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, I hire myself out to school districts around the country.

If you would like to check my availability for the summer of 2014, 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 essay lessons. I've been teaching "the tar out of" narrative and argumentative writing lately, and I need to spend a year revisiting how I engage my students in better essay writing. Over the summer of 2013, we decided--for our Mentor Text of the Year Program for 2013-14--we would focus on expository/explanatory writing.

I need to personally focus on this theme in 2013-14 because I easily recognize expository as the genre I neglect more than the others, and I'm willing to bet top dollar that this is the same in most writing classrooms. As I did with vocabulary in 2012-13, I will be launching lessons this school year that focus on essay writing, which I believe--in my heart of hearts--can be a fun type of writing, even to your creative writers. You will have monthly access to these lessons if you're a member of our free-to-access Writing Lesson of the Month ning.

Like this lesson's big idea? Like the student samples? Follow Me at Pinterest to access all my educational boards. I have a special board on mentor texts that gives quick access to all of my lessons of the month from the past that I have featured, including this one.

An Extra Credit Writer's Notebook Challenge...from my Notebook to Yours:
Ridiculous Analysis Essays
Writing a Common Core Vocabulary-Friendly Analysis Essay based on a Silly Children's Story

My favorite teacher ever was Michael Borilla; he was my fourth and fifth grade teacher, and he was the first teacher to make me feel confident about writing. He let me channel my "inner silly" during reading and writing time, and he appreciated my sense of humor when I went after all his writing lessons--except the reports. We had to take the reports very seriously. In fourth grade we wrote the president report (I drew Jefferson from the coffee can of presidential names), and in fifth grade we wrote the state report (I chose Colorado, which I chose on my own because I'd just visited my grandmother there). I wanted to be Dr. Seuss silly with those reports, but Mr. Borilla wouldn't allow it.

You took the reports seriously in Mr. Borilla's class. I earned B's on both because I tried to "joke them up." I am sure I cringed throughout high school whenever someone said "essay" or "report" based on my memories of those burdensome, un-fun reports back in fourth and fifth grade.

Even before Common Core State Standards, I knew I was required to have my 6-8th students write analytic essays, and we did that and continue to do that, but my students can easily identify my least favorite writing genre--expository--based on the amount of energy (or lack thereof) I have given to my past essay lessons. Even so, by the time my students leave me in 8th grade, they have had plenty of experience with analyzing literary elements and writing reports on them. This next school year, I am actively seeking/developing new expository lessons that are fun for my students...and for me to teach. This is the first of those lessons, which I actually used as a final exam review in the Spring of 2013.

My mentor text I use for this lesson:

"Green Eggs and Ham" by Dr. Seuss

This lesson is dedicated to the memory of my 4th and 5th grade teacher--Michael Borilla--who encouraged me to perform dramatic readings of Dr. Seuss poems in front of our class. This "skill" greatly invested my students' energy into this lesson on "Ridiculous Essays."

This "Ridiculous Essay" lesson was revised/re-created to honor Mr. Borilla's stoicism during his essay teaching, and to prove to myself that essay writing can indeed be hysterical. I hadn't used this assignment in many years; I used to do with my high school juniors. This year, because my 8th graders had such a bad case of spring fever (and it was near impossible to inspire creativity from them in the last two months of school), I resurrected and adapted this lesson I used to teach at high school , and I matched it to a level my eighth graders were ready for.

I teach theme pretty well when we are reading a class novel together. Between grades 6-8, my students learn all the Common Core academic vocabulary words that--if they analyze well--can help them find a novel's main theme or a supporting theme. The following academic vocabulary was close to mastered by my students when I assigned this partner-essay task based on "Green Eggs and Ham."

Academic Vocabulary for this Lesson:
significance of or other meanings for the story/chapter title

dynamic versus static characters

conflicts with setting
additional external and internal conflicts
writing style/techniques of author or narrator
tone of author or narrator
symbolism and metaphor
protagonist versus antagonist

Regarding this list above, my students hear me explain often, "Hey, if you can intelligently apply/discuss any of the above eight things in a story, you may have taken a first step to independently finding a theme. These eight literary elements are your road signs for finding a 'that's how life goes message' that was possibly and purposely planted by the author." My 8th graders this last spring were apparently quite used to hearing it because when I said we had to write one more practice essay before the final exam final, they groaned off the eight techniques rotely and monotonously without being asked. I had lost their energetic spirit, and I needed to earn that energy back. I bring out silly stories when I want to recapture their lost energy.

I went to my bookshelf and pulled out my copy of "Green Eggs and Ham." My eighth graders were in for a dramatic reading the likes they had not heard since the Fall when we put on our own version of Oedipus Rex.

Way back when I was a student , Mr. Borilla had sponsored me for the "Peach Blossom Festival." He nominated me as the representative of his fifth grade class to participate in a poetry-reading competition sponsored by the local university every spring. A lot of kids from my school chose H.W. Longfellow to memorize and recite, but I chose Seuss--you know, because he was a learned doctor. Back then, I went for some lesser-known Seuss--"The Zax" (from the story collection with the Sneetches on the cover--and I walked away from that competition with highest honors that year. Make no mistake, I can dramatically interpret the words of Dr. Seuss like few others; I have been able to since the fifth grade. I doubt my 8th graders will never forget my dramatic reading of "Green Eggs and Ham" this past day in spring. I make Sam-I-Am the most idiotic, annoying questioner when I give him a voice, and I make the main character the epitome of a snarling curmudgeon. This year, I read the lead character so angrily that I tore the page when I was turning it too dramatically.

Anyway, my intention was to have them recall the silliness of the children's book whose plot has Sam-I-Am trying to persuade the unnamed narrator of the book to try some green eggs and ham. They laughed hysterically, and as soon as my performance was over, I drew their attention back to the list of eight academic vocabulary terms from above. I asked, "Who can say something really intelligent--perhaps more intelligent than this story deserves--about this children's book inspired by those eight academic terms of mine?"

A few kids slowly begin to chime in their ideas using our academic vocabulary: "Sam-I-am is a static antagonist," someone will smartly say. "There is an exclusively external conflict between Sam-I-Am and the unnamed protagonist," another will say.

I respond with, "Wow you sound like college kids analyzing kiddie literature. Let's write it out as an essay for practice. I will let you write using partners today." If you haven't tried it yet, you should play around with the idea of "partner writes," where students write a short piece of writing together. You have to give them 5-10 minutes of extra composing time to accommodate their conversations and negotiations, and you have to devise a system (every two minutes, I shout "Switch pencils") so that both students physically contribute to the writing, but what they learn from these quick experiences, I feel, is invaluable.

We review that an essay's introduction needs to introduce a reader to the story in a summary-driven way that assumes the reader may not have read the story recently enough to recall specific details. We review that any of the eight academic vocabulary words from above can become a sub-topic, or a point of discussion.

I then told them they will have fifteen minutes to work with a partner and--in those 15 minutes--write a three-paragraph rough draft of an analytical essay about the book in the voice of a know-it-all college student. They need to introduce their essay and choose at least two discussion points based on our eight academic vocabulary words for literary analysis essays; any who write too quickly will be required to add another paragraph about another literary element. If you know what a R.A.F.T.S. prompt is, and if this vaguely sounds like one, here is a chart you can show your kids to summarize the task at hand:

Role
Audience
Format
Topic
Strong Verb
An very intelligent college freshman... An incredibly smart college English professor... The first three (or four) paragraphs of a literary analysis essay... Literary elements from Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham"... Convince your professor that you can analyze a simple text and sound smart doing it...


Rubric for this Quick Write/Ridiculous Essay
 
Exceeds standards (4)
Meets standards (3)
Does not meet standards (2 or 1)
Content/Academic Vocabulary This short essay makes very strong, accurate observations about the story, accurately applying at least three of the literary terms within the essay draft. This short essay makes somewhat strong, accurate observations about the story, accurately applying at least two of the literary terms within the essay draft. This short essay makes more-silly-than-accurate observations about the story, though the writers do apply at least one of the literary terms to the essay draft well.
Organization/Transitions Each paragraph has a definitive purpose, starts off with an interesting sentence, and a transition word or phrase has been seamlessly used at the beginning of the second, third and (possibly) fourth paragraph. Each paragraph has a noticeable-but-weak purpose, starts off with a somewhat interesting sentence, and a transition word or phrase has been used competently at the beginning of the second, third and (possibly) fourth paragraph. The paragraphs' purpose are not clear, they don't start off very interestingly, and a transitions seem reckless or non-existent between paragraphs.
Conventions/Sentence Fluency This is a rough draft, so there can be some minor mistakes, but the writer has taken noticeable care to keep the spelling and punctuation errors at a minimum; also, there is an obvious mixture of simple and complex sentences. The writer has taken a small amount off care to keep the spelling and punctuation errors at a minimum; also, there is a small mixture of simple and complex sentences. The writer has taken a small amount off care to keep the spelling and punctuation errors at a minimum; also, there is a minimal mixture of simple and complex sentences.

 

Use the above Rubric to Score these two Student Samples

Abby and Wonje's Ridiculous Essay
a partner-write from two of my eighth graders

Kristopher and Hunter's Ridiculous Essay
a partner-write from two of my eighth graders

The timeless story, "Green Eggs and Ham," written by Dr. Seuss, shares the story of an unnamed character and his confrontation with Sam-I-Am. The plot unfolds as Sam-I-Am offers the un-named main character a platter of green eggs and ham. The main character rejects the offer and becomes increasingly upset with Sam-I-Am, who seems adamant in refusing to allow the main character to pass up such an opportunity and a delicacy.

As the story progresses, the protagonist develops, and it becomes clear that this un-named narrator is—in fact—a very dynamic character. The narrator becomes a much more animated character, and in his rage is prone to repeating the same statements over and over again. This is a great change from his original polite refusal to accept the green eggs and ham. In contrast, Sam-I-Am changes little, other than revealing new situations in which green eggs and ham eating would be ideal. He does not seem to register the anger or irritation of the un-named narrator.

A major theme throughout the novel is that judgment should be withheld until a situation is fully understood. The un-named narrator shows a wonderful demonstration of the consequences of not following the precept of this theme. Judging the green eggs and ham without tasting them, our narrator only allows himself to be goaded into situations that are more and more out of hand.

Seuss’ writing style is very unique in that his tale is told only using dialogue. The choice of repetition in this dialogue is crucial to developing the rage of the main character, and it results in well-planned idea development. As a whole, the sentence fluency suffers, as all the sentences share nearly identical sentence patterns, which keeps the writing almost too simplistic.

The story "Green Eggs and Ham" by Dr. Seuss shares a simple plot, in which two characters debate whether or not the closed-minded, un-named narrator will enjoy green eggs and ham if he simply tries them. Sam-I-Am, the presenter of the green eggs and ham and this story’s antagonist, attempts--through multiple scenarios in which green eggs and ham may be enjoyed--to make the un-named narrator eat green eggs and ham.

Our un-named narrator is decidedly dynamic inasmuch as he is stubbornly prejudiced against green eggs, ham, and Sam-I-Am, but ultimately he discovers that all objects of prejudice are, in fact, not as bad as he previously viewed them. Sam-I-Am, on the complete opposite side of the character scale, is very static in his persistence that our un-named narrator should try green eggs and ham. Despite the un-named narrator’s repeated refusals to try green eggs and ham anywhere Sam suggests eating them, such as in a box or with a fox, Sam-I-Am maintains unflinching optimism and persistence, achieving his goal in the end as the narrator agrees to try that which he has shown prejudice.

As the short narrative progresses and the un-named narrator’s stubbornness begin to dissipate, a theme emerges. It is clear that perseverance is the key to Sam-I-Am’s success; we can, therefore, declare one of the themes of Dr. Seuss’s masterpiece, "Green Eggs and Ham," is that if you persevere and refuse to give up, you can accomplish your goals in the end.

Which if these two ridiculous essays would score better on the rubric? Discuss and justify your answer...
Printable version of these two essays with discussion prompt
Printable version of the rubric

 

After analyzing the two student samples above using the rubric, students are ready to compose their own essays in partnerships.

Next year, when I repeat this essay activity (and review of Common Core vocabulary), I'll be using a different children's book so that my students can analyze the student samples I have here and try the writing process out with a different story under their belts. These are the choices for books for next year that I am toying with, as I think they have easily spotted themes that the students will be able to enjoyably discuss.

Children's Stories I will Use for these Ridiculous Essays Next Year Now that my
Kids have already Over-Analyzed "Green Eggs & Ham"

Six Dinner Sid by Inga More

I also use this book as a discussion link to the six traits. There are multiple themes in this story covering the topics of secrets and neighbors, just to name a few.

"The Sneetches" and "The Zax"
Both stories come from The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss

I owe Mr. Borilla for sharing this collection of stories with me. I eventually ended up with my own copy for Christmas one year, but while I was under Mr. Borilla's tutelage, he let me borrow his copy. I completely had "The Zax" memorized at one point for the Peach Blossom Festival at CSUF.

Alexander and the Terrible... by Judith Viorst

My sixth graders study and imitate the structure of this story early in the Fall when we joke about the worst school picture day an imaginary character might have. I think my 8th graders will like revisiting this tale.

 

If your students write a wonderful "ridiculous essay" inspired by Dr. Seuss or another children's story, I invite you to post at the Writing Lesson of the Month ning where thousands of other teachers will be able to use it as a discussion tool in their own classrooms.

Like this lesson's big idea? Like the student samples? Follow Me at Pinterest to access all my educational boards. I have a special board on mentor texts that gives quick access to all of my lessons of the month from the past that I have featured, including this one.