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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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       Because writing--when taught right--can be the most enjoyable part of your teaching day, we created this website to provide fresh ideas and lessons for teachers.

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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 to the notebook--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 notebook ideas.

Once a month, we do a whole-class lesson for the notebook; this lesson is featured in the center space of each month's bingo card, where it serves as everyone's "free space." On this page, you will find December's Guided Notebook Lesson from our set of "Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards".

Combining Vocabulary Instruction with Poetry, Mini-Lessons for Writing, Etymology, and Grammar Skills...Take that, Common Core!

"How do you teach everything else when you put so much time into writing instruction?" is a question I have been asked many times. My answer is always, "I've learned to consolidate." You have to consolidate to survive as they keep piling more and more expectations on us.

I know. "What does consolidate mean, Corbett." Look, you won't ever catch me teaching a writing lesson that doesn't also include a focus on a reading comprehension strategy; that's the beauty of always having a mentor text on which I base my writing lessons. During our socratic novel discussions, my students are required to show me their knowledge of punctuation and conjunctions by coming to the discussion with five prepared discussion-starting sentences; each of those sentences, which I collect, have to be complex sentences that correctly punctuate for the conjunction (or participle) they've used to create the complex sentences.

This last school year, I decided I wanted to try something different with vocabulary. I used to give them lists to memorize, but Common Core wants me to push them past rote memorization, which I understand, and--quite frankly--I support. This entire last school year had me toying with new ways to teach vocabulary skills with other things I found myself losing the time to teach well. I consolidated my vocabulary expectations with poetry, etymology, and grammar lessons, and I ended up discovering a great new way to expand my students vocabularies while they were practicing other skills of language arts, skills that appealed to both my recklessly creative and my linearly logical kids.

I'm proud to say that my newest for-sale product here this summer will be all of my new vocabulary lessons (all in Powerpoint or PDF format) as well as my vocabulary resources and student packets will go up for sale this July. I'm including here a free sneak preview of one of the ten Powerpoint Vocabulary lessons that will be included in the packet. I'm posting it early because I would love any feedback. Give me some useful feedback that I use, and I'll sell you the whole product this July at 50% off. My e-mail is still: corbett@corbettharrison.com.

Click here or on the PowerPoint slide at right to freely download and check out this lesson that teaches my kids all about personification while setting up a vocabulary expectation and a creative writing task.

If you don't have PowerPoint, you can click here for the PDF version, but you're missing out on the animations I've put in to maximize discussions among your students as they learn a bit more about personification and some great vocabulary words.

Please remember, these are copyrighted materials. Kindly, do not post them on any other website or server. If you wish to share the slides with a friend, copy and paste this link for them in an e-mail: http://corbettharrison.com/documents/VOCAB/Vocab-PPTS/Personified-Vocabulary-Characters.pptx


A Common Core-Friendly Vocabulary Lesson...from my classroom to yours:

Personified Vocabulary
Writing about Tier 2 and Tier 3 Vocabulary as though they were "people"

Overview of this Writer's Notebook Prompt:

As the language arts person on a core team of four teachers (my other three colleagues teach math, science, and history), I teach my students strategies to process language arts concepts on pages in their writer's notebooks; this year, I have been designing two-page writer's notebook spreads that allow an extra space for writing across the curriculum tasks so that my language arts thinking/writing strategies can become tools for reflecting (through writing and/or in learning logs) in the other core content areas.

The lesson below has students create a two-page spread for the notebook: one page is for language arts vocabulary words; the other page personifies three vocabulary words, one from each of the other three content areas. We create the two-page spread in my language arts classroom, and then I can alert my three teaching colleagues that they have a new vocabulary processing tool they can use in their own subjects' learning logs.

Students, during this lesson in my class, select recently-learned vocabulary words and they personify those words into living beings they can draw and explain in their notebooks. The explanation must show knowledge of each vocabulary word's meaning as students describe their personified word's personality, clothing, accessories, relationships with other vocabulary words, etc. Debra Frasier's picture book, Miss Alaineus, provides a great model for this task; the book's main character personifies the word miscellaneous for her school's vocabulary parade.

My mentor text for this lesson:

Miss Alaineus by Debra Frasier

Use the Mentor Text to Inspire Personification of Language Arts Vocabulary:

A day before I share Miss Alaineus with my students, which is about a student who mis-hears/misunderstands the word miscellaneous, I ask them to remember a time they maybe misheard or misunderstood a word. If they can't think of their own stories, I challenge them to ask their family at dinner if anyone has a story related to that topic. The next day, I ask students to share appropriate stories with each other at their tables.

Then we enjoy the picture book. Afterwards, I have them brainstorm as many other words with the Mis- prefix that might be turned into funny ladies who have the word Miss in front of their names...like Miss Guided, or Miss Conception. I ask students, in small groups, to sketch out a picture of one of their best "Miss ____" ideas using Debra Frasier's Miss Alaineus as their model. I challenge the students to design an outfit or a personality for the "Miss ____" character based on the meaning of their Mis- word. If you have time, you can have student groups publish a drawing and a paragraph of explanation on chart paper. These are fun to decorate the room with anytime you are doing a future "Personify Vocabulary" task.

Ralph Fletcher, in his A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You suggests that students record and celebrate interesting words they really like in their writer's notebooks. I have always thought this was a good idea, and designing this lesson gave me a new way to celebrate vocabulary: personifying it. For this notebook page, I ask students to think of interesting vocabulary words they know and really like, based on the meaning, based on sound of the word, or based on a personal experience with the word. My two favorite words are defenestrate (because of its meaning) and cacophonous (because of its sound). My teacher model (see below) celebrates these two words in a creative way, which I think Ralph Fletcher would agree when I claim, "This is an excellent way to celebrate vocabulary words uniquely in one's writer's notebook."

To personify a vocabulary word, one must ask, "If this word was a person, what kind of person would it be? Male or female? Old or young? Nice or mean? And how can I add details to the person that somehow relate to the meaning of the word?" I find there are four easy ways to begin personifying a vocabulary word in a way that reflects a word's meaning; one or all of these suggestions usually gets my students' brains kick-started:

  • What clothes or accessories would this person wear that are related to the vocabulary word's meaning?
  • What job would this person have that might be related to the word's meaning?
  • What personality traits would this person have that might be related to the word's meaning?
  • What other personified vocabulary words might this person like or dislike?

The fourth bullet is a newer question I ask the kids. It was 100% inspired by J. Ruth Gendler's The Book of Qualities, which is a cool little book to have on hand when teaching or reviewing personification. In this text, Gendler personifies human emotions, giving them all different personality traits. She also creates relationships between her personified emotions. She answers the following types of questions: If the emotions were all "people," who would be best friends? Who wouldn't trust whom? It's fun stuff.

The nice thing about The Book of Qualities--in my opinion--is that you can read its different chapters/sections in isolation of each other. Anytime you have the kids personify in the future, you can easily share a new passage from this book, and the kids'll have a new example of excellent personification on which to base their own drafts.

Allow students to talk to each other about ideas they are having for personified vocabulary words. Then have students create rough drafts about personified vocabulary words from your Language Arts curriculum or that students find/like in the independent novels they are reading. I like to briefly take these small pieces of writing through the process, having students share in groups, offer suggestions, revise, then copy their finalized five or six sentences into their notebooks with their illustration. The Mr. Stick illustrations kids do with this lesson really make the "Share your final copy" requirement lots of fun. I hear more laughing among students with this lesson than with most of the others assign.

Here are my finished writer's notebook pages for personified vocabulary words, which not only shows my language arts words but also my writing across the curriculum vocabulary personifications that I explain below the picture.

(Click here to see an enlarged version of my language arts vocabulary personifications; click here to see an enlarged version of my writing across the curriculum vocabulary personifications.)

My Students' Personified Vocabulary Pages:

My kids really liked this one, though we had to rush through it a bit with all the other things that happen in December; we started late with this December teacher-guided notebook lesson, and--of course--we had to leave early for Winter Break. However, my kids really "took a shine" to this lesson; I had a miserable time choosing the very best ones to display here.

Some Super Pages from my Students' Notebooks...Click images to zoom in on the details.

7th grader Ashlee

7th grader Bree

8th grader Isaac

7th grader Julia

7th grader Wonje

7th grader Keely

7th grader Grace

8th grader John

8th grader Kevin

7th grader Toni

Writing Across the Curriculum (W.A.C.) Personified Vocabulary:

In my classroom, once we have personified several language arts vocabulary words in the writer's notebook, I have students "reserve" a page where they will eventually personify three vocabulary words they learn, one from science class, one from math class, and one from social studies class. I usually give them a deadline of three weeks to finish this W.A.C. task. I, of course, have to remind them repeatedly that they have this task coming up, and I require them to share possible ideas about W.A.C. vocabulary words with each other during my language arts time. In my case, it is also helpful to let my science, math, and history colleagues know we are doing this; that way, they can prompt the students with "Do you think any of these new words might be personified for your assignment in Language Arts?"

As you can see from my example above, I require the students to define their words as well as personify them. These two notebook pages will serve as reference points for future personification tasks that I and my colleagues will be assigning, so I actually require students to rough draft their pages to make sure everything will fit first, then copy the words and pictures neatly into their actual writer's notebook. Some of my students use composition-sized notebooks, which are pretty tricky to fit three different words on; so you might allow your students to put one personified word per page.

I always have students who--once these pages are created--ask if they can independently personify even more words when they are required to write in their writer's notebooks. I always tell those students "Yes, you can do that," and I always remind them that the purpose of a writer's notebook is to begin ideas that might become larger pieces of writing during an upcoming writer's workshop block. I say, "How could these words you're personifying become a longer piece of writing? Might you be thinking of writing something like we'd see in J. Ruth Gendler's The Book of Qualities? Or a graphic novel with your personified words as characters? Or...?

At my school, the math, science, and history teachers have the students maintain learning logs just for their subject matter; in my class, we call it a "writer's notebook." Once we've learned how to personify words in my classroom, my teammates have no problem encouraging personification tasks for students' learning logs.

Some Writing Across the Curriculum Personified Vocabulary...Click images to zoom in on the details.

8th grader Chris personifies a science & history word

7th grader Danielle personifies three W.A.C. words (as well as others)

7th grader Sarah personifies three W.A.C. words

6th grader Jenny personifies different types of rocks

6th grader Drew personifies different types of rocks

Like the Idea of Personifying Vocabulary? Here are two additional ideas:

In one of Barry Lane's best books--51 Wacky We-Search Reports--the author has a great assignment called the "Wacky Fashion Show," where students not only personify vocabulary, but they also turn their words into "models" walking down a runway at a fashion show. Students create the script for the announcer at the fashion show who is describing the models' outfits but also using verbs and adjectives that are related to the vocabulary words' meanings.

For example, this script was posted by Barry at his blog. If you're studying rocks and minerals in science, here is what an announcer might say as the model named "Marble" walks down the runway: "And now direct from northern Italy and central Vermont we have marble. Sporting a calcite and dolomite crystal ensemble designed by Metamorphosis, the famous Greek designer, this marble carries a sleek limestone finish. Its stylish snow white color can fool you at first, because if you look closely, across the shoulders, you’ll glimpse tints of red, yellow, pink, and green caused by impurities in the stone but adding to its sheik beauty. Marble is often used to create statues and the columns of classical buildings. So don’t expect her to hang out in your neighborhood unless your friends with the Greek Gods."

What's really fun about this "Wacky Fashion Show" idea is that students can act out their scripts as skits, with students serving as models (perhaps in costume) and others serving as announcers. When Barry presents this fun writing idea at conferences, he also has pre-selected different music to play under the announcer's words; adding music appropriate to the model can be a fun job for student groups to find and plan for.

Barry's "Wacky Fashion Show" always takes me back to Debra Frasier's Miss Alaineus, where the students put on a Vocabulary Parade at the end of the book. How fun would it be to plan and host a Vocabulary Parade at your school? I haven't done one yet myself, but I am certainly inspired by the photo above that shows students in their Vocabulary Parade costumes. Perhaps this year will be my first year of having a Vocabulary Parade.

An Invitation to Share Students' Personified Vocabulary Notebook 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 activity. 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!)