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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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This page contains an explanation of one of the ten vocabulary/writing challenges I allow my students to choose from, and every week I have my students "publish" four new-to-them words that were found in what we've been reading as a class. Each week my students craft four small pieces of short writing, each piece of writing containing a self-chosen vocabulary word. In my Language Arts classroom, and please remember I share my techniques and routines so that you might adapt them to work for you--don't assume my way is the right way, I give two grades a week for writing: 1) they receive a participation grade for writing in their writer's notebook for ten solid minutes every day during sacred writing time, and 2) they receive a vocabulary/writing grade for crafting and publishing four short pieces of original writing that utilize vocabulary words.

I refuse to make my students "dance for meaningless gradebook points"; instead, I set up routines and expectations and demand they be followed thoughtfully. I believe having two writing routines that help my students earn points meaningfully is important. With writer's notebooks, I don't grade for writing conventions; I do, however, grade conventions and grammar with their four small pieces of vocabulary writing. I learned a long time ago that you can grade short pieces of writing for conventions and writing skills; they don't have to be long pieces of writing as long as they're meaningful. And the time it saves me to grade short writing instead of long writing? That alone, makes my vocabulary collecting routine one of my favorite classroom creations.

Again, this is my routine, and I have made it work for me. If you like the idea, then I encourage you to adapt it. All ten of my Common Core-inspired Vocabulary-Writing Lessons (in PowerPoint) can be purchased at my Teachers Pay Teachers store, and they can be recklessly adapted to work for you


A Writing Lesson/Task from my Classroom to Yours:
To truly "own" a new vocabulary word, you must have 8-10 meaningful experiences with it.
25-cent Word Vocabulary Haikus
creating a new context to apply to one's new words

Overview of this Writing Assignment's Tasks and their Purposes:

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:

  • 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 insist upon this because it forces my students to create a context in which to place their word. Let's say you've just taught Charles Lamb's poem, "Charity," which is full of great 25-cent vocabulary words by the way, and you focus on the word ostentatious in stanza five. The poems talks about a person's ostentatiousness, and my vocabulary expectation has them apply that word to something else, something specifically in nature. If students really understand the definition of the word, they can logically think of peacocks, or they can creatively think of an ostentatious rose or orchid...and they have to explain their thought in just seventeen syllables. That's a challenge, and it's a good one. My students put a lot of thought into most of their vocabulary haikus.
  • 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. My teacher model at the bottom of the page for the word tumultuous is both about nature and contains a conflict. I'm proud of that haiku.
  • I require my students to somehow illustrate their haiku, either by hand, by computer, or by magazine clippings. This allows them to proudly (perhaps like a peacock) show off their work and their thinking.
  • In my classroom (and remember, you can use this lesson and not do it this way!), every other Friday my students teach their vocabulary words to five other students, using the vocabulary-writing they did over the past two weeks. Vocabulary haikus require my students to explain their thinking while they teach, and this metacognition helps build really great conversations among my student groups.

Two mentor texts that inspired this lesson:

If Not For the Cat
by (the great) Jack Prelutsky

by Andrew Clements

Part One: What's this 25-cent Word Metaphor for Vocabulary, Corbett?

My quick answer to that question: a 25-cent word is a tier-2 vocabulary word. If that is terminology you are not familiar with, I invite you to look a the PowerPoint I am sharing here, which is designed to be shared with my scholars when I'm introducing the vocabulary routine that I require. Click on the thumbnail at right to open this PowerPoint. In my classroom, we have a regular, differentiated routine that allows writing vocabulary haikus as one of ten choices for writing, but a teacher can use this vocabulary haiku idea in a variety of other ways. Please adapt if my vocabulary routine seems daunting! If you, instead, choose do do an occasional vocabulary haiku as an assignment, that's awesome. Or if you require students to compose three or four vocabulary haikus after reading some text (poem, short story, article) that has some good vocabulary words in it just one time to get them writing, you really just need to show them slides 6-10 in the PowerPoint because those slides solely talk about my 25-cent word metaphor. If you don't happen to have PowerPoint, here is a PDF version of the slideshow/lesson.

Teach your students to collect tier-2 words (not tier-3)--like Selig in The Boy Who Loved Words: We read a lot of historical fiction (and non-fiction) in my class, and my students often choose words that aren't really tier-2 or 25-cent words. When we read Animal Farm, for example, I always have sixth graders who choose the word larder, which is an old-fashioned British word for pantry. Now, if I was required to make a haiku with the word larder, I would immediately think of squirrels and ants saving food for winter, and that's the natural world context connection that I train my students to go through when we are learning to make vocabulary haikus. HOWEVER, I do not think larder is a useful word to add to your growing vocabulary. I teach my students to try and rule those types of words out when they are choosing their words for the week, and slides 28-31 in the PowerPoint here contain a lesson using a short passage out of Hemingway to teach this idea. The two literary passages in the slideshow provide an opportunity to practice finding "25-cent words" as a class and in small groups. The idea is to turn your students into "useful word hunters" in their novels and the texts you share in class.

Additional practice: Since haikus are traditionally about nature and the natural word, I'll provide a poem about nature that--after practicing finding 25-cent words using the Steinbeck and the Hemingway passage in the PowerPoint--you can have students in pairs or as individuals demonstrate their ability to find quality tier-2 vocabulary words. The poem I use is Emily Dickinson's "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass." I love this poem because it's kind of a riddle. You ask your students, "What animal is she talking about here?" and you make them read it two or three times and discuss it before they present their answer. You'd be surprised how many of them don't guess "snake," which is the right answer.

The whip lash in the Dickinson poem, which might need to be explained as a tier-2 vocabulary word for some students so here's a picture that can visually proive the explanation they need, and it truly serves a beautiful example of taking something manmade and likening it to the natural world. That's kind of the big idea with putting a vocabulary word in a haiku that's about nature. My challenge for students, after we read and have fun with this poem's riddle, is to have them investigate the word cordiality. This is a tricky word for a haiku because it's five syllables and--by itself--could serve as a whole line in the poem. With my vocabulary-writing tasks, I do allow students to use different forms of a vocabulary word they find; thus, students could use cordial or cordially instead of the word Emily actually used. Below are three nature haikus my students composed with partners after reading "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass." You might not show these two your students until after they practice and compose their own haikus. See how your students' haikus compare.

Cordiality, (5)
The sun kisses my forehead (7)
Warmth from his kindness. (5)

by Brooke and Krystina

She's cordial and sweet, (5)
Opening tulips each spring. (7)
Mother Nature rules. (5)

by Adam and Cheyenne

The hurricane's eye (5)
Cordially protects sailors, (5)
Briefly, just briefly. (5)

by Scott and Dawson

So that's the idea in a natural nutshell. Writing nature-inspired haikus which force the students to use the word while thinking about a natural context. Research says in order to "own" a new vocabulary word, students must have 8-10 meaningful opportunities to use the word in different ways. Vocabulary haikus are just one type of meaningful experience my students attempt to have with new vocabulary words they encounter. When my students share and teach their vocabulary words every other Friday, they are having another meaningful experience.

Part Two: A Mentor Text that Reinforces Powerful Language in Haikus

Giving credit where credit is due! The following write-up is an adaptation of the "Haiku Riddle" lesson I posted at the WritingFix website back in 2009 (one of the final years that WritingFix was sponsored by the Northern Nevada Writing Project). It was presented by my NNWP colleague Heather Clark. I have always used the following adaptation of Heather's original lesson at WritingFix when I am teaching my students to improve upon their vocabulary haikus. I use this book to teach HAIKU REVISION!

One of my favorite vocabulary words has become the word undulate. I learned this word reading the picture book you see at left: If Not for the Cat by Jack Prelutsky. I love this book so much, and so too do my students. It's one of the books that sits in my chalk tray in the back of my classroom, and it is frequently visited by students when they have a moment to enjoy language or are looking for ideas for their own vocabulary haikus.

I present this mentor text as a "showing riddle book" when I share it. That means I read the text without showing the pictures, and students must figure out what is being described. This book contains dozens of haikus that are descriptions of animals. In seventeen syllables, Prelutsky does a fabulous job of showing you an animal without naming it. I feature a Showing Riddle Writer's Notebook Challenge here at the website that was partially inspired by this book.

Let's go back to the word undulate, which I found in this book. If you, like I was before this book, are unsure of this verb, here is the definition:

undulate (verb, intransitive) -- to move with smooth, wave-like movement

Now let's pretend you were asked to write a nature-inspired haiku for my class using this vocabulary word. What element of nature could you apply this verb (or one of its forms) to?

The question above is one I pose to my students before I share this mentor text with them, and then review what a quality haiku sounds like. I personally share this book after I have taught my students to write their basic nature haikus, following the structure and the "must be nature-based" rules I enforce. There are three types of mentor texts in my classroom, and my students classify them using the same words I do because I teach them to. When I say, "This mentor text will serve as a 'craft mentor text,' for our future haikus " they know that means they are to pay close attention to the excellent writing skills of the author because they are going to try and imitate or write with just as much excellence. That's the purpose of a craft mentor text!

I very much encourage you to purchase your own copy (new or used) or this great picture book of well-written haikus. In searching the Internet, I did find a slide created by another teacher that shares four of the haikus from the book, including the haiku that inspired the book's title, which may seem cryptic to you. Click the thumbnail at right to see four of the book's haikus, and see if you can guess which animals the haikus describe. I won't spoil this challenge by providing the answers to the four haikus, but I am fairly certain you will come up with probable guesses. I hope you notice the amazing use of interesting vocabulary in these four examples (including the word undulate) and the cleverness the author shows with each of his animal haikus. The two skills I want to reinforce when I share this mentor text are:

  1. Good vocabulary words used in natural contexts
  2. Creative use of language and style choices by the author

When your mentor text is a "craft mentor text," students must have a discussion about what specific skills the author has used that impress them. I like to point out that the author uses first-person point of view to personalize the haikus, which I don't require my students to do, but it's a cool little trick used by the author here. He also likes to repeat things, even though he is limited to seventeen syllable, but he has a reason to repeat; the students and I have a great discussion about this. I also like to point out how impressive it is that each haiku is an actual sentence, and his commas are both helpful and accurate. After sharing this book, I challenge my students to craft perfectly punctuated sentences that also happen to be haiku poetry!

When I share If Not for the Cat, my students are already used to submitting regular vocabulary haikus for a grade. With this book, I tell them I am "upping the ante on the quality of those haikus" now that we see the cleverness of Prelutsky. Remember, in my routine, my students are turning in four pieces of polished and published writing using new vocabulary words every week, and haikus are but one of their ten choices for writing formats. The week we share Prelutsky's craft mentor text, I change the rules for just that week: everyone must submit one vocabulary haiku with their weekly assignment; the other three words can be ANY choice they want from my ten choices, but this week they MUST write one haiku and try to make it really great. Below, I share some of my students' great attempts with vocabulary haikus:

8th grader Matt's haiku. Click to view.

6th grader Dontae's haiku. Click to view.

6th grader Chris's haiku. Click to view.

7th grader Hannah's haiku. Click to view.


6th grader Jackie's haiku. Click to view.

8th grader Patrick's haiku. Click to view.

8th grader Joseph chose not to illustrate, but tell me this isn't a great piece of writing.

Part Three: Optional Haiku Stories for Writer's Notebooks!

This is a new writer's notebook challenge I am creating here in 2016. After celebrating March as "Vocabulary Haiku Month," I will be challenging my students to imitate author Andrew Clements by telling a short story in their writer's notebooks using nothing but a series of haikus. The 'idea mentor text' that inspired this new challenge I am working on is called Dogku.

This is a pretty simple idea--complete with a clever title. The day in the life of a dog is told with haiku after haiku after haiku. This truly seems to be to be a perfect mentor text idea to inspire some writer's notebook cleverness.

In Barry Lane's The Reviser's Toolbox, he suggests that we "Haiku Everything!" I have always loved this idea. Imagine your life told in a continuing series of haikus. Now for this task, I tell students the haikus don't have to be about nature; they can be about any topic. I also allow them to use my classroom's differentiated haiku variation...if they wish to: instead of 5-7-5 syllable, my variation allows them to use 5-7-5 words instead of syllables.

How I created my teacher model: Dena and I got a Christmas puppy in 2015, and each of our past five dogs all have various pages dedicated to them in my writer's notebooks. Now that two of five those dogs are no longer with us, the pages I created about them while they were still alive mean so much to me. Our new Christmas puppy--Boone (as in Daniel, the explorer!)--had to endure being neutered while I was working on this lesson of the month in 2016. With my iPhone, I photographed him before and after the procedure, and knowing I was going to make my own version of Andrew Clements "Dogku" in my writer's notebook, I decided those photos would serve as my illustrations for my page.

Now if you challenge your students with this writer's notebook idea, which I can do now that I have my example page, stress that they don't have to make a DOGku. They could make a CATku, or a SISTERku, or a VACATIONku or a TIME I GOT SICK WITH THE FLUku. The possibilities are endless. You'll be amazed what they come up with if you invite them to.

Syllabication is hard for some of my students, and that challenge of only 17 syllables can slow down some of my students' writing process, so I will allow them for this task to use my 17-word variation of the haiku if the 17-syllable haiku is too tough on them. With my teacher model below, I created a different story using the same photos on two adjacent pages. In my 17-syllable version, I try to accurately tell the true story of the neutering; in the 17-word version, I ended up having a great time telling the story in a much different way. I think this example will really tickle my students' funny bones when I share with them in the next week or two. I suspect I will have students who imitate the DOGku idea with syllables, some who use words, and I am confident I will have students who imitate me by putting the same images down on two adjacent pages and telling two different stories using the images.

The power of a teacher model! And the power of differentiating tasks for your students who need an easier version of the task as well as for your students who want a true challenge.

I hope you enjoy my latest addition to my writer's notebook, which I am sharing below:


Click here for a really large version of my 17-syllable story.
Click here for a really large version of my 17-word story.


Part Four: A March Contest...Top Student Vocabulary Haikus

Whether you have a regular weekly writing-vocabulary routine (like I do), or you do occasional writing-vocabulary tasks with your students (like many teachers who've adapted our vocabulary-writing lessons do), or you simply use the vocabulary haiku lesson on this page just once a year, I invite you to use the month of March to really encourage writing and revising some strong vocabulary haikus from your students. To inspire you (and your writers), Dena and I are hosting a contest starting in March of 2016 that we hope will become an annual contest--like our September Writer's Notebook Metaphor contest has become.

Here are the rules/steps for participating in this contest we're sponsoring:

  1. Teach your students to create original seventeen-syllable haikus that contain tier-2 vocabulary words from the texts you are reading. All haikus must somehow be linked to the natural world.
  2. Optional step: After your students understand the basic vocabulary haiku, share with them some strong models (be they student-made, teacher-made, or mentor text-inspired) so your writers are inspired to create haikus that take interesting risks with language in their limited number of syllables. This online lesson write-up contains samples of student-, teacher-, and published models to use in this step! Trust me, taking this step is what helps students go from making good haikus to making great ones.
  3. Before April 11, photograph up to three of your students' best vocabulary haikus (be sure students' last names are not visible in photographs) and send them to us at corbett@corbettharrison.com as an attachment. We do expect the haikus to be decorated somehow and conventionally correct.
  4. By April 7, Dena and I will post the five best student haikus submitted by teachers at our website's Vocabulary Pinterest Board. The five teachers whose student haikus are selected will be sent a complimentary set of either our complete set of eleven vocabulary-writing lessons or our set of eighteen tier-2 vocabulary poems.
  5. Between April 7 and April 30, teachers, parents, students, and friends may visit our Pinterest Board and vote for their favorite vocabulary haiku. Each "like" on Pinterest will earn the student's haiku one point, and each re-pin will earn the student's haiku two points.
  6. On May 1, the student whose haiku has the most votes will be declared the winner. The haiku will be posted on this page along with the excellent student samples above, and the student writer will be sent a complimentary copy of If Not For the Cat. This book will be sent in care of the student's school address.
How to Win the Contest? Revise! Even Seventeen Syllable Poems can benefit from the Writing Process!
Here is the teacher model for the word tumultuous I show my students; at left, my rough draft, and my "published" word is at right.

Some Wonderful Vocabulary Haikus from Students across the Country
Ms. Gruenhagen's sixth grader--Emilia--wrote the haiku in Spring of 2016 that received the most votes, and it was declared the winner! Click image to see/save the haiku at Pinterest. The student poet received a copy of Jack Prelutsky's "If Not for the Cat." Receiving an Honorable mention in 2016 was this charming haiku from Ms. Ricks' 5th grade classroom. Receiving an Honorable mention in 2016 was this charming haiku from Ms. Cypert's 8th grade classroom.

Questions about the contest? Please email me: corbett@corbettharrison.com

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