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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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 March's Guided Notebook Lesson from our set of "Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards".

An Original Teacher-Guided Lesson:

a writing task that's great for writer's notebooks:
Rhyming Slogans
Summarize Learning with Vocabulary- &
Concept-inspired Couplets



Overview of this Notebook Prompt:

This notebook prompt teaches students a new format for summarizing that can be used in all curriculum areas: the rhyming couplet. This lesson purposely introduces the concept slowly to students, which is crucial, especially to those who struggle with rhyme and sentence fluency.

Inspired by Steven L. Layne's hysterical picture book, My Brother Dan's Delicious, students first practice creating rhyming slogans that would dissuade a carnivorous monster/animal from eating them; working with a partner, all students create a writer's notebook page that celebrates some of their funniest original slogans. Then, over the next three weeks, students seek out original rhyming couplets by listening to the content in their other classes differently. At the end of the month, the students will have created a second page of rhyming couplets inspired by vocabulary and concepts heard in their math, science, and social studies classrooms.

Once established as a writing format, students can be encouraged to continue writing/sharing rhyming couplets in all subject areas.

My mentor text for this lesson:

My Brother Dan's Delicious
by Steven L. Layne

Interacting with the Mentor Text:

This mentor text is delightful. Steven L. Layne’s main character in My Brother Dan's Delicious--Joseph Demorett II--relies on an emotional monologue to tell his story. He comes home from school and finds himself alone, which becomes a scary notion once he realizes that some monster might be waiting to eat him. The narrator's fear is personified, and his monologue tries to convince the personified entity to do anything else than come after him. His best argument is that his brother Dan will be home soon, and he explains multiple reasons why his brother would make a better meal than he would. When Joseph hears the front door unlocking, he is sure the monster has finally found his way in the house, but his brother Dan comes in instead, and Joseph realizes how much his brother actually means to him.

Before sharing the whole book, start with just sharing a few pieces of the narrator's monologue. Xerox and cut out just the text from the page that begins with "Are there any monsters about?" through the page that starts "Finally, and most importantly there's the issue of taste." This will give students seven pieces of text. Scramble them up so they're out of order and tape them (out of order) to two pieces of paper. Xerox copies for your students.

Explain what a monologue is to your students; tell them it's a speech spoken by someone alone where they address an unseen audience. Shakespeare's characters often found themselves explaining their thoughts in monologues.

Pass out the two Xeroxed pages and explain that you've given your students a monologue from a book that is presented in an out-of-order fashion. Tell them briefly what the book is about and show them the cover illustration. Have them read it quietly, then have them work with a partner to put the seven pieces in the correct order. Ask them what clues they used to put it back in order. Discuss the importance of well-placed transition words to help a reader know when one idea has been finished and new idea takes its place in writing.


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 "Rhyming Slogans" lesson, thinking this could be another type of language students might learn to collect. After students create the two notebook pages suggested with this lesson, they can be encouraged to further collect rhyming slogans about any topic that occurs to them in the future.

Explain, "Inspired by the mentor text, I want you to dedicate a page in your notebooks to a pretty fun idea today. I want you to come up with some original rhyming slogans on why certain parts of your body shouldn't be eaten by monsters or carnivores. Advertisers often use clever slogans because they're easy to memorize and remember, and I want you to pretend you're creating slogans that you want animals or monsters to remember when they're cconsidering eating you or not."

Model the process after brainstorming a classroom appropriate list of body parts. Here are some words that are easy to make rhymes with:

  • liver
  • brain
  • nose
  • eyes
  • feet
  • heart
  • ears
  • spine

The goal of these rhyming slogans is to give a good reasons (that are easy to memorize because the words have a rhyme embedded in them) why the writer shouldn't be eaten. It might help to brainstorm some reasons before making rhymes. For example, you don't want to eat me because:

  • I am not nutritious or good for you;
  • Other people taste better than me (which was Dan's technique in the book);
  • It's easier to obtain food at the grocery story;
  • It's against the law (murder!) to eat me;
  • Or...?

Working with partners or in small groups, have students create slogans like these, which come from my writer's notebook model (see below):

  • Please refrain from eating my brain.
  • You'll get sick and shiver if you eat my liver.
  • "Don't eat my eyes!" the law decries.

Have each group share its best slogans on a chart or on the chalk/whiteboard. Have each student dedicate a page in their notebook to this topic: Rhyming Slogans for not Eating Me! In the center of the page, have them draw themselves; then, they are to surround their drawing with their favorite slogans, sketching an arrow between each slogan and the body part in question.

Students may borrow slogans from the class list for this task, but encourage them to continue to think about the task for the next 24 hours, and to add any original ones they thought of to their page.

I have included my personal writer's notebook page for this lesson below; my hope is that it inspires you to create your own page (or--better yet--a complete notebook!) to show your students. When you write alongside your students (especially on the more fun assignments, like this one), you will encourage more of them to participate actively. An additional way to make notebooks fun is to teach students to include Mr. Stick, or your own Classroom Margin Mascot on their pages.


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


Rhyming Slogans as a Writing Across the Curriculum Challenge:

I share my 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--rhyming couplets inspired by content and vocabulary they are studying in those other classrooms. 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 colleagues that their students are ready to use rhyming couplets as a new tool in their own course's learning logs and interactive notebooks.

I inform my students they will become "collectors of original rhyming couplets" in their other core 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 rhyming couplet for 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 couplets they have thought of, ask for revision help from the group to make their couplets sound more natural and fluent, check each other's spelling and punctuation, then copy them neatly onto a page we've designated in their notebooks.

You'll have students who start by creating slogans that are not very content specific; one I remember from a student was "Math is awesome, and it can be cool/Because it's a subject we study in school." It's fun to say but it doesn't prove the student has learned anything about math. You need to make sure they understand that you're expecting the slogans to be specific to a fact (or two) from the content; to be sure they have a fact, they might find it easy to start with a vocabulary word, a famous person or place's name, or a date. The ones they choose to publish in their notebooks will absolutely need to be about a specific fact learned in class.

As far as this lesson's timeline, I explain, "If you were to be really doing this task diligently, I would expect you that have a new rhyming couplet for all three--math, science, and social studies--ready to go every week; that way, in three weeks, you would have nine couplets--three 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; showing all nine of my finished poems at once can be a bit daunting to my students. My slogans all are focused on an actual fact or two; they're not just fun to say:


(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 #2. My examples kind of go all over the place with different topics within the content; your students' couplets might end up being about the same unit of study, which is fine:


(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 emotional recipes 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 rhyming slogan into the writer's notebook on the left-hand side of the two-page spread.


Rhyming Couplets from my own Students' Notebooks:

Here are ten very different examples from my own students who worked on these poems during the month of March in my classroom:


Dani, one of my 7th graders, shared this page of Rhyming Couplets.


Wonje, one of my 7th graders, shared this page of Rhyming Couplets.


Akshay, one of my 7th graders, shared this page of Rhyming Couplets.


Tommy, one of my 7th graders, shared this page of Rhyming Couplets.


Conner, one of my 7th graders, shared this page of Rhyming Couplets.


Josh, one of my 6th graders, shared this page of Rhyming Couplets.


Gwen, one of my 7th graders, shared this page of Rhyming Couplets.


Destinee, one of my 7th graders, shared this page of Rhyming Couplets.


Nathanael, one of my 7th graders, shared this page of Rhyming Couplets.


Grace, one of my 7th graders, shared this page of Rhyming Couplets.

 

Use Rhyming Couplets 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 style. We attempt to give students many options at the end of lesson to creatively or logically reflect on what has been learned. Rhyming couplets are a fun option for reflection that definitely appeals to some students' learning style.

Couplets 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 a rhyming couplet, and we celebrate really excellent ones out loud or by recording them somewhere in the class for a few weeks: on top of the white board, on two sentence strips, on our classroom blog, on a bulletin board, etc. For students who really struggle with the rhyming requirement, I often pair those students up with a skilled-at-rhyme student, asking the pair to create two original couplets as opposed to the one couplet I ask students working by themselves; the more skilled 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 rhyming couplets as a processing tool in my own classroom, I remind my three content colleagues to encourage them in their classrooms' interactive notebooks too.

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 new rhyming couplet last night, Mr. Harrison."


A Follow-up Writing Lesson for Language Arts:

By the way, I have a persuasive writing lesson posted at WritingFix that I do after students have made the rhyming slogans inspired by My Brother Dan's Delicious. I credit the lesson's original idea to my NNWP colleague, Amy Richards, who introduced me to Steven L. Layne's picture book back in 2005. You can access the extended writing lesson (which has great student samples!) using the link below:

further writing inspired by My Brother Dan's Delicious:
Don't Eat Me Monologues

 

An Invitation to Share Students' Two-Page Rhyming Couplet 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 our ning's posting page,
where you can post photographs of student notebook pages.

(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!)