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.

I have been on hiatus from doing out-of-state teacher trainings recently for two reasons: 1) I'm writng a book on teaching writing, and 2) I'm preparing to retire from the classroom at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

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

If you would like to verify my availability for a specific date or dates starting in June of 2019, please contact me at this e-mail address.



       Because writing--when taught right--can be the most enjoyable part of your teaching day, I created this website.

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My students collect, write about, and "publish" four interesting new vocabulary words from their reading assignments each week. Every other Friday, we host a "Vocabulary Workshop" where my students teach their new words to their classmates.

Are your students like mine used to be? Do they often encounter difficult words in their reading and just barrel through the text, hoping to comprehend the sentence without needing to know what that challenging word even means? I grew tired of watching this happen, so I became determined to help my students want to stop and think, and then try to make interesting connections with new words. The routine I have created for my students has officially earned the title of "Vocabulary Workshop," and after twenty-two years of revising my vocabulary routines, I finally stand confident that I am teaching vocabulary the way it truly needs to be taught. To the authors of every set of academic standards, well, I am pretty sure you'd completely agree with me if you watched just a few minutes of one of our Friday "Vocabulary Workshop" days.

No joke: I once was quite bad at teaching vocabulary, and I did to my students what my least effective teachers had done to me in school. I assigned and expected simplistic memorization of words, but now I expect my students to obtain a genuine interest in the new words they encounter in their reading and want to know what they mean. On this page I share many of the writing-based resources and lessons I have created to build a Vocabulary Workshop.

Here's what our Teachers Pay Teachers Customers say about our Eleven Vocabulary Lessons:
"I have adapted this activity for my older students (11/12th grade). I think that presenting vocabulary in this way not only helps the student remember the words, but it also taps into a lot of creativity." "I am on my third year of using this method with grades 5-8 and they love it! I have the data to prove that this rigorous method works. PURCHASE THE SET - YOU WON'T BE SORRY!"
"Just wow!"


What is a Vocabulary Workshop? It Shares the Principles of Writing and Reading Workshop.
When you create a classroom workshop environment--be it a writing workshop or reading workshop--you turn a large portion of control and choice over to your students. Make no mistake: the teacher is still in control and the students' choices fall within certain pre-determined and objective-based parameters, but the motivating force behind a workshop is that it is intentionally student-centered. I teach my students our workshop routines heavily at the beginning of each year, and they learn their roles for the days we set aside to "workshop"; they, also, learn the academic language they will be expected to make use of when they are working with each other in workshop groups. By the end of the first quarter (9 weeks), I begin to slowly hand control over to the students on workshop days. By the beginning of the second semester (18 weeks in), I can sit back and watch them do almost all of the work with only occasional reminders to "Get back to the objective."

Writer's Workshop: Three times a semester, during my bi-weekly writer's workshop days, my students take a paper through the writing process. Each paper can be on any topic they choose, and by semester's end, they must have published one narrative, one expository, and one persuasive/argumentative. I set those parameters, I teach them to be good responders and editors for each other, and they take over the process.

Reading Workshop: Three times a semester, on our reading workshop presentation day, my students create a project based on a book they've read. Twice in that semester, the project is based on a book or a genre that's been assigned to the class, and the third project is based on a book each student has independently chosen. Projects must show growth of knowledge with five terms: plot, setting, character, theme, and writing style of the author. Projects must attempt to persuade others to want to read the book. On Reading Workshop days, I sit back and watch them do all the work, and they have learned to self- and peer-assess, which makes my work go so much faster.

Vocabulary Workshop: I worked hard in my early days of teaching to make both my reading and writing workshops successful, and my students both enjoyed and thrived within these two routines. I believe students appreciate routine--especially my students still working on their organizational skill-set. Routine is the key to creating a successful workshop, I feel. Here is the basic routine of our "Vocabulary Workshop." More details from me and some fresher ideas created by my students follow lower on this page.

  • Pretty much every day, we read something in or out of class--books, articles, poems, excerpts from chapters, short stories--and we analyze vocabulary words in context that we encounter.
  • Every week, students self-select four vocabulary words from our readings that they like and want to add to their vocabularies. My students use this bookmark to record words as we come across them. Depending on what we're reading, students sometimes collect some of the same words, and sometimes they each bring four unique words to the assignment.
  • Throughout the fall, I slowly teach my students ten different writing & vocabulary tasks that students can choose from; every week when they have their four words, they choose four different activities for their four different words of the week and "publish" them for grading; many use this online form I created for them.
  • Every other week, when students have their eight published words, we spend most of the period teaching our words to each other. Each student works with seven different partners that day, showing off his/her favorite word from his/her set, and then teaching each of the seven partners a different vocabulary word from the eight words they have brought. Students reflect on the five best words they learned during workshop using this handout. These handouts go into our vocabulary sections of our class binders.
  • One writer's workshop days, students keep their vocabulary binders handy and challenge themselves to use new words in their drafts and pre-writing.
On this Resource Page:
Be Brave Enough to Assign
Vocabulary Differently
Resources and Exemplars for
my Student Vocabulary Collectors
Free Preview: Three of my eleven Vocabulary/Writing Lessons Free Preview: Three of Eighteen Vocabulary Quick Poems
Mentor Texts I Use to Teach
Vocabulary Appreciation
Creating a Coverpage for your
Vocabulary Collection
Vocabulary Activities Invented by my
Student Collectors
Philosophies that Inspire Great
Vocabulary Collections

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Be Brave Enough to Assign Vocabulary Differently:
How it used to be in my classroom versus how it currently is: In Mr. Harrison's Language Arts classroom in the mid-1990's, we used to memorize a dozen new words' definitions every week. On Monday, my students silently copied down the words from my overhead projector into their binders; on Friday, we took our quiz over that week's words. Most of my students crammed for the quiz during the period right before my class on Friday, and I fully knew that was what they were doing. I have come to call low-level classroom routines like the one I used for vocabulary back then "dancing for gradebook points," because so little of educational significance actually occurs. Gradebook points from quizzes certainly allowed me to assign grades, but very little learning happened when students memorize and--to be honest--most likely forget all the current week's words as soon as the next week's words are copied down. Thinking back, I recognize my weekly vocabulary memorization expectations demanded a pretty low level of thinking skills from my students, even during those weeks I tried to "beef it up" and actually asked them to also write an original sentence that contained each of the words as a homework task. To my current teaching self, I would have sounded ridiculous back then if I tried to justify my practices: "Hey kids, here's a word you don't know from a list that I built from an SAT-test preparation list, and I want you--without ever having seen the word used in a real sentence or with any actual context--to put each word into a sentence of your own. I am going to pretend I am lifting you from the lowest level of Bloom's (a.k.a. rote memorization) to the taxonomy's application level by upping my expectations this way, even though I know we are nowhere near what's truly the application level." Am I the only teacher who wishes he could go back in time and apologize to students who suffered through me when I didn't know any better than I do now.

These days, I definitively know better. My students choose their own vocabulary words--just four a week, though we certainly talk about and use more than that each week in class--, and I require them to think harder and more creatively about their four words than they ever did with those dozen weekly words we used to monotonously memorize. The sample at left shows one of my student's four words from one week in the spring semester; Jackie decided to practice personification after finding the word solvent in our class reading, and you'll notice that she documented precisely where her word had come from. Jackie had ten writing activities to choose from, and she self-selected my "Personify a Vocabulary Word" writing task, which is one of ten my vocabulary writing lessons you can freely preview below. She brought this finished activity to class not only to earn her weekly gradebook points, but she was also prepared to share and discuss her use of the word actively with her classmates, some of whom had chosen the same word and had completed a different writing activity, which they could share with her; none of her sixth grade classmates took note of her misspelling of the word assess in her personification, which solidifies my love of my (mostly) innocent sixth graders.

Eighth-grader Patrick discovered the word myriad on page 59 of our eighth grade class novel--A Farewell to Arms. He self-selected the "Imp-Int-Exclam Sentences" writing task, which is a second vocabulary writing lesson I have included free access to below. Other students found the word myriad too, and most of them had done a different writing activity from my collection of ten activities. When Patrick and his classmates compared their vocabulary writing activities, they had a worthwhile discussion about their different approaches to similar and different words they prepared for a bi-weekly "share and compare" of our vocabulary collections.

My current vocabulary workshop expectations put my students in charge of which words they will bring to class to talk about and to demonstrate their creative or logical skills based on the writing activity they select. I know there still exist a lot of traditional teachers and administrators out there who will staunchly believe their weekly memorization of many SAT-test words is better than my having them learn fewer words (but having them write more and then teach their words to others), and I don't aim to prove those educators wrong; I just want to have them consider that there might be a different way than the way vocabulary was taught to them. Discovering and learning new words in ways that allow students to "own" a piece of the learning process has made such a difference in my classroom. The research backs this up too; way back in 2002, Ruddell and Shearer showed the significance of implementing a vocabulary self-collection strategy when compared to assigning words. The great author Nancy Atwell spoke about this idea at the 2005 NCTE Conference in Indianapolis as well, and she showed amazing pictures of her student "vocabulary collectors" at work on their vocabulary workshop day; that was the conference where I proposed to my wife.

At present, I know I'm pushing the kind of deep critical thinking that both Common Core and most other sets of state standards expect. Back in 2010 after I first read the Common Core, I began toying with the idea that I could teach and reinforce many of CCSS's poetic and grammatical strands if I established a new weekly writing routine with my kids. At the exact same time, I also needed some creative revision on my vocabulary program, and so I launched a new vocabulary routine that required the expectations of 1) students collecting words from their readings each week, and 2) students crafting small pieces of writing based on the vocabulary words they'd discovered and pursued on their own; 3) students learning poetic tools, grammatical terminology, and etymological histories while they think about their vocabulary words. Over the summer of 2013, I finally felt confident enough to published my ten best "Writing about Vocabulary" lessons here at my website, and you can investigate purchasing all ten of those lessons at our Teachers Pay Teachers store .

Below on this page, I freely share two of my ten "Writing about Vocabulary" lessons. Part of my annual vocabulary routine (one of the best parts, in fact) requires my older students to create original "Writing about Vocabulary" options for each other three-quarters of the way through the year, and I happily share some of my amazing students' best ideas for free on this page below as well. My kiddos tend to think the vocabulary activities they invent are better than mine; I'll leave it to you to decide if they are correct about that. I hope you enjoy what this page has to offer. I hope you're encouraged to consider a little more teacher-as-facilitator philosophy in your approach to teaching vocabulary, or to give your students more of a role to play in the assigning of vocabulary words. Or perhaps both.

I always appreciate feedback, and I do try to answer questions. Feel free to contact me at corbett@corbettharrison.com.

Preview/Purchase at Teachers Pay Teachers:
Eleven Vocabulary & Writing Lessons
teaching students how to collect words and ten ways to write about them

Preview/Purchase at Teachers Pay Teachers:
Eighteen Tier-2 Vocabulary Quick Poems
teaching words appropriate for discussions and Socratic Seminars

Student & Teacher Models Galore
Vocabulary Collecting Pinterest Board
demonstrating the amount of effort my students put forth in their weekly vocabulary words


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Vocabulary Resources I Post for my Students
Need a Bookmark?
Index cards & Post-it® Notes can be bookmarks too!

Each week, you must use some form of a bookmark where you can record interesting "25-cent" words you discover during reading. You should actually collect between 12-24 words each week so you can choose the very best ones to put in your final collection.

It's imperative that you record the page number where you found each vocabulary word. With a page number, you can check to make certain you have chosen the correct definition with words that have multiple meanings or that you spelled it right when copying it down.

If I suspect you've chosen the wrong definition for a word and you don't have the page number so we can check, you will lose all credit for your word and your writing activity. Record your page numbers!

How to Maximize Your Weekly Grade:
Here are exemplars from your teacher.
These examples would all earn maximum points.

Want full points?
Always study any exemplar provided by your teacher.
Here endeth the lesson!

Vocabulary Collecting Forms:
Your four words from the week can be published using:
  • Word Version (type your activities)
  • PDF Version (if you don't have Microsoft Office at home, you can print this form and hand-write your activities on it)

Your vocabulary collections--after they're graded--must be stored in your class binder. The two forms I share here will fit perfectly in your binder, but I am always okay if you can create a binder-friendly alternative way to display your four words. Check these creative displays out!

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Three Free Previews from our Eleven PowerPoint Vocabulary Lessons...Enjoy!
I am really proud of the eleven PowerPoint writing lessons I created over the years as I was developing this weekly routine and expectation for my students. The first slideshow introduces the concept of weekly vocabulary collecting, and the remaining ten each teach a different writing technique or task. When I created the ten activities, I was not only conscientious of the Common Core Standards, but I was also determined to have activities that appealed to right-brained learners as well as left-brained learners. In truth, most of the activities have elements that tap in to both my students' logic and creativity simultaneously; to me, the perfect kind of writing activities mix the logic with the creativity.

Remember, my students owe me four "published" vocabulary words every week; every two weeks, they present them to each other. I have ten different activities for them. Each week, they must select four different activities. Some weeks I say, "With this week's vocabulary, I want one of your activities to be one you haven't used or used in a while," and this gently forces them to try out new ones.

Introduction to Vocabulary Collecting
(Click slide below to download the PowerPoint for viewing.)
Personifying Vocabulary Words
(Click slide below to download the PowerPoint for viewing.)
Imp-Int-Exclam Sentences
(Click slide below to download the PowerPoint for viewing.)

Above is the PowerPoint I show early on to orient my students about their weekly expectation with vocabulary, and how to select words that are challenging enough to make it to their collections. If you purchase the entire set of PowerPoint lessons, you are permitted to edit the slides and change your weekly expectations to differ from mine, if you choose. Here is a PDF version of the lesson if you don't have PowerPoint.

Please note that this lesson not only teaches students how to personify a vocabulary word, but it incorporates two short literature lessons based on Common Core's expectation that we use challenging texts with students. The Emily Dickinson poems used here are challenging but capable of being understood as the harder vocabulary is analyzed; so is the Sylvia Plath poem. Here is a PDF version of the lesson if you don't have PowerPoint.

I used to have really swell, publishing company-created worksheets that taught the difference between the four types of sentences: declarative, imperative, interrogative, and exclamatory. Here's a lesson that teaches the difference, then asks students to show their knowledge through a short piece of writing. Again, the power of these vocabulary lessons is they also teach other skills and academic vocabulary words. Here is the PDF version.

I sell all ten of my PowerPoint "Writing about Vocabulary" lessons as a package from our Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
If you like the introduction lesson and the two writing lessons I've previewed for you above, I hope you'll consider purchasing the entire set.

Scope & Sequence: Teachers often ask me how long it takes me to introduce all ten of my "Writing about Vocabulary" activities. Here is my basic "roll out" plan. Remember, it's supposed to be adaptable; for example, I know a few teachers who only ever introduce six of the ten activities at all. Rolling out all ten different activities works for me, but I'm not going to pretend to know that my scope and sequence would work for all teachers.

Rolling out my vocabulary activities
First Nine Weeks of School:
Rolling out my vocabulary activities
Second Nine Weeks:
Rolling out my vocabulary activities
Third & Fourth Nine Weeks:
During the first quarter of the school year, I try to teach the following six vocabulary/writing techniques pretty quickly--one a week. This gives my students six different activities to choose from for their four words of the week. I'm most proud of the E.G.O.T. activity, because it's one I completely invented in my own crazy brain--though my students helped me name it:
  1. Personifying Vocabulary
  2. Mr. Stick Vocabulary Cartoons
  3. Vocabulary Haikus
  4. Decorated Antonym/Synonym Lists
  5. Symbolic Representations
  6. E.G.O.T. & E.G.O.T. sentences
For the second nine weeks--after we've established our vocabulary routine, our sacred writing routine, and our reading and writing workshop routine--I begin to teach and link some harder concepts that will continue to be explored until the end of the school year: verbs and etymology. Some time during October, I teach the following two activities, which are then added to the "menu" of activities my students are allowed to choose from:
  1. Showing Sentences (verb knowledge)
  2. Related Word Lists (etymology knowledge)
After Winter Break I introduce the final two vocabulary activities. These both mix logical thinking with creative thinking:
  1. Sausage Sentences with Illustrations
  2. Imp-Int-Exclam Sentences

And right before our fourth quarter, I allow my eighth graders the right to work with partners and create new proposals vocabulary activities for all my students to use. I choose 6 of their best ideas, and I actually don't teach them; I simply post the eighth graders' examples and rubrics and invite all students to look them over.

Exemplary Personified Vocabulary
Exemplary Mr. Stick Vocab. Cartoons
Exemplary Vocabulary Haikus
Teacher-made exemplar:

Click here for my teacher-made exemplar. It comes with explanations for what it takes to earn full points with this writing activity.

Student-made exemplars:

Click the image or here to visit our Ning page where teacher members can post their own students' samples.

Teacher-made exemplar:

Click here for my teacher-made exemplar. It comes with explanations for what it takes to earn full points with this writing activity.


Click the image or here to visit our Ning page where teacher members can post their own students' samples.

Teacher-made exemplar:

Click here for my teacher-made exemplar. It comes with explanations for what it takes to earn full points with this writing activity.


Click the image or here to visit our Ning page where teacher members can post their own students' samples.

Exemplary Synonym/Antonym Lists
Exemplary Symbolic Representations
Exemplary E.G.O.T. Sentences
Teacher-made exemplar:

Click here for my teacher-made exemplar. It comes with explanations for what it takes to earn full points with this writing activity.

Student-made exemplar:

Click the image or here to visit our Ning page where teacher members can post their own students' samples.

Teacher-made exemplar:

Click here for my teacher-made exemplar. It comes with explanations for what it takes to earn full points with this writing activity.

Student-made exemplar:

Click the image or here to visit our Ning page where teacher members can post their own students' samples.

Teacher-made exemplar:

Click here for my teacher-made exemplar. It comes with explanations for what it takes to earn full points with this writing activity.

Student-made exemplars:

Click the image or here to visit our Ning page where teacher members can post their own students' samples.

Exemplary Showing Sentences
Exemplary Related Word Lists
Exemplary Sausage Sentences
Teacher-made exemplar:

Click here for my teacher-made exemplar. It comes with explanations for what it takes to earn full points with this writing activity.

Student-made exemplars:

Click the image or here to visit our Ning page where teacher members can post their own students' samples.

Teacher-made exemplar:

Click here for my teacher-made exemplar. It comes with explanations for what it takes to earn full points with this writing activity.

Student-made exemplar:

Click the image or here to visit our Ning page where teacher members can post their own students' samples.

Teacher-made exemplar:

Click here for my teacher-made exemplar. It comes with explanations for what it takes to earn full points with this writing activity.

Student-made exemplar:

Click the image or here to visit our Ning page where teacher members can post their own students' samples.

A Bonus EGOT--because I invented vocabulary EGOT's!

Click the image...Show your students what an EGOT looks like.
Exemplary Imp-Int-Exclam Sentences
Teacher-made exemplar:

Click the image or here to visit our Ning page where teacher members can post their own students' samples.

Student-made exemplar:

Click the image or here to visit our Ning page where teacher members can post their own students' samples.

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New Resources for the 2015-16 School Year: Tier-2 Vocabulary-Inspired"Quick Poems"
Instead of memorizing new words, I ask students to write thoughtful pieces of short writing inspired by new words they self-select from class reading. They learn those new words while reviewing their writing skills.

Research on acquiring new vocabulary shows that both teachers and students should be involved in the selection of words for study, and my weekly vocabulary routine definitely puts a big responsibility on my students to bring words they've encountered and written about every Friday. I play my part, of course, by providing plenty of academic vocabulary (a.k.a. "tier-3 words), especially as it relates to the discussion of literature (protagonist, theme, allegory, etc.) and writing (voice, transitions, thesis statement, etc.). I also serve as a model of someone with a pretty good vocabulary that isn't Language Arts-specific (a.k.a. "tier 2" words), and during class activities, I purposely use big, tier-2 words in my directions, fully expecting someone to ask, "What's that word mean, Mr. Harrison?"

I've successfully designed and implemented eighteen new small-group writing tasks. I call them "quick poems," and not only are they a high-quality 10- to 30-minute group writing task, they also build familiarity and usage skills with almost thirty tier-2 vocabulary words that--personally--I love using and--even more so--I love hearing my students use correctly during literature discussions, during writer's workshop response groups, and during Socratic Seminars. Each of the 18 different poetry formats are based on tier-2 word that I want to hear my students use in class as we talk to each other. I created 18 poetry formats because, starting last year, I set aside a small amount of time every two weeks to learn new vocabulary word in this manner. I call them "Quick-Poems" because I set the timer, and I don't want them to become a whole period of work. I want the introduction to the words and poetry format to be learned in less than ten minutes so that students can then have fifteen to twenty minutes to compose as a group. The objective of each poem is not only to teach them a great word, but also have them practice using it by exploring different contexts in which the word would make sense using the support of their small group's combined ideas. As the poem is written, the group cooperates and uses writing skills we have been working on in class, and each poetry format comes with plenty of obvious opportunities to review grammar and punctuation. In addition, these "quick poems" all:

  • Come with a teacher model that I've written in such a way that you could call what I've written your own teacher model if you wish to.
  • Can be assigned to single students, partners, or even groups of three or four, depending on the scaffolded support you feel some of your less-productive writers might need to be successful. I prefer the safety of a small group, but I allow those kids of mine who prefer to write alone to separate themselves from the group I have put them in and compose something individually while the rest of the small group stays intact.
  • Contain directions and expectations that accommodate for differentiation; the poems' advance organizers have room for more stanzas or quatrains than students will probably need, and the directions state for students to complete as many stanzas as they can in the allotted time. Even if they struggle and write just one stanza, they've made progress at the level they can, and you now have good, formative information about your students. Some of the poetic challenges, my wife tells me, are pretty difficult too, and to that I say, "Good." With fifteen minutes, no matter how challenging, I find all students can finish something useful that can be shared, even if it isn't complete; at the same time, I find with fifteen minutes and with a good challenge and a good teacher model, I have students who work together to knock my socks off with their "quick poems."
  • Create an opportunity to share--or publish--students' ideas. Even when they write in groups, I require every student to write their group's poem down on their own advance organizer so they retain a personal copy for their binders. Some days, we find time to share as a whole group, but some days I simply send them back to sit with their Sacred Writing Time partners and share with that person. "Owning" new words requires students to have 8-9 meaningful experiences with the word before they can call the word one of their "pocket words" that they can carry around with them; hearing how another group used a new word in a different poem is just one more meaningful experience with a vocabulary word. The more we share, the more we own the language that surrounds us. The set of "Quick-Poems" also come with links where, if you have a student/group do something very unique with the word in a poem, you can share it online where other teachers will be able to share it with their own students using the same poetry format. Publishing is a powerful incentive to student writers; celebrate their "quick poem" ideas with the other thousands of teachers who also follow and use the materials.
“My kids are loving the new vocabulary & poetry sheets. Today we were working on the ‘caustic/facetious’ poem. An uproarious time was had as students challenged each other: ‘That’s a verb phrase, not a noun phrase!’ ‘That phrase doesn’t show meaning!’ ‘You have to write what it’s about, not an actual caustic comment!’ etc, etc. Thanks again, Corbett! You’ve made my job a dream!”

--Nevada teacher and friend of WritingFix, Jenny H.

Below, I provide three free previews from the set of 18 "Quick-Poems." If you just want to use the three I've provided as a preview, you have three great thirty-minute lessons. If you want the whole set of eighteen poems, we sell them for a very reasonable price, and all proceeds are invested back into the website. You may notice that we have no advertisements and that we give out a free lesson every month; it's because of our buyers that we can keep this website going at no cost to anyone. Thanks in advance if you choose to add this packet of materials to your classroom resources.

My Eighteen "Quick-Poems" for Tier-2 Vocabulary Words
The first three QUICK-POEMS are free previews. The remaining fifteen can be purchased by clicking here.
Quick-Poem for the Vocabulary Word:

Quick-Poem for the Vocabulary Words:

Quick-Poem for the Vocabulary Word:

Quick-Poem for the Vocabulary Words:
Quick-Poem for the Vocabulary Word:
Quick-Poem for the Vocabulary Words:
Quick-Poem for the Vocabulary Word:
Quick-Poem for the Vocabulary Words:
Quick-Poem for the Vocabulary Word:
Quick-Poem for the Vocabulary Words:
Quick-Poem for the Vocabulary Word:
Quick-Poem for the Vocabulary Words:
Quick-Poem for the Vocabulary Word:
Quick-Poem for the Vocabulary Words:
Quick-Poem for the Vocabulary Word:
Quick-Poem for the Vocabulary Words:
Quick-Poem for the Vocabulary Word:
Quick-Poem for the Vocabulary Words:
Purchase the entire set of Eighteen Quick Poems by clicking here.


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Four Vocabulary Mentor Texts that I Keep Coming Back to...
If you've used my website before, you know I have a passion for using mentor texts to guide my writing lessons and my writing routines. Three of the following books "take turns" sitting in my chalk tray up front in class; even my too-cool-for-school eighth graders like sneaking an opportunity to flip through a children's book again, and these all promote "vocabulary collecting" as a life skill. The fourth book is one of my favorites when I need a fresh idea because we have--for example--personified our words a few too many times and I want to surprise them.

The Boy Who Loved Words
by Roni Schotter

True enough, Roni Schotter is one of my favorite authors. I go out of my way to design lessons around her books, like this one.

A fabulous picture book about Selig, who discovers the power of collecting and sharing words with the world. This book is the one I use when I introduce "Vocabulary Collecting," and you'll notice--perhaps--the lesson below I based on this book. Another of Roni's books--Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street--is a beloved book when we are learning about revision in my classroom.

Max's Words
by Kate Banks

It's all about differentiation with me, and this sweet little book resonates with my students who find Roni Schotter's story about Selig a bit daunting. Here is a book with the same premise: young person likes to collect words = motivation for students to want to collect their own words. Even my eighth graders aren't too cool to pull this one off my shelf and re-read it for fun.

I have met quite a few elementary teachers who have adapted my vocabulary collecting routine for their grades. They love this book!

Fancy Nancy
by Jane O'Connor

Again, if Roni Schotter's The Boy Who Loved Words seems a little daunting to your younger readers, try this picture book instead. My middle school girls have great memories of the Fancy Nancy series, whose main character seems to be a walking thesaurus. We learn to say, "That's a fancy way of saying [insert simpler word here.]"

Again, elementary teachers adapting my vocabulary routine, here's a great book for you.

Vocabulary Unplugged
by Alana Morris

It was back at the NCTE Convention (2008?) in San Antonio, Texas, that I heard Alana present several activities from this book alongside another author-hero of mine--Barry Lane. I was instantly hooked! I knew I had to "unplug" the boring way I was teaching vocabulary, and this book helped me find the creative twist I needed. If you ever have a chance to see Alana present, she truly is one of the most engaging presenters I've ever seen.


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Lessons Posted at this Website that Focus on Writing Skills & Vocabulary Collecting
I collect many things, and my collections take both abstract and concrete forms; I think collecting is a part of our human nature, and I especially enjoy talking to my students about "abstract collections" they might start. Collecting interesting, new vocabulary words is an example of an abstract collection. In Roni Schotter's The Boy Who Loved Words, Selig writes his new words down on pieces of paper that he keeps in his pocket, so he takes an abstract collection and makes a somewhat concrete--albeit disorganized--way to "own" it. My weekly vocabulary-collecting routine attempts to do the same, but the concrete form our words go into involve way more than writing the word on a chit of paper.

Question I pose to students: What's my favorite abstract thing that I collect? Answer: Shakespeare plays. There'll be a few folks who debate this number, but it's widely accepted by most that the Bard wrote 38 plays in his lifetime, and I have set a personal goal to see them all--performed live on a stage by qualified actors--before I die. I've seen thirty-three different titles at this point, and had I thought to save the programs or the ticket stubs, this could have been a concrete collection of mine, but I actually prefer it as an abstract collection. What it boils down to is I am collecting an experience or a memory of each play that I have seen. Like collecting words, I believe watching Shakespearean plays is a completely valid collection to claim that I "own." I challenge my students to come up with an idea for an abstract collection they'd like to start. They come up with some interesting ideas. They write their ideas in their writer's notebooks. Kids like to write about things they already collect or things they'd like to collect; most have never thought before of starting an abstract collection of some sort.

Of course I am always asked by my students, "What do you collect that's real (a.k.a. concrete)?" Thanks to eBay, I do. There was an old radio show--Tom Corbett, Space Cadet--whose main character had a name I really took a liking to. It became a fairly short-lived TV show, but it started as a radio broadcast. At the same time, Kellogg's used to make a cereal called "Pep," and Pep always had prizes for the kids who ate an entire boxful. The fancy term for cereal prize, by the way, is cereal premium, and my favorite concrete collection consists of Pep cereal premiums inspired by Tom Corbett. I have multi-colored finger rings and plastic coins with flickering lenticulars all on display upstairs in my office. I've successfully collected all the different forms or Tom Corbett cereal premiums, and now I am working on collecting each form in different colors. I recently purchased a pink Tom Corbett lenticular, and that was a fun find for me. My natural instinct to collect has been satisfied for a while with this latest eBay purchase.

In my classroom, we collect words abstractly and then concretely display four of them every week in my class. I want my students' vocabulary collections to have a unique cover-page, which I expect to be creative and colorfully visual. Because my kids or so naturally disorganized, I required them to keep an in-class binder. These sit on a shelf in the back of my room, and they are not allowed to leave the room. I teach them binder organization skills on certain days, and often we can be found organizing our "Vocabulary Collection" section of said binders on those days. The first lesson I am providing a link for below has my kids create a vocabulary cover page based on a collecting metaphor, and the finished product can either go in the binder itself, or it can be slipped between that thin clear plastic that many binders come covered with, so it's a protected cover page for the whole binder. I roll-up with my students, so we actually create these in seventh grade and then they serve as our cover pages for eighth grade as well. With a two-year cover page, I expect my students to make something high-quality. I let them know that, and I grade these hard. I am always impressed with what I get from my students.

If you're going to establish a weekly vocabulary collecting routine like I do, I hope you'll use the first lesson below. I think it illustrates nicely the idea that an abstract collection (vocabulary words) can take a concrete form. And good collectors take pride in how they display their collections. The kids who take this first vocabulary assignment seriously are the ones who will end up with the best word collections. The kids who turn in something garbage-y for this, well, I have the opportunity to take them aside and say, "I expect all vocabulary assignments to look like you've taken pride in what you're displaying. This cover page doesn't cut it. You need to improve your efforts with vocabulary immediately, or I can safely predict that you won't be earning a very good grade from my class."

The two lessons that follow the "Logophile" lesson are both popular ones I have published here at the website as well.

The Lesson I Use to Inspire Students' Vocabulary Collection Cover Pages
Overview: Students (and teachers) will begin by sharing things they collect. The class will then brainstorm as many different things people collect that they can think of. The brainstorm will continue as students brainstorm all of the different ways people can display their collections. After sharing from The Boy Who Loved Words, the teacher will challenge the class with this metaphor/simile: "Suppose people could collect words in the same way that they collect butterflies. Suppose they displayed the collected words in the same way that collected butterflies are displayed. What would that display case look like?"

After drawing a "cover page" to introduce a special vocabulary section of their writer's (or interactive) notebooks, students will learn a format for collecting favorite words they come across during the upcoming school year.

Lesson link:
Creating a Class of Logophiles

A Vocabulary Lesson I Use to Decorate our Hallways with Greek & Latin Roots
Overview: You don't have to have a copy of the mentor text pictured at left to be able to actually do this lesson; my entire, original lesson is online, and the only books needed for it are a class set of dictionaries. But Alana's book was so inspirational as I went back in 2011 and revamped many of my good vocabulary lessons and made them great. I owe her many thanks for challenging my thinking.

Students design root-inspired posters to hang in the hallways to teach fellow students about Greek and Latin roots. They explore root families and represent those families both with words and with visuals.

This lesson is part of my Hallway Publishing program. Every year, we quickly run out of wall space in my classroom, so we take over the hallway. We design these posters to educate fellow students from other classes who might not realize that roots in a collection of words may be related.

This is the lesson most oft requested of me by other teachers at my school, so I created this write-up.

Lesson link:
Root Attack Posters

The Lesson I Use to Strengthen our Vocabulary Haiku Expectations for Vocabulary Workshop
Overview: Don't dismiss haikus as being easy because they are only seventeen syllables. If you introduce them well, students quickly learn that they're not! Each week, when they do their vocabulary-writing for me, my students have the option to submit one of their four pieces of vocabulary-writing in the form of a haiku. If they do this correctly, they strictly follow these rules/expectations, which are all reinforced in this lesson:
  • A traditional haiku has seventeen syllables; the first line has five syllables, the second line has seven, the third line has five.
  • Haikus in my classroom (and in the traditional sense) must somehow be about the natural world.
  • I give my students a bonus point if their haiku is not only about nature, but it contains a comparison or a conflict between two natural elements, which is often something found in traditional haikus.

Lesson link:
Vocabulary Haikus

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Six Student-Created "Writing about Vocabulary" Activities
For the last twelve weeks of each school year, my students may use some student-created vocabulary & writing activities that I have approved. My eighth graders are warned ahead of time to start thinking about this, then they spend one period brainstorming and designing them using words I have saved from my "vocabulary word a day" calendar. I choose the most thoughtful six new ideas to display in class for all my students to start using if desired. Instead of formally teaching these techniques, I simply said, "These six options are now available as vocabulary activities, but you have to come take a look at them on your own." The students created the four-point criteria for each activity, inspired by the rubrics from my ten vocabulary activities. These student-made vocabulary activities always catch on like a wildfire with my sixth and seventh graders; in fact, five of the following six examples came from the seventh graders.

Superhero & Villain Activity

Based on a vocabulary word's meaning, students create a character who represents the word, then labels the features of the character:

  • The word must be used correctly in one of the labels;
  • There needs to be five or more labels applied to the character;
  • The labels must contain interesting words and thoughtful descriptions;
  • No spelling or punctuation errors.

Above is Timothy's example anatomy based on the word petulant. Click on image to visit our full lesson on Anatomy of Vocabulary Words.

Based on a vocabulary word's meaning, students create superhero or super-villain inspired by the word, then they create that super-character's nemesis:

  • The superhero's description must be two or three sentences;
  • The super-villain's description must be two or three sentences;
  • The personification must somehow embody the word that inspired super-character, and his nemesis should embody the word's antonym;
  • No spelling or punctuation errors.

Above is Ethan's example for the word oblique. Click on image to be able to show your students the details.

Based on a vocabulary word's meaning, students create a visual display where the word's letters represent ideas and connections they've made. To earn full points:

  • The word art must contain four obvious connections to the word's meaning;
  • The writer must include an explanation of each of the connections below the word art;
  • The visual elements must be thoughtful and creative;
  • No spelling or punctuation errors.

Above is Shelby's example art for the word exacerbate. Click on image to visit our full lesson on Word Art and vocabulary words.

Yo Mama Vocabulary Joke Activity

Based on a vocabulary word's meaning, students create a poster for an imaginary horror movie whose title either contains the word or whose "tag line" contains the word. To earn full points:

  • The word must be used correctly in the title or the tag line;
  • The tag line must be catchy and creative, like a real movie's tag line;
  • The illustration must show knowledge of the word ;
  • No spelling or punctuation errors.

Above is Cole's example poster for the word procurer. Click on image to visit our full lesson on Fake Horror Posters and vocabulary words.

Based on a vocabulary word's meaning, students create a phone application that is either called the word or whose description contains the word. To earn full points:

  • App description must be four or more sentences and show knowledge of word;
  • App must have a logo that shows understanding of the word;
  • A review of the app must be included;
  • No spelling or punctuation errors.

Above is Mason's example app for the word legerdemain. Click on image to visit our full lesson on Fake Phone Apps and vocabulary words.

Based on a vocabulary word's meaning, students create and illustrate a--sigh--Yo Mama joke. I was skeptical about approving this one, but the kids became pretty creative:

  • The word must be used correctly in the joke;
  • The joke must demonstrate student's knowledge of hyperbole;
  • The illustration must show knowledge of the word and demonstrate the hyperbole;
  • No spelling or punctuation errors.

Above is Ashley example joke for the word cavort. Click on image to be able to show your students the details.


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Take Pride in Your Vocabulary Collection...and Share it Weekly:
Four Philosophies I Own:
My school's crazy rotating daily schedule made it very difficult for me to maintain the successful Writer's Workshop I used to host. For Writer's Workshop, we'd work slowly on papers all week, then on Fridays, the writing we'd done--in whatever draft it was in--was shared in student groups, and revision suggestions were made. Superb, finalized writing was often shared from our author's chair. My students learned an amazing amount about writing by being exposed to so many different writing styles on those Fridays. They learned smart techniques from each other. To me, that is true education.

We still do large writing assignments at my new school with its crazy schedule, but our Friday "Sharing & Revising Day" wasn't working with all the inconsistency and interruptions that seemed to come just on Fridays. I needed to keep my kids sharing with each other every week--to keep inspiring each other with their different styles and approaches to ideas--but it wasn't happening with Writer's Workshop. I needed the sharing time to shrink in order to fit the schedule.

And so..."Vocabulary Share" is now a thirty-minute Friday routine, and students share writing--even though the vocabulary-based writing is shorter than a whole writer's workshop draft. Still, they are discovering different techniques and styles from each other, and we're doing it in a shorter amount of time. Newly published sets of vocabulary words enter the classroom, and my students spend thirty minutes moving to new partners and groups, playing sharing games with those partners (like "Read a haiku, symbolic representation, or a showing sentence to your group without letting them see the definition. Who can guess the part of speech and the definition with the closest accuracy?")

It's easy. And I don't about your kiddos, but mine are naturally competitive. If I offer a "Vocabulary Collector of the Week" award for each class, and they are in charge of the nominations, they start bringing in some unique and fantastic collections. They try to out-do each other. I just sit back and watch it happen.

Below, I share some images of several students' "Vocabulary of the Week" winners. I find that showing these to my kids early on each semester does great for inspiring them to put their best foot forward with their vocabulary collections. Do I still have kids who slam their vocabulary words for the week together at the last minute. Sure. But when they share with each other, they understand why they usually only earn a C as their best vocabulary grade. Friday vocabulary sharing day separates my top writers from my lazy or mediocre writers, but I know that the lazy and lesser-skilled writers are learning a new technique each time they're paired with someone who took their vocabulary seriously.

Some Stellar "Vocabulary Collector of the Week" Winners

6th grader Aidan was totally proud of his subliminal Mr. Stick that he used to divide his activities. Do you see it?
Click the image to see his collection on Pinterest where you can zoom in on details.

8th Alejandra always goes the extra mile with her vocabulary; this set came from I Have Lived a Thousand Years.
Click image to see it on Pinterest.

7th grader Gino liked to display two weeks' worth of words in a Tic-Tac-Toe board-like formation. I love that he can spell lethargy but not collector! Click the image to see it on Pinterest.

8th grader Serene makes poster board-sized vocabulary displays for Friday sharing. Click image to see it on Pinterest.

8th grader--Jaysen--used a "Scrubs" theme to tie his book's vocabulary together. Click image to see it at Pinterest.

Depth is better than coverage: Can disciplined kids memorize ten (maybe even 20!) S.A.T. vocabulary words a week? You bet they can. Start them early, and by the time they take that actual S.A.T. vocabulary test, their little heads will be so full of memorized words that may or may not even appear on the test that year. Unfortunately, that is simply what I call coverage, and I no longer do anything in my classroom that I consider to be coverage. I would much rather have my students learn fewer words each week but require them to do something more meaningful with them through original writing or thinking tasks. That is depth, and that is the philosophy that shaped my vocabulary routines.

My students "collect" four words every week from their readings. They actually collect way more than that on their vocabulary bookmarks, but each week they are required to evaluate the list of words on their bookmarks and select (and justify!) four new-to-them words they actually can see themselves using in the future. Once they've selected their best four words for the week, they record them onto a "Vocabulary Collecting Page," and they select one of my ten "Meaningful Writing Activity" choices. These activities require them to apply the word correctly in a new and interesting (and deep) way. Bookmarks and vocabulary collection pages can be accessed earlier on this page, in the section I have designated for my students; you are more than welcome to take a look at what my students use.

Develop vocabulary expectations as a routine: At present, I teach English and Language Arts to 6th-8th graders, but I spent my first ten years teaching writing at the high school and college level, and during my 9 years as a professional developer for our state, I mentored and facilitated more elementary school staffs than my old brain can even remember. Through that collaborative K-6 work, I assisted teachers in implementing instructional writing routines that centered around everything from writing traits, writer's notebooks, writer's workshops, to smaller skills focused on vocabulary skills and grammar. With every topic I just listed, my number one belief was they should be used as part of a routine. Writer's workshops became a weekly routine with a mandatory monthly "final draft" from every child. Writer's notebooks remain my favorite daily routine, and I've creatively established the routine so well that our quiet Sacred Writing Time in my classroom is--quite often--my students' favorite ten minutes of their whole school day; if you don't believe that, look at the pages from my students' writer's notebooks that I've posted at my Pinterest account. Their work shines routinely, and it's because I have routines in place that allows expressing themselves creatively and in exchange for some silly extra credit prizes or classroom privileges.

Here is our vocabulary routine at present, and--based on my past experiences--I believe this routine would work well in grades 3-12: Every week, my students "publish" four new words in a special way that become part of their vocabulary "collections," which are stored in their in-class binders once they have been assessed. Because we read every week (from novels, poems, non-fiction, memoirs, short stories, etc.), my students collect every week. For my own sanity, I actually collect and assess eight word every other week so that I am not ALWAYS checking vocabulary. Even so, every Friday, we do a "spot-check" of the four words their currently working on, and we try to do Friday activities around the words; this formative "spot-check" allows me to make sure students aren't falling behind with this weekly expectation. In the old days, when my students were all memorizing the same ten words, these Friday activities wouldn't have been very interesting, but when 30+ students all come to class with four different words to "play with," the activities we do can become really interesting

Be efficient by consolidating your teaching of grammar, poetry, sentence structure by simply having students write using their new vocabulary words: Each student-collected vocabulary word has to be written about in an interesting way that requires way more than copying the word's definition from the dictionary. I originally created eight different activities, each coming with a mini-lesson that show students how to try out their vocabulary word in either a creative or logical way; many of the creative lessons focus on poetry skills from the standards while many of logical lessons focus on applying grammatical vocabulary in interesting ways. As of July of 2013, I added new ones and revised the original eight so that I now have ten lessons worthy of packaging and selling.

Every summer during teacher hiatus, I set aside a week or two in order to "package" some of my latest original resources for the purpose of selling them. I'm still a bit bitter about the 2% pay cut we public educators all took in Nevada over five years back, but it inspired me to see if I could make up for lost income by building an income-generating section of this little old website of mine. My website regularly gives away so many ideas for free (and has done so since I launched it in 2008) that I felt it was time to make a little money back, if that was even possible. I'm pleased to say it is possible.

Over the summer of 2013, my focus for a new product centered on packaging my vocabulary materials so that any teacher could make sense of them. I am really pleased with the ten skill-specific vocabulary lessons I created. Not only did they sell really well just in the first few months, but--if I can be humble--they are really smart in the way that help me go deeper with so many areas found in Common Core, including the possibility of bringing in more writing across the curriculum. Here are my ten vocabulary activities, and I've included brief explanation of what areas each activity helps me reinforce

"Famously" Celebrate your Students Who Collect Vocabulary with Excellence: "Are you famous, Mr. Harrison?" my kids like to ask me this when they actually look over my website, and they discover how many teachers follow me and use my lessons and materials; my students are fascinated by fame...even if it belongs to me. I always cryptically reply to their questions about fame with "The river is famous to the fish," which is the opening line from a poem--"Famous"--by the great Naomi Shihab Nye. I love her poetry, and so do my middle school-ers.

If there is a metaphorical river out there that I happen to be "famous" in because of this website of mine, then I want to share that fame with my students who work hard for me. I believe strongly in showing LOTS of student samples as exemplars, and I believe in setting expectations pretty high. Back in 2012, I tried out using Pinterest as my new on-line space where I could celebrate my best students' vocabulary work by photographing it, posting it, and linking it directly back to my website. At Pinterest, I created a special board that's called Vocabulary Collectors of the Week. My writers beam with pride when they first see their pages displayed there from my Smartboard. My kids--who are naturally competitive because that's the nature of middle school-ers, I've found--love to see whose vocabulary pages receive the most "likes" and "re-pins." My kids work hard to become vocabulary collectors worthy of being posted at my Pinterest account.

If you don't happen to use Pinterest or have another electronic way to celebrate your students' vocabulary like I do, please know there is also a real, old-fashioned cork-based bulletin board right outside my classroom where I do post color scans of some awesome collections from my current students too; this is also where I post blank vocabulary collecting sheets if students forgot to pick one up and my room is locked.

The other celebratory gesture I provide was started in spring of 2012: my "Vocabulary Collectors of the Year" Awards. Three students from each grade level win this award at the end of May, and I give them a really nice ribbon (made from--of all things--a khaki Boy Scout patrol patch with a colored ribbon hot-glued to it so it looks an award ribbon. Last year, my nine winners became my "Vocabulary Warriors" (warriors because of the stickman patch I found--pictured at left), and those kids proudly display their patches in or on their new notebooks this year--like seventh grader Emily did here with a lovely note of appreciation; remember, my kids roll-up with me, so my three 6th and 7th grade winners from last year have already shown off their ribbons of victory and are determined to win their second vocabulary award this May, and I have a lot of kids determined to . I have to tell you that if buying nine $3.00 patches puts that much motivation out there, then I have no problem investing $30.00 each May for this in-class competition I host. The Boy Scouts have some great "patrol patches" that are easy enough to find on e-Bay for pretty reasonable prices. I also have a "Mr. Stick of the Year" Contest, which requires ribbon awards. Thanks to Pinterest, my Mr. Stick--our Margin Mascot-- board is already showing me who .