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.


       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 our students' academic strengths as well as their individuality while away from school: I teach 6-8th graders at a middle school that "teams." That means my 150+ Language Arts students share the same math, science, and history instructors, and we five teachers create projects and interdisciplinary studies 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 history teachers are across the school though, and that separation stinks, 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. 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 they need to own the 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 terrible out there, and so part of these special projects always involve having the students write and revise and publish their ideas intelligently.

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 individual 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 doesn't show me the students did any deep, Common Core-like thinking as they presented their individual strengths and preferences 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 this trilogy of "introduce yourself to us" lessons 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 brains. The second year, we had the students explore their hands' uniqueness. The third year, they will explore their individual hearts.

If you're NOT new to this website, you most likely know from my Common Core vocabulary materials that I have my students always focus on learning new vocabulary words while, so all three of these lessons require students to impress me with the vocabulary words they choose to describe themselves and their beliefs with. 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, presented in the second week, and by the third week, they have been laminated and our two hallways look amazing...just in time for Open House night.

This Lesson is Actually a "Trilogy" that can be Presented in any Order. Which Lesson are you Interested In?
Presenting Me!
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...

Presenting Me!
My 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."

Presenting Me!
My Heart...

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.

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Start all three of these lessons by first introducing my "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 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 words" 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 words they 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.


A Get-to-Know-You Writing/Art Project that Also Decorates our Hallway:
Presenting Me! My Head and my Two-sided Brain
partitioning the two sides of my students' brains, and an introduction to 25-cent vocabulary words

In one of my favorite movies/plays--Six Degrees of Separation--one of the characters admires a painting by Russian artist, Wassily Kandinski, which is painted on both sides of the canvas. Each side of the painting contains a radically different use of shape and line and color. The character beams as he says, "The Kandinski. It's painted on two sides." I've always loved that line, and I say it to myself when I notice two things--or students--in front of me that are radically different but somehow complementary. "You two are like a Kandinski painting," I have been known to say. "You should look him up online and see if you can figure out why I've made that comparison."

I'm lucky. My students work hard on their school work; they genuinely do--well, at least until spring fever hits them. I tell them how important it is in life to recognize and develop their two brains. I tell them to always spend time nourishing their academic brain at school and their recreational brains when their homework is completed. Both sides of our brains are equally important to develop if you should want to live the life of a life-long learner. Both sides of of our brains--our academic and our recreational--might be as radically different as a two-sided painting by Kandinski

I began this project by confessing to them how radically different I am as a person when I am away from my academic environment. They don't believe me; I honestly think some of my students believe I live and sleep in my classroom, and some days that almost feels true!

This "Presenting Me!" project requires students to prepare an artifact that can be shared and discussed so that my students become aware of each other's two sides of the brain: the academic side and the away-from-school side.If you mix up the students when they present these, the kids can definitely know each other better, and for me to show how much I appreciate what they do away from school. I showed them the 11" x 17" poster you see at right; click on the picture (or here) to view it in larger form so you can read my sentences. I shared the thinking went through as I created it. I told them I wanted them to create something similar, and I dared them to make theirs appear different than mine.

I am pleased to say that my four teaching teammates all created their own version at my request, which is but one more piece of evidence to support my claim that I work on one of the best teams in my school and district. I challenged my teammates to make their posters as radically different (style-wise) so that our students wouldn't simply replicate the way I displayed my two brains. During the first week, we all introduced ourselves to our kids using these displays, and we all kept our brains hanging in our classrooms for the entire year; the students' projects were laminated and decorated our hallways all year long.

This is the two-page worksheet (pictured at left) we go over in class together We spent ten minutes in class brainstorming, but then they took the worksheet home. I asked them to have their parents help them come up with 25-cent adjectives to describe themselves if they couldn't think of their own; if they could think of their own, I asked them to seek out their parents' opinions on whether the adjectives were accurate or not.

You can see my teacher model for the two-sides of the brain task above, so here are several unique approaches to the "Presenting Me!" assignment taken by my kiddos. I really stressed that I wanted them to take a unique approach to the task, and not to copy my presentation. The task was done as homework, and my students came in on Friday and presented their projects to each other in small groups. These are all being laminated, and they will wall-paper the hallway outside my classroom for the first semester! I hope my aide can get them all posted before "Back to School Night," which is usually during the third week of school for us. It's fun to watch the students--as they come down the hallway with their parents--show off where their own brains are hanging as well as the brains of their friends.

Laminated 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!

Eighth grader Jordan's two sides of his brain. Click image to enlarge it.

8th grader Julia's two sides of her brain. Click image to enlarge it.

Seventh-grader Sarah's two sides of her brain. Click image to enlarge it.

7th-grader Nico's two sides of his brain. Click image to enlarge it.

Sixth-grader Jaron's two sides of his brain. Click image to enlarge it.

Sixth grader Rebekkah's two sides of her brain. Click image to enlarge it.

Need more samples? Want to share some of your students' projects?
There is a Posting Page for this lesson at my Writing Lesson of the Month Ning.
At the bottom of the posting page, there should be a big white box where you can attach a digital photo or share a way you modified this activity/assignment.

With this lesson/project "under my belt," my students know each other better, and they are ready to begin collecting 25-cent words for the year, which is the big idea of the lesson found at the top of this page.

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