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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.


Write & WritingFix

       Because writing--when taught right--can be the most enjoyable part of your teaching day, we maintain 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

Big news from the Harrison household: Dena said farewell to her classroom of 26 years in August of 2018, and Corbett will be joining her in retirement from in June of 2019. The Harrisons are thrilled about this life change because it will allow them to work from home on this website and its resources. Starting in mid-June of 2019, Corbett will also be available again to visit and conduct personalized 1- or 2-day workshops for your school, district, or regional educational center. E-mail Corbett for details or with questions about these workshops, which will begin in the summer of 2019.

In the meantime, Corbett will continue to post these monthly free ideas, all based on techniques I am currently using with my 30th and final group of students. These final postings before retirement may be a bit shorter than usual as I have promised my sixth graders this final semester with me would be their best yet, and that's keeping me busy. I am also--in what little spare time I have--still working on my book on NOTEBOOK STRATEGIES that I'm having incredible success with during this final year.

Thanks for checking out this month's lesson (originally posted in April of 2019), and if you have any questions about it, don't hesitate to contact me: corbett@corbettharrison.com

the lesson we complete as our third challenge in creative writing...
Structuring through Superlatives

teaching students to structure stories (and also non-fiction essays) based on a superlative adjective during pre-writing

On this page, find the third lesson I present to my students during my 18-week creative writing elective class. After having students practice descriptive skills through describing something comfortable (First-Class Bus Seats lesson), I have my writers practice description again with a second writing challenge that has them describe food (Themed Menus lesson). At this point, my students are ready to take on a story with characters and a plot of sorts. This lesson's idea is based on using a superlative to tell a narrative--fiction al or true.

Some of my students appreciate having little or no guidance on a story-writing assignment (or report-writing assignment) like the one shared on this page; others, however, absolutely require some thinking about story or report structure before actually beginning a draft of writing. I try to provide my tools/ideas here that I use to accommodate all types of writers I teach.

To begin designing this first organized story, students brainstorm superlatives and then determine what "base adjectives" come before the superlative form of the word. Example superlatives:

Regular Superlatives
Irregular Superlatives
"Most" Superlatives
  • happiest (built from happy and happier)
  • funniest (built from funny and funnier)
  • pretty (built from prettier and prettiest)
  • worst (built from bad and worse)
  • furthest (built from far and further)
  • best (built from good and better)
  • most talented (built from more talented and talented)
  • most boring (built from more boring and boring)

Below is the graphic organizer I show the students as we begin the planning process for this story. My students typically recognize this type of story map, and I explain how I want them to not only recognize the story map but also apply its use when designing their first stories for my creative writing course. Click the image to see it a little larger/clearer; I simply projected this on my Smartboard, and we discussed what kind of story we could make with the map below--if we used the word happiest as our superlative. "How would we build up to that using description that keeps a reader interested in the story?" I ask, and that helps them see the point of having a structure in mind before they write.

I owe every bit of wisdom I have about teaching students to be more organized when they plan writing from one of my personal heroes and mentors: Gretchen Bernabei, whose book--The Story of My Thinking--is the most helpful text currently sitting on my teacher's bookshelf. Without Gretchen's ideas, this lesson would have never taken shape.

Dena and I hope you enjoy this lesson. We are looking forward to seeing what writing it produces from our students here in my final semester of teaching for my district. Dena is also designing a non-fiction component to this write-up, which is closer to the bottom of this page.

Essential Questions/Objectives/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • How do I use verbs and description to "show" a scene in a story and its emotions?
  • What can I learn about structuring future stories by structuring this story based on a superlative?
  • What makes a strong introduction and a satisfying conclusion to a story/report?

    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.3b -- Use narrative techniques, such as pacing and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
    -- Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

    For Dena's Non-fiction example below:

    Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and refocusing the inquiry when appropriate.

Introducing the writing idea through mentor texts: Adjectives, comparative adjectives, and superlative adjectives are terms to teach, I believe. I usually start showing my students the importance of knowing subtle differences based on grammar with sentences like these two. Which one is more correct grammatically?

  • Of those two countries, Saudi Arabia is the biggest exporter of oil.
  • When you look at the eight planets in our solar system, Mercury is the smaller one.

Both sentences are wrong. When only two things are compared, writers use the -er version (aka the "comparative adjective" ). -est versions of adjectives (aka "superlatives") can only be used when three or more items are up for comparison. Saudi Arabia is the bigger exporter out of the two, and Mercury is the smallest one out of the eight.

I have one absolute favorite mentor text for helping me to teach about superlatives and comparative adjectives, and that is Brian Cleary's Breezier, Cheesier, Newest, and Bluest. I'm a sucker for words that rhyme with each other when teaching grammatical concepts. I have recently discovered two newer titles: I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry, and Tucker, the Most Superlative Puppy by Trisha Girard both share their stories using superlatives too. I also put a copy of Captain Superlative on display to see if I can tempt anyone to check it out from my classroom library during this particular lesson.

Picture books that focus on comparative adjectives and superlatives...

Breezier, Cheesier, Newest, and Bluest
by Brian Cleary

I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean
by Kevin Sherry

Tucker, the Most Superlative Puppy
by Trisha Girard

A book to display during this lesson to encourage its check-out:

Captain Superlative

by J. S. Puller

Mapping out a Superlative Story Visually on a Story Map: This lesson focuses my students on discovering new ways to organize while reinforcing the skills of imagery and description we've been developing in the creative writing class where I make this our third assignment.

Because I believe students can be visual without being artistic, and because I need them to believe that too, I use Mr. Stick a lot in my classroom. He's a simple-to-learn sketching technique that my students pick up quickly, love to draw, and I love how I am able to trick my students into learning concepts by having them visualize those concepts through Mr. Stick. This is a good example of Mr. Stick serving that purpose.

Before we sketched our story out as a technique for brainstorming, I taught them how to draw Mr. Stick, using this resource page to do so; mostly, I had them practice drawing Mr. Sticks after watching this PowerPoint, which is now a free download from our Teachers Pay Teachers site. They also enjoyed (as they always do) this handout of potential faces for Mr. Stick.

For my example, I demonstrate using the following superlative and its two other adjective forms:

First, the character feels...
Next, he/she feels...
Finally, the character feels the...
Introduce story's character & setting
more disappointed
most disappointed
Bring the story to a logical stopping place.

I showed the students the above graphic to showcase the "journey" I was planning on taking my superlative story through. Since we had been introduced to Mr. Stick at this point, the following handout made total sense to them as a "visual graphic organizer":


Comparing two written models: I use a lot of compare and contrast as part of my teaching process. You can indirectly blame Robert Marzano, I suppose; I did a lot of Marzano-inspired trainings for fellow teachers back in the 2000's. My students absolutely became deeper thinkers when I started requiring them to compare/contrast more in class; Marzano's synthesis of research was right!

I share with you the two versions of the same story I share with my students. I have them compare and contrast the following two tales, looking for 5-10 differences.

My Short-but-Organized Teacher Model
My Detailed and Organized Teacher Model

Here are five things I hope they definitely identify and analyze through the comparison/contrast of the two Superlative Stories above:

  • The shorter story sounds more like a five-paragraph essay than a story. "Formula! Blech!" cried Mr. Harrison.
  • The longer story used many more details that SHOWED the growing disappointment instead of TELLING about the emotion.
  • The longer story used dialogue and additional characters to advance its identical plot.
  • The longer story follows the same basic plot as the shorter one but looks nothing like a five-paragraph essay.
  • When new characters speak, new paragraphs are created. "Always!" cried Mr. Harrison.

Writer's Workshop Begins: I use a writer's workshop model that has students working their writing through the process over four or five days of thirty-minute episodes spent working on this paper. Ultimately, my students typed a rough draft that was read/responded to by three classmates, then revised as a final draft. However your "workshop" occurs in your classroom, the goal here is that every student 1) work on details, 2) work on organization and dialogue, and 3) be able to explain how they applied a story map to their final draft.

Always be ready to differentiate! I had students finish their rough draft in one day of typing writing, and I had students who barely finished their rough drafts after three days of typing or writing. Have meaningful and respectful enrichment tasks for students who write faster (which is natural in every writing class I have ever taught). My fastest writers earned extra-credit points by becoming dialogue-writing tutors to my other writers who were working at slower (but productive) paces.

Student sample of a narrative based on this structure: Student sample of a narrative based on this structure:
Coming soon!  


Dena's Non-Fiction Element for this Lesson: Before she retired, Dena designed and implemented many workshops and inservice classes for her fellow teachers in Northern Nevada. These workshops and courses helped her colleagues re-certify for their state licenses. One of Dena's favorite courses was the class where she focused on techniques for teaching students to organize writing without relying on formulas that produce robotic-sounding writing.

When Dena found out I was writing up this Superlative Story lesson before retiring in June of 2019, she wanted to add a non-fiction component, for teachers focused on organized essay writing and research.

There are adjectives (like powerful), comparative adjectives (more powerful), and superlatives (most powerful) that lend themselves nicely to focusing historical research. If the essay's topic was any of the following, these three adjectives--working together--could help a student organize themselves to research a topic and draft and essay.

  • The rise of Alexander the Great (or any leader, I suppose).
  • Great moments in the Civil Rights Movement
  • Weapons used during the Civil War
  • Personal essay about a time the student was moved by an experience.

Dena used this "superlative set" to organize herself to research Nellie Bly, a person she was interested in: Bad, Worse, and Worst.

She then researched Nellie's journalistic experience of being admitted into a mental institution, so she could investigate the reports of abysmal hospital conditions that were rumored to be true. Dena's research was immediately focused on three things: 1) bad things that happened to her or that she witnessed, 2) even worse things that she experienced or witnessed, and 3) the worst thing Nellie experienced or witnessed.

The handout at right provides two things:

  • A teacher model of an essay that follows the following model: Essay Introduction Base Adjective details Comparative Adjective details Superlative Adjective details Essay conclusion
  • A research/essay-writing challenge at the bottom of the model essay.

In my classroom, my students begin the process by brainstorming as many "superlative sets" of adjectives as they can. I ask them to specifically think about events or people from history as they brainstorm to ensure they aren't all just listing predictable adjectives, like happy, happier, and happiest. If students are thinking historically, they'll surprise you with sets of adjectives like unfair, more unfair, most unfair, which is a perfect "base" for an essay like Dena's Nellie Bly essay.

I prefer it when my students create their own graphic organizers for essays I assign; I have this classroom philosophy that in real life no one hands you a graphic organizer before you are expected to write something, so I teach my students to create their own G.O.'s, as we call them, because creating a self-planning tool is a life-skill.

Once students have a selected set of adjectives that create a "superlative set" (like strong, stronger, and strongest), I require my students to design a graphic organizer for the research they will do on the person(s) who became strong, stronger, and strongest at some point in history. I'm doing this lesson in late spring, so my students have a lot of experience with making their own G.O.'s at this point, A good graphic organizer for a research project should include:

  • Introduction Ideas: I always tell students finding a really unique fact is often a great way to create an introduction that grabs a reader, so often mine include a place on their G.O. to collect facts like this they may encounter in researching.
  • Places to take notes for the three superlatives. When my students did this, they often moved items on their research-gathering sheet from one column to another; they did this as they encountered new information, and it was proof to me they were analyzing and re-analyzing facts as they created their three-tier stacks.
  • Conclusion Ideas: My students have been working on essay conclusions that express their personal reasons for researching the topic they have chosen. For this reason, I like to see a spot on their research graphic organizer where they can list "reasons to admire/respect" the person they end up choosing to research for their own essays.

Finally, for your visual learners, here's a graphic "map" I display as I help students find a way to organize their research, and then their essays. This simple-but-effective G.O. was inspired by the dozens and dozens of really wonderful "essay maps" found in Gretchen Bernabei's The Story of My Thinking--an amazingly helpful text ff ideas to teach organization that isn't reliant on formulaic writing techniques. Students don't need to us to teach them to write like robots, people! If too many of your students' essays sound similar to each other, it's most likely because you're still dictating strict formulas when teaching expository/essay writing. Gretchen's The Story of my Thinking gave me so many new options to try, and my students' essays sound as though they were written by individuals, not students following an overly-structured, creativity-squelching graphic organizer.

The thing I love about these types of graphic organizers is they don't dictate paragraphs; they dictate order and structure. Just because the introductory box is one box, the introduction doesn't need to be a single paragraph. Each of the "superlative set" words could be multiple paragraphs when the essay is finalized, so the map below doesn't necessarily mean the student is creating a five-paragraph essay. You'll have students--your struggling writers--who can only compose a five-paragraph essay made up of very short paragraphs using this map, but you'll also have students who will thrive as writers when they realize the visual picture below is a suggestion of order and structure, not a suggestion for the number of paragraphs.

We're running out of time this year as I post this lesson. I am hoping my students' essays can be completed before State Testing begins; otherwise, it may be a few months before I am able to post examples of expository essays written using superlatives as our inspiration.

Student sample of an essay based on this structure: Student sample of an essay based on this structure:
Coming soon! Coming soon!



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