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Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison. I have been an educator since 1990, and a teacher-trainer and University adjunct professor 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 stages of the writing process. I retired from the classroom in June of 2019, and I will continue to consult with schools, districts, and states who are more interested in developing quality writing plans, not buying from one-size-fits-all writing programs.

Beginning over the summer of 2019, I will be available once again to train teachers your school or district if you would like to hire a qualified and dynamic trainer. You can find general information about my workshops here.

If you would like to check my availability for a specific date or dates for the 2019-20 school year, please contact me at this e-mail address. My calendar is already fillling up with workshop engagements.


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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 punctuation-in-context lessons. Admittedly, I think I do a pretty good job of sending my kids to high school with a strong understanding of how to punctuate both simple and complex sentences. I do NOT do this through awful grammar worksheets; instead, we analyze mentor texts for how real authors punctuate and use conjunctions, and we create games that force my students to create original sentences rather than correct someone else's sentences. These games are always partner games (I think it's dreadfully dull to learn grammar if you're not allowed to talk to someone while you're doing it), and the sentences we create in our classroom always tap into our funny bones, which--when done well--I think really taps into kids' deeper level thinking skills. Requiring smart humor (not "fart humor") is a powerful way to deepen your lessons' outcome, and the creators of Common Core must be pleased when I do this. Learning grammar with a chuckle helps us think about it deeper.

If you're planning on purchasing our new set of Common Core Vocabulary PowerPoint lessons (available in the first week of July, 2013), please know this: each PowerPoint contains links to two or three online lessons at my website that will help reinforce the concepts taught in the Powerpoints; only purchasers of the set of lessons will have access to these bonus lessons. The lesson that will be published on this page complements the concepts taught in my Antonyms/Synonyms Vocabulary PowerPoint Lesson, which is one of the lessons available in the set.

A Writer's Notebook Challenge...from my Notebook to Yours:
Finding Unique Antonyms & Fixing Mr. Dickens' Comma Splices
Helping Mr. Dickens repair his Comma Splices while Learning about Conjunctions!

Overview: For Dickens' opening to his Tale of Two Cities, the author uses one of the longest series of comma splices in the history of literature. While Dickens seemingly did this for stylistic effect, student writers often overuse comma splices in reckless ways, with little knowledge of the conjunctions that can be put between two independent ideas. For this assignment, students create their own Dickens-like paragraph, but they are required to find (and punctuate for properly) appropriate conjunctions to sit between their opposites.. Students will also focus on selecting unique, 25-cent adjectives as they select their antonym sets for their writer's notebook passage, and they will apply their understanding of the three types of conjunctions while they compose their sentences that contain their 25-cent adjectives.

About the Mentor Text: Despite twelve years teaching high school English, I've never actually been asked to teach A Tale of Two Cities, but the lesson I created years back that uses just the first paragraph of this novel remains one of my favorite lessons. While I don't claim Dickens as one of my favorite of the "classic writers" to study, I know I've piqued a lot of my middle schoolers' interest in this book because we study its unique opening, we impersonate it, and we learn punctuation skills in context. Because it creates a teachable moment on both antonyms and comma splices, I appreciate Mr. Dickens for his really long comma splice here; nevertheless, you won't find a Charles Dickens' novel in my bag of books to read (or re-read) at the beach this summer.

If you end up adapting this lesson, I'd sure like to know how you changed it. I'm always looking for ways to tweak my favorite old lessons to breathe life into them again. Post tweaks and photos of students sample at this Writing Lesson of the Month Page.

My mentor text for this lesson:

The opening paragraph of
A Tale of Two Cities
by Charles Dickens
If you end up adapting this lesson, I'd sure like to know how you changed it. I'm always looking for ways to tweak my favorite old lessons to breathe life into them again. Post tweaks and photos of students sample at this Writing Lesson of the Month Page.

My 6-Trait Skill Focus for this Lesson:

It's always important to communicate a solid objective to students, and when teaching writing, we should--first off--focus on a writing process or a trait skill, not focusing first and foremost on the end product, which is in this case is a parody paragraph with corrected punctuation.I believe we teachers focus on the students' end product when writing objectives for our writing lessons way too much ("Let's learn to write a comparison essay," for example); I hope to encourage teachers to try focusing on skill or process as you word your objectives and design your instruction ("Let's work on some exploring unique and interesting adjectives skills while we write using antonyms and we study how conjunctions determine punctuation," for example).

I also believe it's critical to differentiate our lessons. To prepare for dealing with different abilities of my writers, I always select a FOCUS TRAIT, which is the one skill ALL students will work to become better at using. For my average and above-average students, I always select a SUPPORT TRAIT too. My top writers are always encouraged to think about my lesson's support trait (in addition to the focus trait) during their rough-drafting, and my average writers are encouraged to start thinking about the support skill right before revision. That said, the focus trait for this writing assignment is word choice; after choosing a topic, students first brainstorm interesting, 25-cent word antonyms to consider for their paragraphs.  The support trait  for this writing assignment is conventions; students are to use (and punctuate for) three different types of conjunctions in their finished passages.

What's a 25-cent word, Corbett?
In our Vocabulary for Common Core Packet of materials (which we offer for sale from our Teachers Pay Teachers Store), students learn to categorize the words they discover in reading by applying a metaphorical monetary value to them based on specific criteria. That criteria is explained in the Introduction to Vocabulary Collecting (thumbnail image at right--click on it!) , which is one of the free PowerPoints we offer for our users to access; look it over, and if it sounds link an intriguing idea to have your students "collect" weekly vocabulary words, consider purchasing our Vocabulary for Common Core Packet and helping us keep this website on-line at no cost to our users, and with no blinking, shiny advertisements. Click here to access our page of teaching resources we sell.

Click image for PowerPoint. Click here if you don't have access to Powerpoint.

My Lesson Outline:
(Please adapt wrecklessly! Please share your adaptations and student samples!)

Step one (sharing the published model or mentor text): 

Place this overhead-ready copy of Dickens' opening to A Tale of Two Cities where students can see it. Review the word antonym, and have student groups brainstorm alternative antonyms to as many of the items in the series as they can. For example, "It was the best of times, it was the most awful of times..."

Explain that Charles Dickens created this very long, comma-splice filled passage for effect. He was a professional; he was allowed to break sentence punctuation rules. Student writers aren't so lucky; they have to follow the rules and prove they understand them before I allow them to break the rules like Dickens does here. After sharing the lesson objective from above, Explain, "Today, we're going to each write a parody of Mr. Dickens' passage, using a more modern day topic, and then we're going to use coordinating conjunction, adverbial conjunctions, and subordinating conjunctions to have our passages completely free of comma splices."

Tell students their parodies of Dickens need to include, at least, 6 pairs of interesting, well-chosen antonyms, and that their parodies will need to conclude with an "In short" sentence, like Dickens does.

Step two (introducing the teacher model): 

To show what a parody looks like, create one of your own before teaching this lesson, or use the one I provide here. You really should make your own though...about a topic that intrigues you! Your kids will enjoy reading it and knowing you are participating with them in the process.

Here are some models to share if you don't have your own:

Step three (thinking about pre-writing):

Get students thinking about a person, place, or thing that might be the best and the worst of something simultaneously. The interactive choice and button game in the box below has 20 interesting sentence starters for this assignment...if your students can't think of one on their own.


An Interactive Prompt Server Made Specifically for this Lesson:

These are just ideas for your paragraph; by all means, if you have a better idea for your paragraph/parody, you should use it!


Have students create their rough drafts while they refer to Dickens' model (or a teacher model or the student models) on the overhead or in handout form. If some students finish early, encourage them to go back and choose even stronger, 25-cent adjectives for their antonyms.

When all writers have a draft with at least 6 antonym pairs and an "in short" sentence that serves as a conclusion, teach a mini-lesson on punctuating for coordinating, then adverbial, then, subordinating conjunctions. These can all be done in one day, or you can spread them out over three days. The overheads to help you teach this mini-lesson can be found below.

Have students apply each conjunction rule to sentences in their own writing. When all three mini-lessons have been taught, show the bottom half of the the teacher model overhead, and have students revise their original passages. In the revision, students:

    • can have no comma splices
    • must use (and punctuate for) six different conjunctions--two coordinating, two adverbial, two subordinating

Step four (revising with specific trait language):  

The teacher model (from the overhead) has some obvious word revisions between its original and the second draft (at the bottom of the same overhead). Encourage revision between students' original, comma-spliced passages and their second drafts. Consider attaching a Word Choice Post-It to their rough drafts to encourage word revisions; if you like the idea of the academic language-specific revision Post-its, please know that I sell editable versions of all my critical thinking Post-its as part of my Critical Trait-Thinking Workshop materials.

Step five (editing for conventions): 

After students apply their revision ideas to their drafts and re-write neatly, require them to have a fellow editor check their punctuation.   If you've established a "Community of Editors" among your students, have each student exchange his/her paper with multiple peers.  With yellow high-lighters in hand, each peer reads for and highlights suspected errors for just one item from the Editing Post-it

Step six (publishing and sharing):  

I assign this page to all of my students, and I make available some extra credit points to all who take the extra step and make their page fun to re-visit based on a creative visual. To earn extra credit, a students' example must "Rival mine!" in order to earn extra points. All students do the writing and put it in their writer's notebooks; those who go out of their way to make it visually appealing and show the effort of thoughtfulness can extra points by self-nominating their pages when I collect these. Here is a link to the visual I created for this page by cropping heads off photopgraphs and placing them on a cover of the book that I found online.

The goal of just about every lesson posted at my website is that I want students end up with a piece of writing they genuinely like, and that writing needs to show as many steps of the writing process as seems fit for the task at hand. After revising, invite your students to come back to this piece once more during an upcoming writer's workshop block or during your next sacred writing time block.  The writing started with this mini-lesson might become longer and even more polished for final placement in a final draft.

If you have a stellar example or two, we have a page at the Writing Lesson of the Month Ning where you can post photographs of students' writer's notebook pages. We'd love to see yours. Click here to share a sample; if you go to our posting link and don't see a "reply box" below the request for samples, go to the upper right-hand side of the webpage and click on "+Join Online Student Publishing." That will grant you access to post for the rest of the group to see.

Three Recent Samples from my Classroom:
(click images for an enlarged photo)
I created this tribute to our puppy--Tucker--who is about to turn four. I am so glad to have a uniquely written page in my notebook about each of my dogs. I treasure these pages of memories. Rylee and Dylan are two of my students who've known each other for years and have remained friends the whole time. Rylee honored Dylan's weirdness with this notebook page. At our annual school musical, assitant directors Tyler and Nico had to play twins when our actual twins missed were late and missed their scene. Tyler captured the memory using Dickens' writing style.