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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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About this lesson: This writing lesson has students imagine an interesting plot idea for a horror movie and create a poster for said movie that makes use of one of their vocabulary words. I apologize in advance to any teachers who believe their students are too young to create their own horror movie posters. Please remember, I teach 6th - 8th graders, and my writers like to be a little morbid from time to time, and they simply love the idea behind this writing task; in fact, they invented the idea. Speaking of morbidity, at present, I also have half a dozen students using their sacred writing time this spring to create original ghost stories in their writer's notebooks; they are planning on telling these original ghost stories around the campfire over the summer at camp, I suspect, because I suggested this notion to them about a month back, and many of them ran with it. So the fact is: my students enjoy an opportunity to create something scary and horrible. If yours don't, there are plenty of non-morbid lesson ideas at our Lesson of the Month archive at "Always Write."

If you wish to adapt this lesson's ideas to focus on a different genre of movie other than horror--like science fiction or a new Disney film-- I invite you to do so. All my student and teacher models below, however, are focused on more macabre tales. Remember, thoughtful adaptation is the key to becoming a great writing teacher! Teachers who blindly follow scripts or writing programs will never become quality writing instructors. Adapt this idea! Please... I post my lessons to inspire creative adaptions. 

Vocabulary-inspired Fake Horror Movie Posters
my students came up with this idea...it developed into a popular, vocabulary writing task for our "Vocabulary Workshop"

Materials Created for our Classroom Vocabulary Workshop
At Teachers Pay Teachers
Eleven Vocabulary &
Writing Lessons
Check out my students' amazing vocabulary-inspired writings at Pinterest. Access a sampler of my ten vocabulary writing tasks here.

What's a "Vocabulary Workshop"? My classroom has three types of "workshop" these days: writing workshop, reading workshop, and--as of 2012--vocabulary workshop. Every week, my students self-select four new-to-them vocabulary words from our classroom readings or their independent readings. I ask them to consciously select and "publish" words they could see themselves using in future writing or conversations. If you visit my vocabulary resource page here at Always Write or my Vocabulary Pinterest Board, you can see many samples and resources that show how my students take their weekly vocabulary collecting quite seriously.

The ten writing tasks my students may choose from are short and to the point, and they are designed to require students to "craft" a sentence or an original idea that correctly makes use of the four weekly vocabulary words they have chosen. I am a true believer that requiring short weekly writing tasks is a very effective way to build long-term writing skills that ultimately begin showing up in my students' larger papers. The best thing about short writing tasks, in my opinion, is that they are easy to grade. They are also easy to teach students to grade.

Every other Friday--when my students have eight new words they have collected and "published" for me--we host an actual workshop. We set aside thirty minutes (at least) that Friday for my students to circulate and teach their vocabulary words to classmates. They explain a favorite word to each student as they rotate through the room, they explain their thinking and process that helped create their small writing task, and they challenge their classmates to think of a different way to use the word they are trying to teach them. Their goal is to convince classmates that one or more of their words is worth learning to use well in speaking or in writing.

When the workshop is over, students return to their desks and they write down five new words they learned from their classmates during the workshop. We use this special form. Students check whether or not they remembered the part of speech correctly with the student who taught them the word. They also have to paraphrase the definition and create an original context where they might use the word, and they share these ideas back with their fellow classmates. We save their ideas from these sheets in their vocabulary binders, and during writer's workshop I challenge them to use a few of the words they collected themselves or learned from their classmates. My students have taken ownership of our learning, and that includes our focus on learning new vocabulary.

Throughout the fall, I teach my students the ten vocabulary & writing activities that I have created PowerPoints for, and students must use four different writing activities from the ten choices I give them every week. Every spring, I challenge my 8th graders to collaborate and attempt to invent new meaningful vocabulary activities that can become part our vocabulary choice menu; my goal with this challenge is to add four new techniques every year. My 8th graders have invented the "Vocabulary Word-Art" activity, the "Vocabulary Fake Phone App" activity, the "Vocabulary 'Yo Mama' Joke activity," and the "Vocabulary Superhero & Super Villain activity." They certainly have come up with some better ideas than I do after they've used my ten activities for a while, and the thoughtful ideas become part of their choice menus when students decide how to write something short using their new vocabulary words for the week.

The "Vocabulary Horror Movie Poster" was an idea my kiddos came up with in the spring of 2013. I still love it. And so do they.

Teaching the Format of a "Vocabulary Horror Movie Poster": The first scary movie I ever saw was Alien. My oldest brother took me to see it in the summer of 1979 when I was eleven, and when my mother found it, she freaked! I loved that movie, I loved that it made me jump, and I bought and read the Alan Dean Foster novelization of the movie that fall and read scary sections of it out loud to my friends in middle school. I have been a true fan of good movies that give you a good scare ever since. My mother, by the way, is still a bit mad at my older brother over this!

The movie poster for Alien was memorable; it was the same cover that was on Aland Dean Foster's book. . People remember the poster's "tag line" almost as much as they remember the film's grossest, chest-popping scene: "In space, no one can hear you scream." If you click the image of the poster at left, you can see a much bigger version of the poster. I think writing a good "tag line" for a movie poster requires good writing skills. I often ask my students to create "tag lines" for the books they're reading, or for a chapter from a chapter book they just finished. Some books and chapters actually come with their own tag lines now. Below you can find some samples.

Not all movie posters have quotes from reviewers right on them, but some do. Some of my students like to put fake review quotes on their original movie posters, and I am all for them including as many words on their writing assignment as possible. I don't require the review quotes, but it is an option.

Here is the four absolute requirements students must adhere to when creating a vocabulary word-inspired horror fake movie poster as one of their weekly vocabulary write-ups for me:

  1. The vocabulary word must be in the movie's title or its tag line, and it must be used correctly.
  2. The poster must contain a visual (an original one or it can be computer generated).
  3. The poster must have a "tag line" that's clever or intriguing.
  4. All spelling and punctuation must be used correctly on the poster.
  5. (Optional) The poster can have a fake review from a fake critique.

Like our vocabulary haiku task, the horror movie poster task requires students to put their words into a context that would be appropriate for a scary movie. Creating new contexts for new words requires higher level thinking that goes way beyond simply memorizing a word and its definition. Here are five words my students and I have successfully put into horror movie contexts for our fake posters. Before looking at the student and teacher samples below, think about these five words and their definitions. What potential horror movie context does your brain create?

What Horror Movie Context/Plot line do these Five 25-cent Vocabulary Words Create in your Brain?
  • procurer (noun) someone who obtains supplies or equipment
  • haberdasher (noun) a dealer in men's clothing and accessories, especially hats
  • dismal (adjective) gloomy or dreary or cheerless
  • bucolic (adjective) describing details or aspects of the countryside or country life that are pleasant
  • indelible (adjective) describing something that can't be erased or forgotten

Look through the models below to see what my students and I came up with for short writing tasks inspired by these five 25-cent vocabulary words. During our every-other-Friday Vocabulary Workshop, students have to explain their horror movies' basic plot-lines when sharing their vocabulary-inspired titles and taglines. My students have invented some crazy plot-lines for their movie posters.

Three of my Favorite Student Models of Vocabulary-inspired Horror Movie Posters:
7th grader Cole dreamt up this horror movie idea when he found the word procurer in his reading. Cole used the 25-cent vocabulary word in his movie's title, and then created a clever tag-line that made us all laugh very hard. Click the image to see it larger. Click here to re-pin this sample at Pinterest on your own board. 8th graders Jaysen and Meredith collaborated to create one of the original prototypes for this activity, and they used haberdasher in their hilarious tag-line instead of their title. This poster was displayed with the original criteria (on the yellow sheet next to poster) so my 6th and 7th graders could use this activity in the future instead of choosing from my ten options. Click here to pin this sample at Pinterest on your own board. 8th grader Ian went all out decorating his poster on his vocabulary sheet, and I love his use of Mr. Stick here. His plot-line focused on twins who were under the spell of someone else. Click the image to see all four of Ian's words for this week. Click here to pin this sample at Pinterest on your own board.

Two Teacher Models of Vocabulary-inspired Horror Movie Posters...and Two Real Horror Movie Posters We Enjoy:
I found the word bucolic in my independent novel I'm reading this month, and I visualized this horror movie with bucolic in the tag-line. Click the thumbnail above to see it larger. Click here to see this work and the other three words I collected & published that week! I found the word indelible in my independent novel I'm reading this month, and I visualized this horror movie with indelible in its tag-line. Click the thumbnail above to see it larger. Click here to see this work and the other three words I collected & published that week! Here is a real horror movie poster from the 1950's. I love its clever tagline underneath the title because it uses a fun pun, which my students always enjoy; plus, it incorporates a great verb--petrify--as an extra attempt to be rhetorical to potential movie viewers. This is one of my wife's favorite scary movies. As we learn to make horror movie posters, I have students look up synonyms for the words in this film's actual tag line (forgives and forgets) to see if they might insert a 25-cent word into the poster.

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Challenge Accepted! A Movie Posters that Isn't a Horror Movie:

I found the word kowtow (twice!) in the novel I'm currently reading (11/22/63 by Stephen King), and I thought it might inspire a Pixar-like movie poster. Since I can't draw much more than stickmen, the cow image is from the Internet, and the chickens are too, but I had to trace them to fit the frame of the movie poster. Click image above to see a larger version of the poster at Pinterest. Click here to see this movie poster with the three other words I collected and published during the same week of our Vocabulary Workshop.

Here's a friendly email challenge I received after posting this lesson on May 1, 2016:


Dear Corbett,

I've been using your lessons for several years now. I love how you encourage us to adapt your lessons. I teach third and fourth grade and I roll up with my students. I have adapted so many of your lessons that come with your middle school students' examples and you're right about how adapting an idea from someone else ultimately makes me a better teacher with writing. I thought your lesson based on Tub-boo-boo [Crazy Time and Place for a Newscast] would be too hard for my third graders but I made a few adjustments and the students completely loved it. We're now doing a lot more writing across the curriculum with our writers notebooks. The Tub-boo-boo writing challenge helped my students to think that writing about history is fun.

I have third graders again this year, and we are using five of your ten vocabulary [writing tasks] and we are now keeping a vocabulary section in our notebooks. I honestly don't think I can encourage them to create horror movie posters like this month's lesson suggested because they are very young and hopefully have not seen any horror movies yet (hopefully). I have been wanting to add a sixth vocabulary activity choice this spring, and I will adapt your lesson of the month so my students can make movie posters based on their vocabulary words. But not scary movies.

Your [teacher models] are always so much better than mine. Since you always challenge us to adapt, I thought I would challenge you to consider making a model of a movie poster of the type my third graders might actually see. Like a Pixar film. If you accept this challenge, I will promise to send you some examples from my third graders. They are very bright this year.

Thank you again for all the great ideas you continue to send us. The teachers at my school always appreciate your generosity, and I am constantly blown away by it. I wish I could be as creative as you and your wife seem to be.


Tamara F., New York teacher

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Four Bone-chilling Mentor Texts that Have Fun Tag-Lines on their Covers...Analyze them with Students!
(These books from my class library come with fun tag-lines. Challenge your students to create tag-lines for books that don't come with them.)

The Fallen
by Charlie Higson

Tagline: The enemy is among us

The Ghost's Grave
by Pen Kehret

Tagline: What if you could see a ghost when no one else could?

by Anya Allyn

Tagline: Dress-up turns deadly

The Monstrumologist
by Rick Yancey

Tagline: There are monsters among us and they must be found.

Teachers: If you end up using/adapting this lesson idea for your regular instruction or during your own version of a "Vocabulary Workshop," please feel free to photograph or scan high-quality student samples and post them at our Ning's student publishing page for this lesson: http://writinglesson.ning.com/group/vocabulary-collectors/forum/topics/vocabulary-horror-movie-posters-hall-of-fame

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