fun by using a very lazy verb--get, got, getting, gotten--to write the worst summary (verb-wise) ever.
  3. "Verb-ing it Up!" -- a summary of reading that uses (and identifies) as many action-packed sentences as possible.

(This lesson works better in PowerPoint, but here is the PDF version if needed.)

Again, this activity is just one of ten choices students can select from when "publishing" four of their vocabulary words for me every week. If you'd like access to all 10 of Corbett's Vocab Lessons, we sell them for a very reasonable price.

Click the PowerPoint slide image below to gain free access to twelve of the slides from our thirty-two slides that I use to teach my students all of the following:

  1. how to identify and correctly use a linking verb;
  2. how to spot the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs, and how to use them correctly;
  3. how to write a "Showing Sentence" based on action verbs and how to correctly explain whether your verbs are transitive or intransitive; also, how to leave a reader descriptive context clues so that classmates can guess a word's meaning after hearing a well-written showing sentence that contains the word.

(This lesson works better in PowerPoint, but here is the PDF version if needed.)


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