Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison, and I have been an educator and a teacher-trainer since August of 1990. I specialize in teaching writing using differentiated instruction. I also focus on critical thinking techniques, especially during the pre-writing and revision steps of the writing process. Every year, I challenge myself to improve my instruction: I am curretly developing grammar and vocabulary lessons so that they're differentiated and promote deep, critical thinking skills, and I incorporate them into my classroom routines to promote a student-centered classroom environment.

The Northern Nevada district I serve has a "balanced calendar" that has me teaching from early August to early June, and during my 7 weeks of summer and during my two annual two-week breaks, I independently contract to present workshops to school districts and professional organizations around the country.

The winter and spring of 2017 are mostly booked up at this point. Beginning in mid-June, I will be available to present at summer workshops in your district or state.

You can find general information about my workshops here.

If you would like to check my availability for summer of 2017, please contact me at this e-mail address.

Always
Write

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

Here's one of my original lessons. Middle school (grades 6th-8th) is what I currently teach. I meet students as young as ten, and I send them out into the world at age 13. These are difficult, formative years, but I love this age group. I'm lucky though. We "team" at my school, which means I share the same 150+ students with the same math, science, and social studies teacher, and our team truly makes a team out of our students; our kids learn to look at for each other. I'm sorry to say that's not the case among some of the other teams at our school. When my kids go "off team" for electives and P.E., they often hear cruel, biting remarks from students they don't know.

Middle school is like that though. The person standing behind you in the lunch line might want to be your worst enemy or your best friend; it all depends on what words are exchanged--or if words are exchanged at all.

And so...I begin each year with a "self-esteem" writing lesson. This allows my students to celebrate exactly who they are, show off their best and most unique features to their teammates, then begin creating an original story that might become part of their writer's workshop. I also design these beginning-of-year lessons to produce products that can be laminated and then hot-glued to the walls of our brick hallway, serving as a positive decoration for--at least--the first half of the school year. As our students wander down the hallways into our classrooms, they are surrounded by not only their own project but the projects of their teammates. I believe positivism comes from one's environment, and if teaching writing skills can coincide with that positive environment, so be it.

A Getting-to-Know You, Team-Building Lesson...from my classroom to yours:
How Big is Your Brave?
my self-esteem boosting storyboard task...for narrative writing and vocabulary skills

"We are a team. We look out for each other. We bring each other up, not down. In this classroom, that concept will never be violated, or you will answer directly to me." I begin the school year telling my students this. I also tell them this harsh truth: "In middle school, there are nice people and there are mean people. Many of you are at the age that you are just discovering who you are, what kind of adult you'd like to be, and when a mean person makes you question yourself with a cruel or biting comment, you take that comment seriously. This year, I need you to brave, and I need you to be confident out in the halls and lunchroom no matter what you may hear from students who are not on your team."

And with that, we watch this You-Tube video that plays the song "Brave" by Sara Barellis and shows the lyrics. Before showing it, I inform them that they are to listen for a tone (attitude) that they believe the singer is conveying with her voice and with the words of the song. And, as always, I will expect them to discuss the tone words they think of with others before reporting to the class because I want powerful vocabulary (which we call 25-cent words), not commonplace vocabulary (which we call ten-cent words).

My mentor text for this lesson:

The lyrics/video for "Brave," sung by (the amazing) Sara Barellis

Now I specifically use this lesson with seventh graders--my sevvies, as they affectionately known by me. Many of them were my sixxies the year before, and they did a similar lesson with me at the beginning of the previous year based on the song "Titanium." I love the fact that my students have become in-class-singers because of these two lessons. Anytime either of these songs comes over my classroom iPod, they all start singing along. I only wish my eighth graders sang together still too, but as they do in eighth grade, they have become very cynical and refuse to sing with me anymore.

Start this lesson by talking about storyboards. I do a lot of story boarding early on in the school year for two reasons: 1) I expect my students to be visual in their writer's notebook, and a storyboard assignment allows me to introduce Mr. Stick to my students who feel threatened by drawing. I was one of those students who was easily "out-drawn" by a talented, artistic brother, and Mr. Stick levels the playing field for all my students when it comes to being visual in writer's notebooks. 2) I believe good writing assignments early in the school year should be short so that students can focus on the skills of revision and not feel over-whelmed by having to revise something huge. When it's a three-page story, revision can seem like a monumental task; when it's a four-panel storyboard with four captions and a dialogue bubble or two, the students don't mind completely re-thinking, re-seeing, and rewriting the captions to make their final drafts the best they can be. I saved my storyboards from last year's Titanium lesson, so I showed those to my students. I tell my students, "Only if your storyboard is thoughtful and well-presented will it go into the hallway."

My requirements for the final storyboard are this:

  • The storyboard must have a minimum of four panels that have been carefully sketched out, inked, and colored.
  • Each storyboard caption must have been thoughtfully revised, edited, and spell-checked, and each must contain a "25-cent" vocabulary word, an idea for classifying words that comes from my "Creating a Classroom of Logophiles" lesson.
  • The storyboard must look nice enough to be displayed in the hallway, and it must--therefore--contain a positive message. You can see some of my students' storyboards that were chosen to be displayed in the hallway this year by clicking on the picture above. My hallway has terrible lighting, so I apologize for the lack of focus my camera can achieve in it. Better pictures are below from storyboards I brought home to photograph.

Brainstorming "Brave Moments:" We watch the official video of Sara Barellis song, "Brave," a few days after listening to and analyzing the tone/attitude/message of the song. I purchased the high definition version of the video for my iPad, which I sync with my computer at school, so we see a higher-quality version of the video than the one you see on You-Tube, but you can get by with the free, online version. I heard an interview with Sara Barellis on VH-1, where she talked about how dancing is something she doesn't feel completely confident doing in her music videos, and how that became the conceptual theme of this video: people dancing in places that might not be the most comfortable places to dance. Before showing the video, I tell my students, "I would totally be friends with every brave person in this video," and with that, my students find a deeper appreciation in what we're watching.

I tell my students I don't want their storyboards to copy the video's idea--people dancing in places/with strangers in a way that shows they are braver than any criticism they might receive--but I'd rather their storyboard story focus on something OTHER than dancing. My students--in small groups--brainstorm other ways a student could show his/her bravery at our middle school. Each group presents its three best ideas to the whole class. While they brainstorm, my students continue to listen to Sara Barellis' song, and this is when they teach each other that it's okay to sing along while ideas are being thrown to a group to be discussed.

Rough-Drafting our Storyboards: A day after brainstorming, students begin drafting their storyboards. I use this planning worksheet. As they finish the individual boxes, I have students stop, stand up, find a partner, and share their picture and their captions with fellow students; even before the whole storyboard is complete, they are sharing the individual pieces with each other. I find constant sharing, especially for those who interpret this as an easy assignment, ups the quality of all the students' rough draft ideas. You need to be careful to make sure your less-motivated students don't keep seeking each other out as they share their progressing storyboard draft. I have no problem saying to a student, "Let's find you a different 'date' as you share what you've done so far," if I see my less-motivated students keep finding each other.

I have a number of students who use the thesaurus to find strong vocabulary words to use in their captions, but then they mis-use those words in the context of the sentences they describe, Chances are, you will have this happen to, so that becomes my job as teacher--make sure they're correctly using the 25-cent words they are promoting. I walk through the classroom as they are rough-drafting, and constantly say, "There's no point in using a fancy word if you don't use it correctly. Please call me over if you're not 100% sure you used the fancy word in your sentence the right way."

You might have your students use their dictionaries and your guidance to evaluate the following students's use of challenging vocabulary in these storyboard pictures:


How did Anna do with the words susurrate and disperse here?

How did Chaz do with the word raucous here?

How did Rebekkah do with the word emanate?

How did Dryden do with the word prudish?

How did Keara do with the word aghast here?

Revising our Storyboards: Remember what I said earlier: the purpose of a storyboard is to teach revision with a smaller piece of writing that is less daunting than a longer paper. Here is the list I gave students to discuss as they offered revision suggestions before we began creating final drafts;

  • The storyboard needs to present a complete story, not just a partial story that doesn't make complete sense.
  • The story needs to be introduced well. The story needs to be concluded well.
  • The word choices need to make complete sense, even with the fancy 25-cent words.
  • The dialogue bubbles need to contribute to the story that is being told.

Finalizing our Storyboards: After group revision strategies are discussed, and after I have met individually with students whose initial work told me they needed some extra alone-time with the teacher, the students are given special paper to "publish" their final drafts. I give each student two pieces of cut-up file folders, sized 6" x 8.5". I allow the students to put the two pieces together in any way they see fit (vertically, horizontally, etc.), and I gave them two days to bring in their finalized drafts.

Now that we've entered October, these storyboards have been displayed for almost two weeks in my hallway. I've already been approached by several fellow teachers as well as the counseling staff about sharing this assignment because of the positive message the words my students created share, and they would like to help other students experience the same experience. I am sharing the link to this lesson with all of them, and I hope to walk through my school in the next months to see other students' original "Brave" storyboards.

I hope you find this lesson useful to promoting self-esteem, as well as vocabulary and revision skills. I do have a number of students who are planning to turn their storyboard into a longer narrative for their first writer's workshop.

Thanks for enjoying this lesson from my classroom to yours.