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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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This page contains my write-up of an activity my students created for our bi-monthly vocabulary workshop day. I'm posting this lesson for October of 2016, and I'm now in my fifth official year of using Vocabulary Workshop. I'm delighted to learn how many other teachers are using it as well. While I run my workshop every other week (and my students bring in eight words to teach their classmates that Friday, four from the current week and four from the previous week), my teaching followers and friends have found ways to adapt it to fit their own time restrictions and their own styles of teaching vocabulary. At the heart of vocabulary workshop is this philosophy: students create original contexts for new words they self-discover in their reading, and they demonstrate each context with a short piece of writing that's worthy of sharing with a classmate. In the next paragraph, I will share a basic description of how my Vocabulary Workshop Fridays look.

On Vocabulary Workshop Fridays, each student spends five minutes with seven different partners. Before partnering, students have all selected from their eight words one word as their "favorite" from the set. With each partnership, they share both their favorite word and one of the other seven words they have yet to share with anyone. During those five minutes of sharing, both partners 1) explain which criteria has made them choose one of their words as a "favorite," 2) teach their second word to their partner and challenge the partner to create a different context for using the word, and 3) share the writing they have done as well as share their writing process for the two words they are "teaching" their partner. Then they move to their next partnership. At the end of the Workshop, the vocabulary sheets go into my students' binders' vocabulary sections, and they record on a Post-it® Note four words they liked with the name of the partner who taught them that word that day. During other lessons when we are doing writing, the vocabulary sections of their binders are open to serve as sort of a personal "word wall"--and students try to use words from their own collections that fit the purpose of their writing that day. My favorite thing that happens when we are writing is when a student, looking at a Post-it from a previous vocabulary workshop, asks, "Hey [fellow student whose name is next to a word on a Post-it® Note], remind me what [word from the Post-it] means." If the student being asked has to look back in his/her binder, the rest of the class says, "Busted!" because the student hasn't remembered his/her own definition. If the student knows what the word means and correctly defines it (I serve as definition "judge), the rest of the class says, "Nice job!" When I have visitors observing and the kids do this, I am inevitably asked, "How on earth did you teach them to do that with vocabulary?"

My vocabulary workshop helps my students become a "community of word collectors."

6 Absolutely Free-to-Use Vocabulary Workshop Resources Here at Always Write!
What's a 25-cent
Word Anyway?

This the first lesson my students receive when learning how to select word to collect for vocabulary workshop.

A Classroom
of Logophiles

This lesson, inspired by one of my favorite mentor texts, has students create a cover page for their vocabulary binders.

Vocabulary Words

I have ten different options for writing about self-chosen vocabulary words, and this is the first one I teach them.

Phone Apps

After my students know my ten options, I invite them to create new options. This idea came from them; I wrote it up.

I have ten different options for writing about self-chosen vocabulary words, and this is the third one I teach them.

You can purchase our 11 Vocabulary-Collecting PowerPoints at
Teachers Pay Teachers
(preview three of the lessons for free!)

After my students know my ten options, I invite them to create new options. This is another idea that came from them.

If you have questions or comments about the lesson below, feel free to contact me: corbett@corbettharrison.com. Please always remember, I post these lessons to show how I present them, but I am not trying to share my script with you---please, please, please, adapt the ideas below recklessly to fit your teaching style, your school's schedule, and your students' abilities and needs. You only become a great writing teacher when you learn to adapt good ideas into ones that fit your classroom.

A Student-Created Option for "Publishing" a Word for Vocabulary Workshop:
a student-created option for our Vocabulary Workshop :
Word Art

creatively representing a tier-2 vocabulary word and writing a logical explanation of the representation

Overview of the Writing Task:

Essential Question: How can I combine creative thinking with logical reasoning to create a new context for a vocabulary word I want to learn to use?

Task Overview: Students select a tier-2 vocabulary word from any assigned reading. They design and create a visual representation of the word that contains four visual context clues. They write up an explanation for each context clue, but they cover the explanation with a Post-it® Note before sharing with a partner. The partner tries to guess the word's meaning based on the visual clues before he/she is shown the answer.

Visit our resource page for teaching students how to write about new vocabulary words in innovative ways:
Vocabulary Workshop Ideas and Resources
This Lesson's Mentor Text:

The Very Inappropriate Word
by Jim Tobin

Start with a mentor text model, if you have one:

I came across Jim Tobin's book after a teacher who uses our vocabulary ideas recommended it to me through an email. Like The Boy Who Loved Words (by Roni Schotter) and Max's Words (by Kate Banks), Tobin has given us another great picture book to show boys (and girls) that collecting new words is a fun thing to do. In The Very Inappropriate Word, Michael is an avid word collector. In the book, as you can see from this two-page spread I found online (click image at left), Michael's collected words are visually represented by illustrator Dave Coverly so that--should you not know a word's meaning --the visual would clue you in to its meaning.

Now my students are grades 6-8, and most of the words in Tobin's book would be what we call 10-cent words. A 10-cent word, in my class, is a quality word whose meaning we know just by looking at the word--we don't need it in a sentence so that a context clue can help us recall or accurately guess its meaning. A 25-cent word, which are the words my students are required to collect for our Vocabulary Workshop, require a context clue to guess the word's meaning or require a look in the dictionary to confirm meaning. The beauty of the monetary metaphor we use in my class is that what might be a 10-cent word to one of my students, well, it could be a 25-cent word to others. My students' 10-cent words might be 25-cent words in a third or fourth grade classroom. The metaphor can be used at all grade levels. As I tell my students, "The purpose of collecting the vocabulary words we do is to turn our 25-cent words into 10-cent words because--and I've gotten good at saying this kind of like Humphrey Bogart--'You can fit a lot more dimes in your pocket than quarters, sweetheart, and the more pocket words you walk around with, the smarter you'll sound.'" It's probably good my students don't know who Humphrey Bogart is; otherwise, they'd tell you I sound nothing like him when I say this!

Back to the plot of the book. On the bus one day, Michael overhears an inappropriate word from another student, and--if you scroll up and look at the cover of the book just above--you can see how the inappropriate word is visually represented. Michael gets in trouble in school because he uses the word, and his very wise teacher--as his punishment--sends him to the library to collect new spelling words from books on the shelf. As soon as Michael's head is filled with these new spelling words, he loses track of the inappropriate word and doesn't use it again. It's a good message about how those who know lots of great words don't need "shocking words" to get others' attention; they can do it with 25-cent words!

Feel free to enjoy the YouTube book trailer for Tobin's book using the thumbnail image I have posted at right.

After sharing the visual word representations from Tobin and Coverly's book, we ask ourselves, "How would you visually represent a 25-cent word? Like disparage? Or succinct? Or trodden? Or corpulent? Or plutocracy?

Share student and your teacher models:

As I said before, my students actually created this particular learning task for vocabulary. When my students become eighth graders and they have shown me they have mastered the ten writing tasks that I set before them as options, I set aside a day in October for them to work in pairs and create proposals for new vocabulary tasks they can do if they are sick of the ten I have taught them over their 6th and 7th grade years. They, of course, love to tell me how "sick" of my options they have become, and they delight in coming up with fresh ideas for them to use in lieu of mine. What I love is that they know what I consider to be a "quality task" after having been stuck with me for so long, so when I say, "When won't use your proposed unless it involves writing that forces you to think of different contexts in which to use the word. Context is everything to me," they know exactly what that means.

I ask my students--in pairs--to create: 1) an write-up that overviews the proposed writing task; 2) an exemplar of the task at hand; and 3) a list of criteria that must be followed to earn full points. It was back in 2013 that my eighth graders first proposed the idea of word art, and based on the quality of their proposal, I accepted it. The five or six I accept every year get posted on one of the bulletin boards in my classroom, and as soon as they're posted, they become options for presenting new vocabulary words for upcoming vocabulary workshops. The sixth and seventh graders quickly discover the bulletin board and ask, "Can we use options too?" I respond with, "Only if you make better examples than the ones that are posted there!" They usually take me up on the challenge, and it's from those grades that I usually get my best new exemplars.

At right, you can click on the thumbnail of the original proposal from my eighth graders back in 2013. They chose the word exacerbate, which is a great example of a 25-cent word for eighth graders. If you click on the thumbnail, you can see a large picture of the example, and you can just make out the words on the yellow criteria sheet the proposal-writing students wrote down and my student aide typed up to hang next to their exemplar; eventually, we tweaked it to be a bit more specific. The five criteria ultimately became:

  • The word collector has used good interpretation of word's meaning with the visuals, and the definition is shown;
  • The word collector has used color and has 3-4 different visuals to represent the word's meaning;
  • The word collector has included a short explanation of how each visual represents the word's meaning;
  • The short explanation has no spelling or punctuation errors;
  • Overall, the visual and the explanation show deep creativity, not shallow creativity.

If you have followed this site and understand my teaching style, you know two things must happen as I prepare my students to all do a quality job with this new option: 1) first, with a partner, they must analyze student samples and one of my own samples against the five criteria listed above before they ever create one of; and 2) they create at least one practice word art submission with the safety of a second partner at their side, and if any part of the process is difficult, the partner is there to help them. Below is the collection of unique samples I share with my students during the two steps mentioned above:

Models to discuss using the above criteria:

Mr. Harrison's
OBSTREPEROUS representation
(click here to see my word collection for the week.)

8th grader Audrey's
TAUT representation

7th grader Kendall's
VIGIL representation

6th grader Hannah's
BEMOAN representation

7th grader Dryden's
DEPREDATE representation (Dryden's explanations were on the back of the flap)

7th grader Anna's
LIBERATE representation
I am always seeking student examples from scholars other than my own. If you have a student do a quality job with this writing assignment or any of its parts, photograph and send it to me: corbett@corbettharrison.com. You can also post it at this blog page at our Lesson of the Month Ning.

If I end up sharing it here on this page, I will send you a complimentary product from our Teachers Pay Teachers store!

Extending this idea:

I believe in "Hallway Publishing." I sort of have to because there is literally no room on my classroom's walls for any new student samples. So I hang quite a bit of student work in the area around my classroom doorway. It's amazing what you can stick to those ugly gray bricks in my school with the help of your student aide and a hot glue gun.

My students' vocabulary workshop words are turned in on a special 8.5 x 11" sheet, and each word art sample only takes up about 25% of the page. I have been using the Word Art task away from our Vocabulary Workshop time, and I have the students create full-page posters of this assignment. These make great "Hallway Publishing" samples. We have even started publishing them all around the school, not just outside my classroom door. My student aide has created a set of laminated index cards that all say "Learn a New Word Today!" She puts one of those index cards directly above the Word Art Posters she hangs around the school, giving the poster purpose. My students' work is teaching other students who are not mine new vocabulary words.

Check out our Hallway Publishing Pinterest Board to see photos of other student writing we publish in outside my classroom's walls.

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