Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison, and I have been an educator and a teacher-trainer since 1991. 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.

I serve Northern Nevada for nine months of the year (August-May), and during summers and during our two-weeek breaks during the school year, I hire myself out to school districts and professional organizations around the country.

Summer of 2014 is all booked. If you would like to check my availability for the summer of 2015, please contact me at my e-mail address.

 

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       Because writing--when taught right--can be the most enjoyable part of your teaching day, I created this website.

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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 writer's notebook lessons. To assist our students as they maintain writer's notebooks for the classroom, my wife (Dena Harrison) and I created monthly "Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards"; the first card is for September, the last for May. Each Bingo card comes with twenty-four ideas and suggestions for creating a unique notebook page that--once added and later looked back upon--might very well inspire future writing. Students receive a new Bingo card on the first day of every month; if they create a "Bingo" by completing five ideas "in a row," they earn a special sticker for their notebook, and the same award is applied if they make a "four corners." I have students who choose not to use the Bingo card's suggestions at all (because they have their own ideas ready-to-go), I have others who do a few suggestions from the card but not enough to win a sticker, and I have students who are completely dependent on the card for their notebook ideas.

At the beginning of each month, we do a whole-class lesson for the notebook; this lesson is always featured in the center space of that month's bingo card, where it serves as the "free space." Below, you will find January's Guided Notebook Lesson from our set of "Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards". Click here for a free preview of two of the ten months you receive when you purchase this product.

Should you Establish "Metaphor of the Week" Contest with your Students?

I did. It was an extra-credit option in the form of a weekly contest that my students could work on during sacred writing time. This year, we aren't doing it because we have a vocabulary collecting weekly award instead, but I'll come back to "Metaphor of the Week" probably next year. The kids really like it.

I believe in the importance of teaching students metaphorical thinking; at a minimum, creating a thoughtful metaphor requires analysis skills, and I don't think we challenge our students often enough at levels beyond simple comprehension. We published our metaphor of the week on one of my small whiteboards that's in the back of my classroom. The kids who "win" these weekly writing challenges simply receive prizes from my Dollar Store-inspired prize bucket, or I give them some bonus grade book points if I was really impressed. It's pretty low maintenance to host a good weekly writing contest, and my kids really like the competitive feel of it.

When I hosted a "Metaphor of the Week," it didn't start until January; between September and December, we--instead--had our the weekly Mr. Stick of the Week Notebook awards, which celebrated and published my students' best Mr. Stick-decorated Sacred Writing Time from the previous week. In January, we switched the contest to "Metaphors of the Week." The contest started with three good metaphors I wrote and posted (and we talked about in class) during January. Beginning in February, after having taught this lesson on this page, I offered weekly extra credit to students who submitted an original, decorated metaphor from their writer's notebooks as a self-nominated contest entry. To earn the extra credit, a student's metaphor must be chosen as the week's winner, and it is posted for the week in my classroom on that whiteboard in the back.

When I had this program last school year, I photographed each week's winning metaphor and posted them at my Metaphor of the Week Pinterest Board based on this program. Even though we have a different contest this year, I still teach metaphors through my vocabulary lessons, and I can't tell you how many times we have opened up and viewed many of the metaphors I posted from my past students this year. My kids wrote good, competitive metaphors when I hosted this contest.


An Original Writer's Notebook Lesson from our Set of Ten "Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards"

three ideas for teaching students to make interesting use of figurative language:
Establishing & Extending Metaphors

Idea 1: Create "Four-Metaphor" Poems after teaching concrete vs. abstract nouns
Idea 2: Publish extended metaphors about emotions, science, math, and history topics in the writer's notebook
Idea 3: Use an extended metaphor effectively within longer narrative and expository writing assignments


Overview of the Writer's Notebook Task:
Hey teachers, this lesson keeps growing! If you purchased our complete set of Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards, you will recognize the lesson on this webpage as our January "center-square lesson." Every year since I originally posted the lesson, it seems, I'm extending the lesson write-up somehow. In addition to a writer's notebook page that celebrates original metaphors about love (all in preparation for Valentine's Day next month, of course), we still create extended notebook metaphors about things mathematical, scientific, and historical. In 2012, I extended this lesson by adding an optional "Four-Metaphor Poem" that we did before assigning the notebook page. In 2013, I added some resources that helped me encourage my students to continue using extended metaphors in their narrative writing. In 2014, I will be adding suggestions and samples on using a metaphor as a tool in expository writing.

I, personally, am a metaphorical thinker; in order to understand a complicated topic, I often find myself creating a metaphor or simile that has me compare the topic to something I'm more familiar with. Over the years, I have become a pretty fast and skilled metaphor-maker thanks to repeated practice. Not all of my students are metaphorical thinkers like me, and I know it's good for their developing brains to think with metaphors once in a while, but I also have to remember to go slowly with this lesson. It can easily take us the entire month of January to move slowly through this lesson's requirements.

One of my "mentor texts" for this lesson:

"Love is a Battlefield"
sung by the great Pat Benatar

For this lesson's notebook page, after we explore Pat Benatar's metaphor in her song "Love is Battlefield," my students create original and interesting metaphors for the topic of love in their writer's notebooks; on a notebook page, each metaphor is established and extended upon with two details. Once students have practiced extending original love metaphors, they are asked to create new metaphors over the month that are more appropriate to their other core content areas: math, science, and social studies. Once a week in Language Arts class, students polish a new metaphor they have created outside of English class, then publish and illustrate it on a designated page in their writer's notebook. After the two-page notebook spread is complete, students can be reminded/prompted to use more metaphors during writing or during processing in the future.

In 2012, I added a poetry extension lesson, which you can find below in the write-up. In 2014, I added some resources for how I teach my students to effectively make use of an extended metaphor in their own narrative and expository paper assignments.


Idea #1...Teaching a Four-Metaphor Poem

From day one in my classroom, we begin thinking about metaphors; between January and June, I have a 4'x4' whiteboard at the front of the room that displays our "Mr. Stick's Metaphor of the Week" and I try to faithfully change it every Friday before I leave so that it's ready to be used the next Monday. The metaphors I feature usually have something to do with a concept or topic we'll be discussing that week, and students know they can always respond to the metaphor in their writer's notebook during "Sacred Writing Time," which is the ten minutes that begins my every class session.

I establish the vocabulary word--metaphor--every school year with the poem "Fire" by Judy Brow. It's a copyrighted poem, but you can usually find someone out there who has posted it at a blog or educational website using a simple Google search. Through our discussion of the poem, we leave class with the metaphor: "Education is a fire that must be equally tended by teachers as well as students." A few months into each school year, I remind them of that first day's discussion by posting that very metaphor as the "Metaphor of the Week." They recognize the idea, and we remember the poem, and I can ask them, "So how have you been doing with the part of the fire you're supposed to be 'tending?'"

As for my "Metaphor of the Week" program, I have designed it as a classroom feature that eventually becomes my students' responsibility. You see, for the first half of every school year, I create the metaphors; then, some time in January, I turn the responsibility over to my students. In January, in addition to this notebook lesson, we also tackle a poetry lesson--Four Metaphor Poems--which was written and posted at WritingFix by Holly Esposito, one of my NNWP colleagues. My students' final drafts of those poems usually give me more than enough metaphors to feature as our weekly metaphors, and I throw my students extra-credit points if their metaphor is selected.

I believe the very best metaphors make their comparison between an abstract noun and a concrete noun, so before I begin this webpage's metaphor notebook lesson in January, we spend some time learning the difference and "playing" with those vocabulary words. My favorite thing to do is have the students create unique lists that celebrate unique abstract nouns they have thought about, and then we decorate and feature that list in our writer's notebooks. Ralph Fletcher suggests that creating and recording lists of words for your writer's notebook is a great use of notebooks; I find that lists--like a list of abstract nouns, for example--can become points of reference for future writing assignments. If I challenge my students to create metaphors between January and June, I always can remind them they have this list in their notebooks to help them make future metaphors.

This past school year (2011-12), I had my sixth graders generate, then neatly "publish," an ABC list of abstract nouns in their notebooks; my teacher model from my own notebook (see below) certainly inspired them. I send my sincerest of apologies to Mr. M. C. Hammer for my very bad drawing of him and his parachute pants on my page; we played (and did a little dancing to) his "Can't Touch This" a dozen times in class during the week we were working on this list.

I had my seventh and eighth graders--instead of an alphabet list--create a list of twenty really interesting abstract nouns and twenty really interesting (and random) concrete nouns in their notebooks. We then serendipitously chose one word from the abstract noun column and one from the concrete noun column to see if we could create an original metaphor that made sense. Sometimes they did; sometimes they did not. All in all, we had a great discussion of how randomness and serendipity has the power to help us launch truly creative ideas. As they began pre-writing for their "Four Metaphor Poems," I challenged them to make as many serendipitous connections from their word list as possible. A lot of my seventh and eighth grade poets' poems were inspired by a serendipitous connection, I later discovered.

Click here to access my friend Holly Esposito's Four Metaphor Poetry Lesson at the WritingFix website.
This is the lesson that uses Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox as its mentor text.

If you click on any of the images below, you can view or print them in larger form.

My ABC list of abstract nouns in my writer's notebook. Again, my apologies to M. C. Hammer for my less-than-stellar Mr. Stick rendition of him!

Eighth-grader Crissey's two-page spread about abstract and concrete nouns from her notebook. On the right-hand side of the page, you will find her initial brainstorm for the "Four Metaphor Poems" I had students compose during January too.

Here's my finalized "Four Metaphor Poem," which I "published" in my writer's notebook. My students' poems are hanging in the hallway outside my room.

Some of my sixth graders go a little overboard with their word list tasks in their writer's notebooks! Here, sixth grader Audrey, went nuts with her colored pencils, forgetting to check a few of her spellings with our old friend the Webster's dictionary. Writer's notebooks don't require perfect spelling though! I love this page, Audrey.

 

After Writing "4-Metaphor Poems," We Focus on Across the Curriculum Topics for Metaphors

Hey teachers, before 2012, here is where I used to begin this lesson. I really liked the addition of the "Four Metaphor Poem" this year, but my students only had time to create four extended metaphors for their notebooks instead of the seven you see in my teacher model below.

I purposefully start this lesson in January so that we can practice all that month with developing metaphors across the curriculum, and I specifically focus our language arts topic on love so that we are set-up to extend those ideas further should they choose write poems to each other for Valentine's Day, which I always encourage, especially from my boy writers. You could do this notebook lesson anytime, however, and you can certainly use a different emotion than love.

As the years pass, I find more and more students who have never heard the song "Love is a Battlefield" by Pat Benatar; admittedly, it was a "radio staple" when I was in middle school (many, many years ago), but surely it's still being played where my own writers could be hearing it. Apparently not. I guess until it becomes a song used in a commercial as their jingle or until it becomes a song on some new PG-13 comedy's soundtrack, I'm just going to have not be surprised that when I play it for my kids, it could very well be the first time they are hearing it.

Before playing the song, I write the title--Love is a Battlefield--where all students can see it. "Anyone know what love feels like?" I ask. "Anyone agree or disagree with this metaphor, which is the title of a popular song when I was your age?"

First, we do a short discussion of what a metaphor is, and how they're different from similes, just to make sure everyone is up to speed with the academic vocabulary I will be using in this lesson. Then, after explaining that good writers establish metaphors as well as extend upon them (which means give explanatory details), I ask them to predict what kind of details might be in the song that explains why love is a battlefield to the author/singer. Tell students, "Even if you've heard the song already, you've probably never thought about the lyrics closely.  Before listening to the song today, I want you to discuss with a partner what you think the song is about, knowing its title is Love is a Battlefield.  What does that title make you think the song might talk about?  Is it going to be about a battlefield in a desert or a meadow or somewhere else?  A battlefield moments before a battle begins?  A battlefield that has recovered from a war and is now a peaceful place? What attitude about love do you think the writer of this song had? Good attitude or bad attitude?"

Let students generate multiple answers in pairs.  Share them out loud, and celebrate ones that are different from others.  Say, "A metaphor is great tool for writers, but sometimes you need to extend upon them so your audience knows exactly what kind of battlefield you mean, if you are comparing something to a battlefield."

Play the song.  Show its lyrics on an overhead while students listen; you can find the lyrics on-line by using the Google search link I programmed into this sentence.  After listening, have students discuss what kind of battlefield the entire song makes them see.  Talk about who is fighting.  Talk about who is being fought.  Ask students to visualize what the battlefield looks like after hearing the song.  Ask students what kind of attitude (tone) do they think the song is saying about the emotion. (Information just for teachers: To me, the song is about young love fighting a battle with an older generation.  Although there is no real clear picture given of the type of battlefield the "war" is happening on, encourage your students to visualize the battlefield based on this information; good poetry interpretation involves both relying on what's definitely there in the words and what additional, relevant details you can "fill in" from your own experience).

Next, students will be creating an original metaphor for love that they feel they can extend upon. Once tool from WritingFix that I use a lot, can also be found in their wonderful "Going Deep with Compare & Contrast Thinking Guide," which was published back in 2008. Several of the guide's resources are freely accessible at WritingFix's Compare & Contrast Homepage. One of those resources--their color set of 80 Metaphor/Simile Cards--is one that I use a lot with my learners.

I have developed several variations of the thinking "game" I play with the metaphor cards, which I use when I want them to process new information or to review previous lessons' content. The variations are the two bullets below this paragraph's original explanation of the game: Students should be in groups of 4 or 5, and the teacher hands each group between 8 and 15 different cards from the set. Students spread the cards out between them in such a way that all members of the group can easily reach for and take any card if asked. Explain that you will be giving them a thinking prompt, and their task is to find one image in the pile that they can use to make an original connection out loud to the rest of their group. Stress this is a civilized game; there will be no lunging for cards when you have an idea/answer; if someone takes the card you were hoping to grab before you can grab it, you need to politely find a different card. After the teacher gives the thinking prompt--with this lesson, it is "Love is like ________ because _______."--students think, take a card, and as soon as everyone has a card, the person who grabbed first shares his/her simile and explanation, then everyone else follows suit. I usually ask each group to vote on and share the idea that the rest of the group agreed was one of the most thoughtful ideas; this way, the whole class can hear four or five different similes not from their own group. If you have multiple topics to review, have students put their cards back in the center, and give them a different topic to make a new simile with. This is a good game for practicing thoughtful similes and metaphorical comparisons, and it can be used with almost any topic of study.

  • Variation #1: Instead of the prompt being "[The topic] is like...," surprise the students once in a while by making it "[The topic] is not like..." They now must choose a picture that doesn't represent the idea and give an explanation as to why there's a difference instead of a similarity. I call this variation "Thinking in the negative space." I have a lesson at WritingFix--Start with What Isn't There--that promotes the same type of thinking
  • Variation #2: Ask students to to find a card that works for the topic you've given, but to share nothing out loud. When everyone has a card and no one has said a word, have them all pass their card to the person to their left. The person on the left needs to say, "I think you choose this card because you were going to say, 'The topic is like this picture because_____.'" Sometimes the student accurately predicts the other student's explanation, but more often than not, the other student says, "Actually I was thinking they were similar because______." Because you often end up with two answers per card playing this variation, I call it "The two-for-one" variation.

Setting Up the Initial Writer's Notebook Page:

I have become such a strong proponent of using writer's notebooks during pre-writing--the kind of tools discussed by Ralph Fletcher (at right) in his A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You. There's really no better way to pre-write than to have students create a fun page in their writer's notebooks that invests them in an upcoming writing assignment or thinking task. Fletcher gives lots of advice on turning students into "collectors" of language--ones who save favorite words, quotes, etc.--on pages of their writer's notebooks. I created this writer's notebook metaphor lesson, thinking original metaphors could be another piece of language students might collect. After students create the two notebook pages suggested with this lesson, they can be encouraged to further collect metaphors about any topic that occurs to them in the future, and they can be encouraged to use more metaphorical ideas in their writing.

Explain, "Inspired by Pat Benatar's unique metaphor about love, I want you to dedicate a page in your notebooks to four original love metaphors that you think up during this week. I want you to think of and create a lot of metaphors so that you can choose your four best to explain with detail and then illustrate. Next month, we'll be using one of these metaphors for a Valentine-inspired poetry assignment, so you really want to make sure you have some interesting choices on this notebook page by week's end." If students need a jump-start for their first (of four) love metaphors, I let them click the button on the following interactive prompt I built for WritingFix.

Love is a...

       .

      

As you can see on my teacher model below, I require (at least) two details with each metaphor that explains--or expands--the comparison; some will just want to make the comparison, but they must extend the idea with further details.


(Click here for a really large version of this notebook page.)


Idea #2...Extended Metaphors as a Writing Across the Curriculum Challenge:

I share my middle school students with the same math, science, and social studies teachers, which is a wonderful teaching situation; I work very hard to make sure many of my lessons that teach unique writing tasks (like this one) have a "part 2" to them; during the "part 2," our students specifically carry the writing technique I've taught them to their other content classes with the assignment they are to bring back--in this case--ideas for extended metaphors to work on in my classroom. In my Language Arts room, once they have brought ideas back from the other content areas, we work on shaping those ideas so they are the best, small pieces of writing they can be. In an elementary school context, where the same teacher is providing all the different content areas, this thinking can be easily encouraged by the same teacher.

When the students have completed both part 1 and part 2 of this month-long notebook task, I can tell my teaching colleagues that their students are ready to use extended metaphors as a new tool in their learning logs and interactive notebooks in those classes.

With the love metaphor page completed, I inform my students they will become "collectors of metaphorical ideas " in their other classes over the next three weeks. As they take notes, do activities, and learn in their other core areas of study, they are to always be thinking, "Could I translate this idea into a extended metaphor back in Mr. Harrison's class?" Every day in my English class, I remind them to do this, and I allow them to talk to each other for about five minutes in small groups to throw ideas back and forth based on that day or the previous day's math, science, and social studies lessons. One day a week (I like Thursdays), I stop class ten or fifteen minutes early and have students partner-up, share the metaphorical ideas they have thought of, ask for revision help from the group to make their metaphors stronger, check each other's spelling and punctuation, then copy them neatly onto a page we've designated in their notebooks. When I made my teacher model, I photographed my page before I started collecting new metaphors for the other content areas, and I show it to students so they set-up a similar page that allows for "future collecting and publishing of metaphors."


(Click here to open/print a really large version of this notebook model, which can be printed on legal-sized paper or zoomed in on.)

As far as this task's timeline, I explain, "If you were to be really doing this task diligently, I would expect you that have a new metaphor for all three--math, science, and social studies--ready to go every week; that way, in three weeks, every student will have a new extended metaphor--one for each subject area." It doesn't perfectly work out this way for every student, but it's a goal for them to aim for, and many do get there because of my daily reminders.

Here is my writer's notebook model I show them after week #1. If you're making your own model, I suggest you photograph the page as it develops this way; I find showing all three of my finished metaphors at once can be a bit daunting to my students. Please note that my across-the-curriculum metaphors all are extended with at least three details:


(Click here for a stand-alone version of this page that can be printed on legal-sized paper.)

Here is my writer's notebook model that I show after week #2 of collecting.


(Click here for a stand-alone version of this page that can be printed on legal-sized paper.)

Here is my writer's notebook model I show them after week #3:


(Click here for a stand-alone version of this page that can be printed on legal-sized paper.)

Remember, the rough draft for these extended metaphors should go on scratch paper. Only after students have checked their spellings and shared out loud in a group, asking for revision suggestions, are they allowed to carefully transfer the metaphor into the writer's notebook on the left-hand side of the two-page spread. I want these metaphor collections to be "shiny examples" rather than rough draft examples.


Some Favorite Extended Metaphors from my own Students' Notebooks:

In past years, my students had time to create seven different extended metaphors over the month. Because I added the Four-Metaphor Poems task this year, we only had time to complete four. That is why my students' pages look a little different than mine.

Click on any of these images to view/print them in larger format:

7th grader Grace's four metaphors

7th grader Jorge's four metaphors

7th grader Keely's four metaphors

7th grader Toni's four metaphors

7th grader Mitchel's four metaphors

8th grader Chris's four metaphors

7th grader Wonje's four metaphors

7th grader Emily's four metaphors

An Invitation to Share Students' Extended Metaphor Notebook Pages:

You will have students who create awesome notebook pages inspired by this activity--ones that should serve as models for future students who go through this writing task. I hope you'll consider photographing and sharing any students' notebook page that really are inspirational. Tell your students you're going to choose the three best notebook pages and post them at WritingFix's Ning; this is a fabulous way to motivate your writers, and tell your students they could very easily have their notebook pages seen by the tens-of-thousands of teachers and writers who visit our free-to-access educational site annually.

The link below will take you to our posting page specifically set up for this lesson. And hey, I'd love to see teachers sharing their own models of this assignment too!

Click here to visit the ning posting page where you can post photos of your students' work.
(If I end up posting your students' notebook pages here at this page, I will send you a complimentary copy of any of my workshop packets/products!)

Keep Using Extended Metaphors as a Processing Tool in Future Lessons:

Our students keep interactive notebooks, not only in language arts but also in math, science, and social studies. An interactive notebook is a place where students can a) record learned information in their own words and also b) reflect on the learning in a manner that feels right to their own learning styles. We attempt to give students many options at the end of a lesson to creatively or logically reflect on what has been learned in their own manner. Extended metaphors are a great option for reflection that definitely appeals to some students' learning style.

Metaphors will naturally be harder for some students than they are for others, but I believe it to be great language practice to continually try to get better at something. At least once a month after establishing these two notebook pages, I have all students process something new they've learned using an extended metaphor, and we celebrate really excellent ones out loud or by recording them somewhere in the class: on top of the white board, on our classroom blog, on a bulletin board, etc. For my students who really struggle with the metaphorical-thinking requirement, I often pair those students up with a skilled-at-metaphor student, asking the pair to create two original comparisons as opposed to the one metaphor I ask students working by themselves; the more skilled metaphor student usually writes both, but the student who is not as skilled learns a lot listening to the skilled students' thinking.

In addition to using extended metaphors as a processing tool in my own classroom, I remind my three content colleagues to encourage them in their own classrooms' interactive notebooks.

The best thing that happens after teaching this format is that you will have several students who will process information using the format without being asked. For the rest of the year, I am always delighted by the students who independently approach me, saying, "I thought of a cool metaphor last night, Mr. Harrison."


Idea #3...Using Extended Metaphors in Bigger Writing Assignments:

There are two absolutely great places to showcase extended metaphors when one is teaching writing: in a descriptive narrative and as an introductory tool for expository writing. After all my students' metaphor practice, I have very few kids who have trouble showing me they can establish and extend a metaphor should I ask them to try it during the drafting phase of writer's workshop; it helps that I can show them a mentor text (see below) and my teacher model (see below) to show them what it looks like in longer writing. My kids are ultimately allowed to choose not to use the metaphors we try in their final drafts (if the metaphor didn't "work" or feel natural), but they have to try it. In the novels we read together, there a lots of extended metaphors that the kids catch because metaphors are a constantly discussed tool during class time. Here are the two places where I have the best success inspiring students to establish and extend metaphors:

  • Narrative writing: create and extend a metaphor for the setting, a character, or the situation the character is in; my kids like the setting option the best, which is fine with me because a lot of them don't think to spend nearly enough time describing setting in their narratives.
  • Expository writing: create an extended metaphor-inspired introduction that "hooks" the reader into wanting to read the whole essay. With a metaphor in place at the very beginning of an informative essay, you can show students how to conclude their essays by coming back to that metaphor one more time, perhaps sharing one final unique reason how their topic is connected to their metaphor.

In December, my students always work on a narrative vignette (which means a "short scene"), and then we begin expository essays in February. Those students who made use of extended metaphors in their final drafts of their winter vignettes have little trouble creating a metaphor to serve as part of their February expository essay. I am posting some of my new narrative tools that I used to review and build upon what we already knew about extended metaphors, and I will be posting my expository lesson tools when I roll-out that lesson mid-February in 2014.

Narrative Vignette Writing & Extended Metaphor teaching tools:

An extended metaphor is an interesting writer's tool to consider applying to a character, a setting, or to an event in a story. Writing a vignette with an extended metaphor is an idea that appeals to a lot of my kids, and it can be toyed with safely in a short scene; in the end, I allow the students to decide if their extended metaphor ideas for their stories should be developed or scrapped.

First, a video inspiration: There's a sweet little video from Five for Fighting called "What if..." that I used to introduce the definition of a vignette this year. Here's some background information before I tell you about my reason for using this video though: Most of my kids prefer narrative over the other two genres, and thanks to Sacred Writing Time, I have a nice number of young writers who are composing narrative "novels" they have dreamt up. When I say, "Write a narrative" for writer's workshop, I have kids who'd slowly type up and turn in a 15-page, plot-driven story based on the work they've done in their writer's notebook; it would be a typed rough draft that's really long, and generally what they give me with these huge stories shows little purposeful description of character or setting; it's mostly fast-paced action and a lot of dialogue.

Because of those students, I really stress the idea of a vignette because I want writing from them that is 1) short and that 2) goes out of its way to be interesting with its use of vocabulary and description. I tell my novel-in-progress kids that this is their opportunity to go back and choose one important scene; they can rework just that scene and focus on really memorable description. This works well in their favor, and many of them did just that this year. I am in the process of gathering their samples because the semester's end/winter break cut our writer's workshop right in half. I'll have final drafts soon.

So my students are assigned a vignette...which I define as a scene from a bigger story. I suggest it be the very first scene in a big story they are thinking about telling. Or I suggest it be the "boss fight" scene that will serve as the story's climax; Stephen King in his On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft talks about writing his novel's final scenes first, before writing anything else as a writing strategy, and I find that very interesting. So too do my young writers because I have a number of them trying this in their own way.

Okay, on to the video, which is now on You-Tube! It didn't used to be. The video shows the story of a robot who invents a boy-- instead of a boy inventing a robot as one might expect. The video has a beautiful Daedalus an Icarus allusion to it, which was nice to review with the students; they like myths, and they like the idea of using one to create an original story as the video does here. The story contained in the video is epic, just like my novel-in-progress kids' story ideas. After watching, I explain what a vignette is, I explain how the video is not a vignette. I ask, "Which scene from that epic story would you believe to be the most interesting to write as a single-scene story?" We were kind of split: almost half thought the scene with the boy first coming alive; the others thought the sad scene at the end with the balloons being released. I like to have them write and share the first sentence or two of a vignette inspired by the big story found in the video. Writing initial sentences for someone else's story--I find--inspires my students to create great initial sentences for their own stories.

Music videos were written and story-boarded by someone who went through the writing process; I make sure the kids think about that before they're ever allowed to watch a video with me. I show videos that prompt a good discussion, and this video gave me that (while letting me review allusion with them). The discussion of the video gave many of my students

My lesson's mentor text: "If Cornered, Scream" by Patricia J. Thurmond. A vignette is a scene from a bigger story that is confined to one setting, and this story almost fits that description. You can find vignettes in larger pieces of text but rarely do they stand on their own. This mentor text comes close. ALSO...there is a nicely establish extended metaphor that involves a ship and the sea; I'll let you find it because it's a cool little writing strategy, and I'll let you spot the different places the ship/sea ideas even though this story is no where near the ocean and involves no ship. I hope I am not violating anyone's copyright by linking to the PDF I found through Google; I see the copyright statement intact, so I feel okay linking to this other site.

I also found this site which shares the vocabulary words from the text you may have to review beforehand or do some meaningful vocabulary activities with afterwards.

My teacher model: All right, I'm putting myself out there in the form of a notebook page and a narrative. I believe in writing alongside your kids if time affords it, and it's not that hard to find the time if you're committed. My narrative vignette's inspiration? A long time ago I made a page in my fanciest writer's notebook that celebrated a random character I created using an interactive word game I found on this page at WritingFix. Dogcatchers are apparently interesting to me; I can't explain why. You can see my notebook page at left, and I was really proud of his face; after I created it, I kept looking back and asking, "What story can I put this character in?"

I literally wrote this alongside my student this time, which was kind of fun because it kept me on my toes. I actually only had a brainstorming chart and these two paragraphs ready to show when class began one day, and so they read just those first two paragraphs, we discussed what a vignette was again, and I then asked my big question: "I want to establish a metaphor in here and then extend on it like they did in 'If Cornered, Scream.' Would you talk with a small group and come up with some ideas for a metaphor I might create in my story?" I already had my ribcage/heart metaphor in mind, and none of them came up with the same one I had thought of, but they did give some interesting suggestions even though they were only seeing the first two paragraphs.

During our next writer's workshop, they all were allowed to see my entire first typed draft, and they were expected to create a critique for me based on the idea development and word choice skills we've been working on since October.

So at right, enjoy (or dislike) my story about a frightening experience for a city dogcatcher that I drew years ago in my notebook. As I tell my students, I don't believe science fiction movies where the aliens first decide to land in the safe cover of the wilderness. I don't buy that; I think aliens would be sucked to the light like a moth at the flame (ooh, a simile!), and their first place of landing would be in a huge city. And wouldn't it be fun if the person to discover their arrival was the city dogcatcher. If you want to share from it, be my guest. If you want to share just its first two paragraphs and host a discussion, be my guest. You might try writing a vignette yourself though; they're not that hard, and the kids would love it if you participated in the process with them.

Another mentor text with a vignette : This story is actually the first thing they'll see when they come back after Winter Break. It has been chosen to re-ground them with the concept of vignette. This is one short story in the collection of short stories by Jon Katz called Dancing Dogs. The first story is called "Gracie's Last Walk." On the first day, we read just until the first paragraph break, where the officers ask her to step outside the subway with her suitcase; I don't let them see the title of the piece, nor do I let them see anything that follows this opening scene. First, they have to predict what the story is going to be about. Then, we look back at just this section of the story's paragraphs, and each partnership must come up with a reason why the author broke the paragraphs where he did. Ask, "What seems to be the purpose of each paragraph? This is written by a professional and best-selling writer who understands paragraphing. Why do you think he divided the story into these paragraphed chunks?" Students should find a reason for each paragraph by explaining what each paragraph's big idea seems to be. I do this to make them think about how purposely they paragraphed their own vignettes.

On day two with the story, I have them read up to the second story break, which is about four or five pages in. They still don't know the title yet because I hide it, but here they read and learn some background on the character who had the suitcase in the first scene. A few of the kids--after reading this second part--will probably accurately predict what's in the suitcase, but don't let them spoil it. After talking about the connection between the first story and the second part of it, I say, "We'll learn for sure how these two stories complement each other when we read the last part of the story during our next class session." Before handing the partial copies of the story back to me, they again look at this new section for purposeful paragraphing.

On the third day, I let them read the entire story quietly to themselves, which takes about fifteen or twenty minutes. I say, "This author chose not to use an extended metaphor--because you don't always have to. If there was a person/place/thing/idea in the story that could become one half of a comparative metaphor, what might it be?" This becomes a small group discussion.

A final mentor text suggestion that uses an extended metaphor: A mentor text can show students how to think about language choices in their own stories. Fox by Margaret Wild is a wonderful (though a bit dark) allegory with a visual metaphor that is complemented by the language of the story. Allegory for what? I'm still not 100% sure, but my students and I talk about this book in great depth. Some think it's an allegory for good and evil; others think it's an allegory for a specific friendship that broke apart. On day one, we like to discuss these questions: 1) What kind of person does Magpie remind you of? 2) What kind of person would be like Dog? 3) Do you believe there are real Foxes in the world, like in this story?

Wild never directly establishes this metaphor:--"The fox was fire."-- but the visuals and the word choice make it clear this is the author's metaphor. As we talk about extended metaphors, here is another fine example of how to integrate a well-established metaphor into a piece of writing. Like "If Cornered, Scream," the author here does a fine job with interesting word choices to keep re-igniting the metaphor that's been established. "If your metaphor is good enough," one of my students observed this year, "you can keep it going for the whole story."

"If you're careful," I responded. It's easy to go overboard with metaphors; this children's picture book does an amazing job keeping it simple and effective.

Expository Writing & Extended Metaphor teaching tools:

I'm already saving space for what is coming this March.

I have a lot of writing strategies I teach students that help them add an appropriate amount of voice to their expository/.informative writing. One of those tools is to establish a metaphor in their paper's introduction. Their metaphor can then be 1) left alone, 2) extended upon in the essay's body somehow, or 3) extended upon in the essay's conclusion.

Coming this March! My lesson on using metaphors to fuel an expository essay.