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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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Background information for this lesson: A lot of teachers I have worked with believe they're having their students APPLY and ANALYZE at the level that Bloom's Taxonomy suggests, but they typically fall a little short. The trick for both these Bloom's verbs--to me--has always been that students, after learning these two thinking skills from the teacher, must apply knowledge or analyze a topic/subject in a very different context; it can't be too similar to what the teacher used to model the thinking. I wrote up the following two creative analysis tasks that can certainly play off each other so that different contexts are tried. I also believe this writing idea can be applied to much more than word study or character analysis, and if you--as teacher--find a different way to apply this analysis activity in a different way in your classroom, I hope you'll share your adaptations with me and other teachers at our blog where we post these lessons.

This online lesson contains two complementary writing lessons/classroom ideas:
a writing-about-vocabulary challenge called
Anatomy of a Word
an instead-of-a-book-report writing task called
Anatomy of a Book Character
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Anatomy of a Vocabulary Word
an activity created by my eighth graders that I turned into a detailed lesson below

Teaching Students to Create Anatomies
In praise of my weekly vocabulary/writing routine...and my awesome eighth graders: My seventh graders become my eighth graders, and in those two years they spend plenty of time learning and perfecting my 10 Vocabulary/Writing Options as we enter the spring of their eighth grade year. I've always believed that the power of having a routine is that, when the timing is appropriate, your students can take over the routine, act as teachers, and possibly make it better. Case in point: In spring of eighth grade, I challenge my students--in teams--to design new writing-about-vocabulary options for themselves to choose from and for the seventh graders to provide feedback for them after trying them out. Most of the ideas they come up with prove to be a refreshing change from the ten options I allow them to choose from. My eighth graders are required to invent an idea, create a 4-point rubric, and a neat 8"x11" example that can be posted on one of my classroom's whiteboards for the rest of the school year. I choose the six most thoughtful, interesting and unique new additions and post them. I NEVER teach these six techniques; I expect the display to do the teaching, and as the seventh graders learn that these new options exist, they swarm the whiteboard and start exploring the requirements and the examples. Then, slowly and surely, the new options start popping up in both 7th and 8th grade vocabulary assignments. At left, you can see one of the other six activities that was accepted as a new vocabulary & writing task--called Word Art--that was created by my eighth graders; it became a very popular choice for my students, and if you click on the image, you can zoom in and see the yellow rubric the students created to accompany the writing-about-vocabulary task.

Note what is happening here: My eighth graders officially become the assigners of new writing tasks, and they love being trusted with that role. When students become "teachers" and show you creativity and original thought, you know you've succeeded in teaching them to ANALYZE your own lessons' purposes and APPLY the requirements in a new context! Go Blooms! My new batch of eighth graders (they were last year's sev-vies) are already asking (and probably preparing for) when they get to create the new writing activities for vocabulary.

What's a "Word Anatomy" Vocabulary Submission? In doing Google image searches, I discovered there are lots of poster and t-shirt companies that create "anatomy of [topic]" visuals for their products. Not all are appropriate to show, but I invite you to search for them yourself and find appropriate additional examples beyond what I provide here. I remember seeing my first examples of these anatomies way back when I was in high school. There was a series of them put out in the 1980's that focused on high school stereo-types: the jock, the nerd, the cheerleader, the band-geek, etc. Like the example at right (also based on a great 80's and 90's icon--Garfield the Cat), they require you to come up with interesting labels for the parts of the person/thing that is being broken into segments. If you click on the image at right, you can see Garfield's labels with more detail. After zooming in, I ask my students (many of whom know Garfield, but many don't) what qualities they think this character exemplifies based on his labels; I ask them to impress me by coming up with words that we would call 25-cent words in my classroom, so it's good to have dictionaries and thesauruses available. I'm looking for words from their brainstorm like mischievous, glutton, corpulent, and pampered, which are good words from my seventh and eighth graders, but you can decide what types of 25-cent words are appropriate for your grade level. We do this word brainstorm because one of the requirements my students created for the "Word Anatomy" activity was that--at least--one of their labels needs to contain a vocabulary word around which they are creating their word anatomy poster.

The Evolution of this Activity as Demonstrated through Student Samples
This was the original idea that a pair of my eighth graders came up with. The yellow piece of paper was typed up by my aide and it explains the criteria of scoring well on this. One of the early attempts by 8th grader Kendall who did everything right except use the word pallor anywhere in her description or labels. That is a requirement! The 7th graders really wanted to play along too, and here Lexxie decided that the word contrived reminded her of a Barbie, and so she labeled the artificial parts of the doll. 7th grader Timothy kind of knocked it out of the park with this example. He applied the context of riding roller coasters to a petulant individual, and his descriptions are great!
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Character Anatomy -- visuals and words to show literary analysis
labeling a character's pieces to show you understand what makes them tick

An Instead-of-a-Book-Report Way to Demonstrate Reading Comprehension at the Analysis Level

It must be Spring because I am planning out a new way to use a favorite Dr. Seuss book. My Ridiculous Essay assignment, which my 8th graders do every spring, make alternate use of "Green Eggs and Ham" and "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish." It's always one of their favorite essays to write because they are using their critical literary analysis vocabulary skills and applying them to a very silly story, which apparently makes the task more enjoyable because my students certainly reminisce about when we discuss their portfolios one last time before they graduate to high school.

This Spring (2015), I'm adding this new Dr. Seuss-inspired response to reading task that my seventh graders can learn and use as a substitute to the 25 instead-of-a-book-summary activities that they will be able to use as a substitute for any of the activities on Dena's Reading Bingo Activities. I always have a few kids determined to create an actual bingo but one of the five activities from the monthly card doesn't appeal to them, so this will be my first official "substitute assignment" if kids want to opt out of one task in their row or column and still earn an official bingo.

I teach my students to create a "character anatomy" from something we've read by first briefly showing them my Huck Finn example which resides in my personal reader's notebook. Once they understand the basics of the activity (writing ten different character labels that use book-supported details, which you can certainly modify to match what you're students are able to do at their grade level), we read the classic "The Sneetches," and they practice creating their own character anatomies with partners, labeling the parts of the two Sneetches I have in this picture at right. We paste/glue the picture (click on image at right to open and print it) in the middle of an 8.5 x 11" piece of typing paper, and students, working with partners the whole time, brainstorm and one of them writes a rough draft label for either of the Sneetches on a piece of lined notebook paper, then pass the paper to their partner who is in charge of writing the next brainstormed idea. When partners write in my classroom, the "pass the pencil" requirement in between each recorded idea is one that I am very strict about; I want to see two different sets of handwriting on the rough draft, and I want to see my students switch back and forth between "recorder" role and "head of brainstorming" role.

About three or four minutes into the partner-writing activity, I yell "Stop!" and falsely apologize with, "Oh hey, I forgot to hand you this checklist of my expectations about the ten labels. Before continuing and finishing, would you double check your work so far using the checklist, then take ten more minutes to make sure as many checklist items from my list of ten apply to your character anatomy?" I trick my kids a lot by "accidentally forgetting" to hand out my formative assessment tool rather than hand it right out at the start because it forces them to practice good revision skills for their good ideas that they have put down immediately but then have to double-checking their work against my rubric or checklist to see that they were close on some ideas but needed a bit of something extra to match my expectations. Many kids come to me in sixth and seventh grade with no knowledge on how to revise; if they change something and make it better during this process, I can point out, "Now that's what revision is! It's not checking your spelling and writing it neater; it's about making a good idea stand out even better."

My kids--I am proud to say--quickly learn the difference between revision and editing because I often make them start writing something, then conveniently forget to pass out my prepared writing requirements only after they have started writing rough ideas that I know will need "tweaking" to fit my requirements. As they "tweak," I point out, "What you're doing right now is what's called revision, which you should do to all your pieces of writing before turning them in, but don't always expect me to hand you a checklist. A writer learns to create his or her own personal checklist of things that have the ability to make rough ideas stand out and seem more interesting, more skillfully written.

Here is my adaptable checklist that I use with this assignment with my seventh graders. Admittedly, some of the ten challenges I dreamt up for the ten character labels don't guarantee that the students' partner writing will necessarily make the writing better, but they might, and they certainly push my students to remember small lessons in grammar and some writing challenges I often try to stump them with.

With checklist in front of them, student partners immediately start revising the three or four descriptors for the two Sneetches to make sure they match three or four of the requirements from the checklist; then, they use the remaining items on the checklist to craft as many more labels that they can create in 7-10 more minutes directly on the picture of the Sneetches. This is the first of two practice rounds for this activity before I have students do this task for a character from a book they're reading, so unless I have time, I don't see the point in making every team finish ten complete labels. Once every group has six or seven labels, though, I require them to stop and partner up with another pair. Using the checklist, they read each other's labels closely, trying to deduce which item from the 10-item checklist the other team's blurbs match. If there's time, we then team up with a different partnership and repeat the process. With this practice in place, the students have become fairly familiar with the ten items on my ten-challenge checklist.

A few class sessions later, we do a second practice session for learning this activity. It starts with me once again showing them my finalized Huck Finn example from my own reader's notebook. I pass out this scrambled up list of descriptions that followed all ten of the challenges (with the answers for teachers on the second page), and I let them deduce which description from my finished product match each of the ten challenges. There is usually some debate, but eventually, consensus is arrived at, and my students (without their knowing) have been "tricked" into reviewing my ten challenges for their ten descriptors.

Next, I pass out one of several cute-but-minimally-descriptive"anatomy pictures" I found on the Internet and let the students read over them after I have put them in a random group of three or four students. Using the same checklist from the previous day, in five minutes, each group must REVISE as many of the original descriptions on one of the Internet examples so that it says the same thing but to do it in a way that matches one of the checklist's requirements. I have a cheap extra credit prize for the group that cooperates best and revises the most in the five minutes; following that award, I have each group decide upon their best revision and share it with the whole class, letting the class try to determine which item on the checklist was used in the revision. It becomes a fun game that--again--gives my students one more exposure to the 10 writing requirements they must use if they apply this writing task to a character from a novel they are reading independently or that we are reading as a class. Here are the anatomy pictures from the web I found that you can use in this task too; a lot of these come from t-shirt companies:

Once we've practiced and shared and reviewed the checklist for this second time, I announce to my students that they now have a new option for writing about characters from the books we are reading. You can certainly require everyone to do this activity with a character or several characters from a shared class novel, or it can become an option for students when they are keeping an independent novel reader's notebook. I am currently reading Neil Shusterman's Unwholly, and I plan to do a character anatomy for whichever of the three main characters from the first book (Unwind) ends up being my favorite when this sequel comes to a close.

Our open invitation to teachers:
If you use this lesson with your students and end up with a sample that shines, feel free to post it here, and I will send you something from our Products Page as a way to say thank you.

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