Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison, and I have been an educator since 1990, and a teacher-trainer 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 steps of the writing process. Every year, I challenge myself to improve my writing instruction even more, and this website is where I post my most successful new ideas.

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.

I have no available dates left in 2017.

In 2018, I may have availability between January 8-12, March 26- April 6, and June 11 - July 27, October 1-5.

If you would like to verify my availability for a specific date or dates in the windows offered above, please contact me at this e-mail address.

You can find general information about my workshops here.

Always
Write

 
       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

We begin our school year by "publishing" our hallway with visuals and writing that celebrate orr students' academic stengths as well as their individuality while away from school: I teach 6-8th graders at a middle school that "teams." That means my 175+ Language Arts students share the same math, science, and history instructors, and the five teachers who share those kids create projects and interdisciplinary units of study together. Three of the teachers on my team (me included in that group) share the same hallway with our classrooms right next to each other; our science lab and one of our two social studies teachers are across the school though, and that separation isn't ideal, but we've learned to live with it, and it allows us to take over--or "publish," as I like to call it--two hallways instead of one. I am such a believer that every student needs to not only feel they have some ownership of each classroom they rotate through, but--if possible--they need to "own" the hallways outside your classroom entrances too.

And I believe our students need to "own" their hallway by hanging up projects that show not only their individuality and uniqueness, but also their deep-thinking skills; if you "publish a hallway," you don't want a project that looks or sounds terrible out there, and so part of these special projects always involve having the students write and revise and publish their ideas intelligently.

Side note about the Mentor Text of the Year Program: During the 2013-14 school year, I was using Gretchen Bernabei's The Story of My Thinking: Expository Writing Activities for 13 Teaching Situations to help me revise some expository lessons of mine that need some "oomph" added to them according to my understanding of Common Core State Standards. When Gretchen's book showed up in the mail and I had the opportunity to really study its cover, I knew it was the mentor text for me to really "mine" for some fresh ideas; you see, I had already begun designing a new "hallway publishing" lesson based on my new students' different hands to serve as the "Lesson of the Month" for September, and here was this book about expository with a picture of two hands on the cover. Her hand metaphor is different than my Giving/Taking Hands assignment that you will find below, but it solidly links to where I will be taking my students "expositorily" this year.

You don't need Gretchen's book for anything specific with the lesson on this page, but you should consider ordering/finding a copy for some great lessons and ideas on organizing essays without using formulaic structures. If you're only teaching kids formulaic essay structures--like five paragraph essays or Jane Schaffer essays, then you're selling your kids short. Gretchen's book is full of ideas and graphic oragnizers that completely revolutionized the way I teach my kids to plan an organized essay during the pre-writing steps of the writing process. More importantly, my kids' essays completely stopped sounding robotic in voice, and many who'd cited expository writing as their least-favorite form of writing changed their song by the end of the year I began using this book. This school year, and all future years after this, I intend to integrate yet another of Gretchen's ideas into one of my expository lessons.

Now...I have visited a lot of "teaming" schools over the years where there's--maybe--a team poster outside some classrooms--sometimes with a team motto or symbol or metaphor on it--and perhaps all kids have signed their names on the poster to show they belong to that team. Last year, I talked to a teacher who had found a computer program where students could create an individualized anime-like cartoon character of themselves, which they printed, colored, and labeled with their first names and last initials. These seemed to be good first steps to showing that students belong on the team, but a signature on a colored cartoon doen't show me the students did any deep, Common Core-like thinking as they presented themselves to each other; instead, these tasks seem to focus on coloring and perhaps penmanship skills. I don't know about you, but I can't hang something in my hallway unless it shows a thoughtful idea that's explained through visuals and interesting writing.

And so...I designed a trilogy of "introduce yourself to us" projects on this page to be assigned and taught during the first week of school, to be worked on in all core classes for a short period of time, and to produce something worthy of laminating for the purpose of hanging up in our hallway so that my students feel they "own" our hallway.

Why three different lessons? As I said, we have 6th-8th graders on our team. I decided I wanted to have a cycle of three of these lessons so that we could do a different one each year, and students would not have to repeat one during the time they spend on our team. The first year, we had students explore their heads and the brains inside them. The second year, we had the students explore their hands' uniqueness. For the third year, we created a metaphor that focused on their hearts and the things they love and hold dear.

If you're NOT new to this website, you most likely know from my Common Core vocabulary materials and my trait-inspired writing lessons that I have my students always focus on learning new vocabulary words or writing trait skills while working on projects, so all three of these lessons require students to impress me with the vocabulary words they choose to describe themselves and the ways they express themselves. All three lessons also require students to self-reflect on who they are while in school and who they are when they are away from school. These projects are assigned during the first week or two, presented in the third week, and by the fourth week, they have been laminated and our two hallways look amazing...usually just in time for Back To School night.

This Lesson is Part of a "Trilogy" that we have Developed to Decorate Hallways with Amazing Student Words & Visuals

Different Heads: A Presenting Me! Project
Pie Graphs in My Head

Giving credit where credit is due: This assignment was inspired partially by "The Roman Centurion's Brain," an activity from Barry Lane's 51 Wacky We-Search Reports. If you don't own this book, you should! Trust me...There is no more enjoyable and effective way to do the writing across the curriculum than the 51 techniques Barry suggests here. All of my teammates use this wonderful collection of "thinking with you funny bone" writing activities.

Different Hands: A Presenting Me! Project
My Giving Hands/My Taking Hands

Giving credit where credit is due: This assignment was inspired by a Bible quote from the Book of Mark (6:3), which I will paraphrase here: "Give so secretly that your left hand does not know what your right is doing." There was a charcoal drawing of a hand and a face and this quote in my boyhood home. The memory of it inspired this lesson.

Different Hearts: A Presenting Me! Project
Heart Parks

Giving credit where credit is due: This assignment was inspired partially by Ralph Fletcher's "Heart Map" activity, which can be found in his A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You, which all my sixth graders read cover to cover. This third lesson in our trilogy will be unveiled over the summer of 2014 to those who have purchased our Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards.

Follow our "Hallway Publishing" Board at Pinterest to see our students' samples from these projects.

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Start this lesson by first introducing this "25-cent" vocabulary word classification system:

I have learned to love teaching vocabulary again ever since I stopped giving the students ten S.A.T.-friendly words every Monday to memorize by Friday's quiz. I discovered a few years back that about 10% of my students actually retained the vocabulary for more than a week after the quiz; the rest were simply memorizing and forgetting, which is about as low on Bloom's Taxonomy as you can go.

I proposed to my wife--Dena--at the 2004 NCTE Conference in Indianapolis. She said yes, by the way, and that was the best thing about that conference. The second best thing was attending a session by the great Nancie Atwell who wrote the book that first inspired my love of using Writer's Workshop--In the Middle. Nancie's session was a slideshow she narrated that showed how her classroom worked on a day-to-day basis. Her students collected their own vocabulary words, and I was intrigued. Her kids even quizzed each other on their vocabulary words, and--thusly--they learned their own words as well as the words of their partners. A few years later, my students were collecting their own vocabulary words too, and I'll never not teach vocabulary in this way again.

There are rules to collecting vocabulary. In short, they are:

  1. 75% of their words must come from something they're currently reading--either an assigned book from class or an independent book for our Reading Workshop. For my students who read really fast, I allow them--after they have finished their books--to carry around a book of poetry or short stories so that they can continue to collect words while my slower and average readers finish their books. The other 25% of their words can come from (but they don't have to) words they hear at home, words they hear in television and movies, or words from our Sacred Writing Slides.
  2. Words must be "25-cent words," which means they require the dictionary or context clues to learn the meaning of. Click here to access a PDF version of my PowerPoint that teaches this classification system for words to my students; click here to freely access the PowerPoint version of the same slideshow. If students can't find 25-cent words in their books, then they have chosen too easy of a book!

Over the summer of 2013, I finally sat down and published 11 Vocabulary PowerPoints that explain my ten best techniques for having students respond to vocabulary words with a meaningful, unique language experience based on their chosen words. If you're interested in my Vocabulary Lessons (which are aligned with Common Core), click here or on the image at left, and you'll be able to examine two of the eleven PowerPoints that come with this packet of materials.

A visual celebration of 25- and 50-cent words on index cards I begin by showing students what I consider to be a 1-cent word. On index cards, I have written down the words I, and, the, a, an, in, on, and you, and I post them in a column on my white board called "Penny words." I ask my kids, "What do these words have in common?" We determine that they are words that don't carry a lot of weight in a sentence, but they are functionally important. You couldn't really have a sentence without them. Many of my students nod when I identify these as their "sight words" from kindergarten or first grade.

I then post some pre-made "Nickel words" on index cards in another column . I start with some adjectives: nice, good, funny, fun. Then I add some verbs: walk, run, eat. The students recognize these as easy words they also learned in the early years but these are words that start adding more to sentences--mainly, descriptions and actions.

"Dime worrds" are thoughtful synonyms for 5-cent words that my students can generate without a thesaurus. My students quickly make synonyms for all my 5-cent words that I've posted for them on index cards, and I write the best ones on new index cards and make a third column. 10-cent words are quality nouns, verbs, and adjectives (sometimes an adverb works too!); to be a 10-cent word, the student should be able to define it without a dictionary or context clues.

I explain that having a thesaurus is sometimes a luxury. I expect my students to use plenty of 10-cent words in their writing, but in every descriptive paragraph, I expect to see them trying to use new 25-cent wordsthey learn. A 25-cent word is one of those good words you hear in a conversation or read in a story, and you have to stop and ask for the definition, look it up, or use context clues to make an educated guess. I stress that if students have chosen an appropriately-leveled book, they should be encountering a 25-cent word on just about every page.

"Half dollar words" are specialty words that--uness you're a certain specialist--require the dictionary. Content-based vocabulary words (like phlebotomy) and really specific words (like numismatist) I explain how brain research says that if a person can meaningfully use a 50-cent word 8-10 times (in conversation or in writing), the word will--first--become a 25-cent word to them, and with continued use, the word will eventually become a 10-cent word. "But it loses value!" I always have an entrepreneurial student bemoan, to which I respond, "But you've just saved yourself time by not needing a dictionary, and time is money, my friends. As you grow older, you'll realize how time is often more valuable than money, so it's okay to 'demote' the word's value as you learn it."

Now--just because it'll come up--there are no one-dollar words in this classroom classification system I use. We pretty much end my metaphor at fifty-cents; however, million-dollar words are words that a student invents because they can't find the perfect word to say what they mean. Splendiloquent is a million dollar word for the person who said it first. When I teach word choice and voice, we play with the idea of inventing our own words when it is an appropriate option to the writing task. (Like those two trait links? Those Post-its for the traits? You can order my entire set of trait and genre Post-its at my Products Page, and when you order, you receive both a PDF version of the files but also a Microsoft Word version so the Post-its can be edited).

Throughout the first week in my class, we do some fairly quick vocabulary exercises to practice the different between 25-cent and 50-cent words before I have students work on the "Presenting Me" project; these are all activities that work well with two kids who are working together, so it's an ideal task for the first weeks of school so students can meet new people.

  • On one day, I had the kids use Google to investigate both odd words for people who collect things and weird phobia names that people suffer from. These types of words are often great 50-cent words. The specialized words for collectors leads right in to my Creating a Classroom of Logophiles, which remains one of the most popular lessons at my site. Each partnership needed to find 20 "half-dollar words" words they didn't think anyone else would find. Be warned...there are words for phobias that are a little more adult than others; ask your students to be mature as they search and select. I partner the partners to create groups of six and to share their words; like in the game Boggle, if two partnerships have the same word, both groups have to cross the word off and receive no points are earned for that word.
  • On another day, we described the tone (attitude) of the lyrics in David Guetta's song-- Titanium --using 25-cent words. I have a lesson that also uses the same song--actually it uses the video fore the song--called "Narrative Storyboarding." This year, we will also be doing a similar brainstorm to Sara Barellis' song Brave, which will become a new lesson here at my site: How Big is Your Brave?
  • On a third day, I showed them pictures of people doing interesting things (they were actually photos of my family from my own online photo album here at my website), and I had them come up with a 25-cent word that could be used in a sentence describing each photograph.

Our favorite 50-cent and 25-cent words from the week were written and defined on index cards, and my students had to add a "Mr. Stick" illustration to help explain each word's meaning. Here is a photo of our 25-cent and 50-cent "word gallery," which we completed during the first week of school. Obviously, this lesson is my way of introducing Mr. Stick to my new students.


This whiteboard display will stay up for a few weeks in Fall to remind my students of the difference between 25-cent and 50-cent words.


This image can be enlarged by clicking on it.

This image can be enlarged by clicking on it.

an illustrated example of a 50-cent word

an illustrated example of a 25-cent word

All three of the "Presenting Me!" activities require students to write about themselves. Make no mistake about it: I expect to see high-quality 10-cent words, and some specific 25-cent words in the writing they include with the visual part of the projects.

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A Get-to-Know-You Writing/Art Project that Also Decorates our Hallway:
Different Hands: A Presenting Me! Project
My Giving Hands & My Taking Hands

exploring 10- and 25-cent synonyms for give and take and applying them to oneself

Background story: It's funny to me how memory works. My parents divorced when I was less than two, and my Mom got the house and the kids in the settlement. I have no memory of ever living in that house with my father in that house. In our home in Fresno, California, there hung a framed charcoal drawing, and it had a quote written around the image: "Give so secretly that your left hand does not know what your right is doing." This drawing was placed near our front door, and I remember looking at it often as I waited for Mom to drive me somewhere back in those pre-teen days.

By age twelve, my mother had re-married and we moved to Nevada, where I've lived ever since. The charcoal drawing apparently wasn't kept, for it didn't make the trip with us. I never saw it again. I remembered the quote though. At some point in my twenties, I asked my Mom about it: "What ever happened to that charcoal drawing with the quote on it that hung by the front door in Fresno?"

"What was the charcoal drawing of?" Mom asked. I wasn't exactly sure, but I could recite the quote, which I later learned was a quote from the New Testament. Mom had no memory of the artwork I was talking about, and so I forgot about it...until...

About four years before he died from cancer, my father asked me an interesting question while I was visiting him in Colorado, which is where he is buried. He asked, "Do you remember what happened to that charcoal drawing of the lady's hand pressed up against her face? It was in our Fresno house."

A light flickered in my memory. "Did it have a quote on it too?" I asked, reciting the quote from memory again.

"I don't think so," Dad replied. "I remember the artist did an amazing job with the hand, which is why I bought it from her."

Ah, Dad had bought it. Now it made sense why it didn't leave Fresno with us, but Dad was insistent that there was no quote on the drawing, even when I explained how I remember the words wrapping around the image, which apparently was a hand pressed up against a person's face.

Memory is weird to me. For over 30 years, I remembered the words but not the image from that framed picture. Dad remembered the image but had no memory of the quote, and Mom--perhaps--repressed the entire object altogether. I recount this story to my kids when we talk about how people choose to remember things.

Now don't misunderstand me. Remembering that particular quote for so long is not some sign that "Give so secretly that your left hand does not know what your right is doing" is some sort of personal maxim in my life; in fact, I am the type ype of person who--if I do something nice to or charritable for my students--I loudly remind them how lucky they are that I'm doing this for them. "Need an extra day on your homework? You better thank the powers that be that I am an incredibly nice man ," I say loudly for all to hear as both my hands waggle in their faces. "And you owe me!"

Overview of this activity: For this lesson, students brainstorm times in both their lives and their schooling where they actively give and take. After exploring interesting synonyms for giving and taking (which conveniently have multiple meanings that can be used in multiple contexts), students create ten verb-driven complex sentences that explain when they give and when they take from the world. All sentences must focus on positive gives and takes. After sharing, revising and editing their ten sentences, students will create a visual (12" x 12" minimum size) that is focused on celebrating their hands. The final product must include the following:

  1. The ten sentences about themselves (five need to be about their academic strengths, and five need to be about things that are non-academic);
  2. Their first names and a visual representation of themselves;
  3. Their literal or metaphorical representation of their hands;
  4. Visual representations that complement their ten statements about themselves;
  5. An optional quote about hands, giving, or taking that they can interpret and explain to their classsmates.

I warn the students these will be laminated and hang in the hallways, so they must stay 2-dimensional, and they must not include visuals they need returned to them.

Teaching this lesson: It's important to stress that you expect to see what kind of vocabulary they are capable of using correctly in their final products. Explain that you want to see excellent use of 10-cent and 25-cent vocabulary words in their sentences. Explain that you also expect to see a unique approach to their final presentation/product; if they simply copy the idea from my teacher model, they will receive a poor mark on this activity.

I am fortunate that I work with four other amazing educators on my teaching team who all have made their own version of this hand-inspired project too. When I showed my fellow teachers my sample and challenge them to be unique by taking a different approach, my teammates step up to the plate and impress me always. By having all five of us show the students our differently approached hand projects during the first week, we see a lot of different approaches from our own students. Teacher models of writing and projects are incredibly important if you want students to produce their best quality work; I've always thought this, and I "live it" as my philosophy.

Click on my teaching team's hands to see them bigger. I work with four of the best--to even make these at my request!

So I began this lesson on the first day of school by showing my laminated example (and my fellow teachers will show theirs as well), the students will work on several brainstorms throughout the first week, and they will come in during the second week with final products that we will do a whole-team activity with. By the end of the second week, the projects will all be laminated and hanging in our two hallways. This 12-page brainstorming worksheet will be thbe document that guides their thinking; please review each page of this document, and eliminate any pages you don't feel you need to share with your students. Here are some specifics of how I might choose to use the document:

  • Ten-Page Main Packet: (pictured at right--all pages in this packet are optional and you should run off only the pages you will have time to discuss with students. Thanks to my teaching team, we covered all these pages during the first week and a half of school):
    • the main packet's cover sheet explains the specific learning objectives of this assignment; my students earn 75 points for this asssignment.;
    • the second page has them brainstorm give and take synonyms from a language arts perspective;
    • the third page allowed student to think about things they give and take in science class;
    • the fourth page allowed student to think about things they give and take in math class;
    • the fifth and sixth pages allow student to think about things they give and take in history and/or civics class;
    • the seventh and eighth pages has space for students to create and revise their give and take sentences about themselves for their final product;
    • the ninth page has a "final product" checklist and allows for room for sketching ideas for hand metaphors for their visual;
    • the tenth page displays the ten sentences I wrote for my display. I ALWAYS provide a teacher model when I expect them to do their best work on a project.
  • Bonus Page 1: Learning Styles Brainstorming Worksheet: I didn't have time for this one before students completed the project, but I plan to use it later in the school year to review give/take synonyms.
  • Bonus Page 2: How Big is Your Brave? Brainstorming Worksheet: I didn't have time for this one before students completed the project, but I will use it to review give/take synonyms during my September Storyboarding Lesson that makes use of Sara Barellis' song, Brave as its mentor text.
Samples from my Own Wonderful Students
Note how they each took a different approach to presenting their brains to us! Encourage metaphorical and literal thinking!

four of my students' Giving/Taking Hands projects

four more of my students' Giving/Taking Hands projects

four more of my students' Giving/Taking Hands projects

four more of my students' Giving/Taking Hands projects


My seventh grade girls take on...


...my seventh grade boys for creative approaches to hands. Who wins?

Want to share some of your students' Giving/Taking Hands projects?
Click here to post your students' hands at our blog.
At the bottom of the posting link, there should be a "comment" box where you can attach a digital photo or share a way you modified this activity/asssignment.

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