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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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Contact me through my e-mail address with questions/comments about this lesson: Corbett@CorbettHarrison.com

Background information for this lesson: I first posted this lesson here at my website in early January of 2015. It is my first Lesson of the Month for the new Year, and I have made some resolutions that affect the lesson below. One of my resolutions was going to be to stop posting these monthly lessons with an apology to all of because--after all--I have more than enough lessons posted at my site to keep anyone very busy trying just a portion of them; don't worry, I'm not stopping completely, but because there are a lot of new requirements being thrust upon us (and you too, I'm sure) in our Northern Nevada classrooms, it's admittedly hard to put these lessons out while I work on those too. But I will endure because I expect my students to publish something once a month for their portfolios, and putting out these monthly lessons is my way to show my students that I am participating in that process too.

My November and December lessons of the month were--let's just say--a little ambitious; each of them could have probably been split into three separate monthly lessons. And thus, my New Year's Resolution for 2015 has me giving myself permission to post shorter-but-still-meaningful writing lessons and ideas. This lesson is going to be the first of those. Don't expect three different ideas here; rather, I'm just providing one, and I hope it inspires you to come up with your own two other similar ideas inspired by my one. Fair enough?

Using a New Vocabulary Word to Create a New Phone App
my students came up with this idea...it developed into a great, meaningful writing task for them

Check out my students' weekly vocabulary-inspired writings at Pinterest. Access a sampler of my ten vocabulary writing tasks here.

Shorter writing works, and it can actually be better in developing skills for many writers! In September of 2012, when my new school's inane rotating schedule finally convinced me that I wasn't able to show fidelity to my own writer's workshop format, I changed the structure of my teaching, and that modified my classroom philosophy. I used to shoot for twelve polished pieces of writing each year (narratives, poems, short essays, argumentative papers, etc.) in my students' portfolios when I was running my original Writer's Workshop format, and that was do-able with a weekly writer's workshop. Unable to maintain that, I gave myself permission to pull that down to seven or eight pieces of published writing (their state writing tests now count as one of those pieces), but we replaced the smaller amount of published papers we wrote with something that has proven just as valuable: a much-shorter, but revised and polished writing task expected weekly instead of monthly did wonders for my students' faith in their writing abilities and--ultimately--their writing test scores.

I have to believe the same the same philosophy will hold true if I write up shorter lessons ideas, polish them a bit more since they're shorter after all, and publish them monthly.

My students' shorter writing come to me on a weekly basis, and it takes the form of four short pieces of writing students create around new vocabulary words they are discovering in our reading assignments. I am able to assess these shorter writing assignments faster, students can self-assess their own work with more accuracy, I can integrate any of my ten vocabulary writing tasks into most lessons quite spontaneously, and my students are learning to improve their vocabulary simultaneously.

Better still, once students know my vocabulary routine (it takes me 10-12 weeks to teach all the writing tasks), the routine runs itself, and with each week's words, students' writing skills noticeably improve.

Even better, and every great teacher I've ever heard speak at a conference has stressed this same idea, but the students take ownership of the routine. They learn to assess each other's shorter weekly writing, learning new vocabulary words as they do so from each other, and eventually they will start asking (with some direct prodding or indirect hinting from me, depending on the class, of course) if they can create some new activities for writing about words--beyond the ten choices that I give them. It's become a remarkable system that all came about because of a school where I worked with a badly thought-out schedule. You can check out three of my vocabulary-instructional PowerPoints by clickinghere.

More than ever, I believe that good things can come from smart teachers who are forced to make changes to their own best practices because of--quite often--bad decisions being made those who run schools and districts. I speak at enough conferences to know this is happening everywhere. You don't like the schedule of a school? What are your options? Complain and start disliking your chosen profession? Or say, "I will hold on to the most important things I have come to believe about good reading and writing instruction, and I will make some adjustments, try some revisions, just as I tell my students to do during the writing process." Look, I'm a clever cynic at heart; I'm no saccharine-sweet, overly-optimistic Pollyanna, but I believe some of my best thinking as an educator has actually happened when I was forced to revise my own teaching process.

The weekly vocabulary "writing program" I've created since finding myself at a school with a schedule not conducive to Writing Workshop has officially become one of the best things I've ever used with my students. Its success has been based on two philosophies I now hold dear:

  1. A short writing task that's responded to, revised, and published can be just as valuable as a lengthier writing task that undergoes the same writing process;
  2. Creative students thrive when a) you ask them to take a portion of the ownership of a well-established classroom routine that they see value in, and b) those established routines--be they daily, weekly, or monthly--improve with student input provided those students understand the purpose and criteria of said routine.

That said, I present my first lesson of the month of 2015 to you, and I hope you notice that it adheres and honors the two philosophies I just laid out for you. The idea came from my students, and it has now become part of all of my students' weekly routines.

Lesson overview: Remember when phones were just used to phone people? These days, your phone needs apps, and phone apps' names are important. Usually apps use catchy, often made-up words, but what if the school of thought for naming phone apps shifted. Instead of "snazzy" names, what if people who wrote apps found the perfect vocabulary word to use as their title.

Each week, my students are required to "collect" four words from their reading, which means they self-select them from their books (either independently-chosen or assigned) unknown words that sound interesting to them, and they do a short piece of writing for each word that forces them to creatively explore or logically analyze the four words' meanings. I have ten activities I teach the students in the first two or three months of school. Halfway through the year, I start hinting that I'd like them to create some "new vocabulary-writing activities" for the rest of the class. On average, I seem to get about six new, useable activities, and when I ask those students whose ideas were selected to create an exemplar and a rubric to show how to earn full points, they're excited to provide those resources for their fellow students.

If you want to learn more about my weekly vocabulary routine and expectations, I have developed an entire page here at the website that explains it. Here is the link to that page: http://corbettharrison.com/Vocabulary.htm

How I Teach my Students this Writing Task...I Created this Lesson after my Students Invented the Writing Task
Teaching the writing task to small groups: Divide your class into eight groups and pass out this set of vocabulary cards; these words, by the way, all come from Roald Dahl's Boy: Tales of Childhood. My students are required to cite the book and page number of each word they find in both their assigned books and their independently-chosen novels for full credit. Each group should receive one random card. Here are the words from this list:
  • flourish (intransitive verb) to grow rapidly
  • jaunty (adjective) having a cheerful, lively, or self-confident attitude
  • linger (intransitive verb) to remain present but to be disappearing gradually
  • desperado (noun) a bold outlaw
  • loathe (transitive verb) to feel intense dislike or disgust for something
  • malignant (adjective) describing something that's very dangerous to health, especially something that increases in size as the danger grows
  • oblige (transitive verb) to force somebody to do something, often through moral or through legal obligations
  • saturate (transitive verb) to cause something to be filled with liquid to a point where it can't be filled anymore

Explain that the group's task will be to create three proposals for an internet application that would be appropriately named the word they have received. If they receive the word flourish, they have to come up with three different ideas for what a phone app called Flourish. What meaningful service to human phone owners would their app provide? The phone application they create must have something to do with the word's meaning that's on their cards. If the connection between the app's title and its function isn't apparent, the group will go out of business!

Give students time to brainstorm. Tell them they are not designing the app; they are just brainstorming possibilities of what the app might do to improve the human race. Each group member will have to share one of the group's ideas.




Sharing and voting: If a group has four members, one member is in charge of sharing the word's definition and part of speech with the class; that student must also explain the word's meaning or how one might use the word in his/her own words. The other group members must stand up and "pitch" one of the group's ideas for what their app (that will been named their word) does as its function. When a group has shared, the next group to share--before they are allowed to "pitch"--must vote on which of the previous group's three pitches would make the most profitable and useful application to better our human race.

Once every group has shared and once every group has had their best ideas voted upon by another group, each group member must create the following, working totally on their own:

  • a four-sentence write-up that explains (in an excited, persuasive tone) what the application does;
  • a rough sketch of the icon/logo that will be seen on a user's phone
  • one fake "user-review," preferably from someone who was pleased with the purchase of the application.

Here are student samples to share, if your students need an inspiration. These are more polished pieces of writing than you'll probably get from your students who are creating rough drafts at this point of the writing process:

7th grader Ethan invented a game based on the verb contrive

8th grader Kendall has to be basing this app for her verb steep on a real incident

7th grader Mason found this fancy word in his book and created a fancy app for it

8th grader Serene created an app she probably wished was on her actual phone!


Students return to their groups, each sharing the rough draft ideas they have come up with. After five minutes of collaboration and sharing, require that they find--at least--two things to improve in their own rough drafts based on their fellow group member's ideas and writing techniques.

Distribute unlined paper, and give students time to create a full page version of their phone app, making it as correct as possible. Only after the writing is complete should you allow them to add any color, if there is time.

Scramble student groups so that each group of three or four students has four differently-named apps. Students share their apps with each other. They should evaluate each other's effort based on the five criteria created by my students in the checklist/rubric pictured at right; you can also click here to see the rubric in larger form.

A new writing task in place! Use it! Once your students understand this writing task, which is one they'll like, you can use it occasionally or frequently. It would work nicely if you're reading a short story that comes with a set of pre-determined vocabulary list; each student can make an app for one of the words before or after reading the story.

As I've said at my Vocabulary Resource Page, my students are expected to "publish" four different words every week for me, and all four of their newly discovered words must use a different writing activity/task. This "Create an App" activity can be one of their tasks. My students have ten different writing tasks that I teach them to choose from, and by the end of each year, they will have created 5-6 new ones that become part of my students' "choice menu."

Here are some of my students' "published word collections" for the week. Can you spot which word the students have created an app for?

Four of my Students' Four Weekly Published Vocab Words...Can You Spot which Activity is the Phone App?

8th grader Audrey's four words a week always have a nice "style" to them.

8th grader Hugo has become a master at using computer images since he doesn't draw.

8th grader Ryan makes certain his set of words each has both visual and written flair.

6th grader Jack is determined to be as good with vocabulary as my 8th graders.


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