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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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A lot of people find this website because they are interested in our Vocabulary Workshop materials, which we happily share. I'm often asked by teachers, "How do you start your Vocabulary Workshop? What does that look like? How long do I help (through modeling) the students create thoughtful pieces of vocabulary-inspired writing?" I decided to create and share some new resources I will be using to improve my own Vocabulary Workshop this year, and I have included on this page details on how I roll the philosophy of Vocabulary Workshop over the first month of school; after that, the students take over the process, but here on this page, you will find the materials I use to model Vocabulary Workshop.

Please feel free to look over this explanation on this page. It shares how I'll take 5-15 minutes daily and teach my students--through short pieces of writing I created--new words and techniques for writing about new words. I model for the first month, and then the responsibility of Vocabulary Workshop falls onto my students; THEY bring their own sets of four words every two weeks and, while sharing our writing, we teach each other better vocabulary skills.

sharing how I model for a month before officially...
Launching a Vocab Workshop.

My students are required to find words in their own reading and teach those words to classmates...here is how I model that expectation...

Essential Questions/Overview/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • How can a growth mindset/classroom routine focused on vocabulary acquisition teach skills all lifelong learners need?
  • How can I best teach my vocabulary words to my classmates (who have different vocabulary words to teach me) so that they remember my words as well as their own?
  • How can the writing I do with each vocabulary word help me become a better, smarter writer for my other writing assignments?

What is a Vocabulary Workshop? I require my students to not only learn the good vocabulary words I assign them from our shared reading, but I also ask them to create personal vocabulary lists built from words they find in both our assigned and our independent readings. Our "Vocabulary Workshops" happen on the days my students bring a required number of words to class and teach the words to each other by sharing writing they did based on the words' meaning.

My Vocabulary Workshop significantly increases my classroom's student-centeredness, and it teaches my students to always be on the look-out for great new words to add to one's personal vocabulary. In addition, I learn a lot about them as writers based on the writing that accompanies each of their Vocab Workshop words. That allows me to help them set goals for growth in writing.

Here's where the idea for Vocabulary Workshop came from. At some point, I grew tired of watching students encounter a difficult word in a text and, instead of trying to figure the word out or look it up, they simply barreled on through the sentence and hoped they'd understand the main idea without needing to know the word. I find this to be pretty anti-student behavior in a classroom, to not know a word and not care enough to ask or try to figure out its meaning. The job of students is to ask questions when they don't know not to race to the end of reading passages.

Here's how my classroom's Vocabulary Workshop will work this next year with my new group of sixth graders, and please know I've adapted this same idea to work with many other grade levels over the past ten years; I have elementary and high school colleagues who have modified and come to use routines similar to our Vocabulary Workshop:

  1. I will spend the first month sharing and teaching 16 vocabulary words I have found in my summer of 2018 readings. During this month, students will practice multiple writing techniques that ask them to compose something short but interesting using a vocabulary word. On this page, you will find the first month of vocabulary words with which I am sharing and teaching to my students; my plan is to find time to teach 4 words a week.
  2. Every other week for the remaining eight months of school, my students will be required to bring in four new-to-them words that they found while reading. They must choose words they could see themselves using in a variety of writing techniques once they discover what each of their selected words means.
  3. During this "every other week" expectation, we set aside much of the 55-minute period to move around the classroom with our four latest words, teaching them to random partners, assigned partners, and self-chosen partners. Students share their words, their writing, their reasons for choosing the words, and the metacognition they used to complete the writing task that goes with each of the words.
  4. The collected words go into each student's writing folder, and when we have our writing workshop day, they review their word collection and see if they can find an appropriate context to use one or two of them in their writing for class.

Again, this is all very adaptable. If you want your own students to prepare for this type of workshop just once a month (instead of every two weeks like mine), that works. Once a week, that works too. I have a third-grade teaching colleague who has each student bring a word in to teach once a month, and she loves the student-centered nature of the whole process.

The first things students have to learn is what kind of words I accept from them when they are preparing their learning products for Vocabulary Workshop. I've always used the following money metaphor, and I tell my students Vocabulary Workshop work is to be focused on "25-cent words." Here's what that means:

  • One-cent words are words like a and the and you and me -- words no one should have to look up because they are recognized on sight.
  • Five-cent words are the basic nouns and verbs and adjectives you learn early on first and second grade: run, fun, sun, etc. These are simple words that help you build complete sentences
  • Ten-cent words are more interesting words than the simplistic five-cent words, but still they are words a student shouldn't have to look up in a dictionary: skip, amazing, sunburn
  • Twenty-five cent words are words you may or may have not seen before, but you cannot recall their meaning by sight alone. You require a context clue (like in a sentence that uses the word) or a dictionary definition for it to be a 25-cent word. Some examples: pristine, docile, arbitrate, candor, etc.
  • Fifty-cent words are specialty words that generally go along with a field of study. Most of your science, math, and history vocabulary words will be 50-cent words. Example 50-cent words in those categories: mitosis, hypotenuse, socialism, etc. 50-cent words are also those really fancy that only a few people memorize and know. For example, I know a philatelist is a stamp collector, and I know triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13. Twenty-five cent words are the focus of what my students bring to Vocabulary Workshop even though 50-cent words seem to appeal to some of my students at the beginning of the year.
  • I think it's important to acknowledge that students have all had different experiences with reading and speaking and listening, so that a 25-cent word for one of your students could easily be a 10-cent word to other students. A teacher using a vocabulary workshop should be well-versed with techniques of differentiating instruction.

And to make my "money metaphor: explanation easier, I--of course--have it as a PowerPoint that can be viewed, or shared and discussed with your students. Click the PowerPoint slide below to open a complimentary copy of the "Introduction to Vocabulary Collecting" lesson I give my students as we introduce Vocabulary Workshop. This slideshow refers to some options that can be accessed from our Vocabulary Workshop homepage here at Always Write.

PowerPoint Version of slideshow - PDF Version of slideshow

Before my students see this PowerPoint, I begin by modeling how I could teach them new words by creating an interesting piece of writing I can discuss that makes use of the vocabulary word. Below on this page, you will find the 16 words (four weekly sets of four words each) that my students will be receiving next Monday and I will have gone over by the end of the first month of school..

I firmly believe if you're going to establish a routine, which is what Vocabulary Workshop is, then you need to model the expectations before requiring students to participate. Three Corbett notes about where my sixteen vocabulary words came from:

  • The first two sets come from Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King, which I wanted to read before they turned it into a mini-series, which I'd heard they were doing. My kids are in sixth grade, and most are definitely too young for Stephen King's themes, so I don't "sell" the book when I am sharing these words. I simply mention the book's title and my reason for wanting to read it. You want students to choose words they like when they take over, and that requires modeling.
  • The third and fourth sets come from two television shows. This year, I've decided I will allow my students to use words they find on TV or in video games for Vocabulary Workshop provided their parents send me a note that they are watching the show with the closed-captioning turned on.
  • Keep in mind, my students are allowed to collect their words from many sources: magazine articles or reviews, most anything non-fiction, poetry, short stories, etc. No "Word of the Day" calendars or websites though. Why? They must be able to prove to me the word was read in something they were interested in reading. They absolutely have a better connection with the words they choose from a text they are enjoying reading. If students find their words in the context of reading they like, then write those words, their experience with the word is so much more meaningful that it is with words they receive from me.

Four 25-cent words for Week 1: I have four words from one of my summer reads--Mr. Mercedes--that I will teach my new students throughout their first week of school, requiring them to find different places or situations (a.k.a. different contexts) where they might utilize the same word in future writing and speaking endeavors. During the first two weeks, I give bonus prizes for students who find a context in one of their other classes to use the word, and then prove to me they used the word. At left, are my first four words, which I also purposely hand-wrote instead of using my on-line form. I want my students to know they have permission to hand-write all their vocabulary workshop assignments, if they choose.

Click the thumbnail at left to open a scan of my words that should print perfectly on an 8.5 x 11" piece of paper. You have my permission to say, "These are my friend--Mr. Harrison's--vocabulary words, and he said I could use them," if you don't want to create your own set of words to teach.

Day 1, week 1, word 1: The first word on my teacher model is lackadaisical, meaning lazy or showing no interest. I show students how I spelled the word correctly, identified it by part of speech correctly, and I paraphrased a definition after looking up several other definitions.

The writing assignment I decided to create for the word lackadaisical is a personified vocabulary description, and my students read it over, and I ask them what other details I might have included. I have a complimentary PowerPoint on how you teach students to personify vocabulary words; feel free to edit the PowerPoint down...just remember to cite where you you got it from! Thanks in advance. I don't show the entire PowerPoint on day 1. I show them just certain slides that are relevant that I have chosen ahead of time--mostly the ones that focus on the defenestrated stuntman.

Our "brainstorming and partner writing task" for day one asks students to discuss and be prepared to share the following: Come up with a completely different place for Cal to be lackadaisical, and work together to compose three good sentences that paint a picture on my brain of Cal being lackadaisical. If there isn't time to share whole class, students share with other partnerships so they can hear how others interpreted the writing task. Challenge (or dare!) students to find a context to use this word in their other classes.

Day 2, week 1, word 2 : The second word for week one is sanctimonious, which describes an attitude that a person feels if that person feels morally superior to another. We focus our discussion on how important it is to remember the subtle differences that new words can provide in their definitions; sanctimonious isn't just about feeling superior, it's feeling morally superior, and so that fuels a discussion on what contexts you could make the word work in a sentence. Start that discussion by asking:

  • Are you sanctimonious if you feel superior because you're smarter in math than someone else?
  • Are you sanctimonious if you feel superior because you go to church on Sunday and your neighbor doesn't?
  • What's another example/situation/context where sanctimonious wouldn't work because someone acts superior, but not morally superior?
  • What's another example/situation/context where sanctimonious would work because someone acts superior, and the superiority is based on a moral issue or idea?

If there isn't time to share whole class, students share with other partnerships so they can hear how others created their contextual ideas.

By the way, the writing task here is one I call Imp-Int-Exclam Sentences. Click the link to open the complimentary PowerPoint in PDF format.

Day 3, week 1, word 3: The third word for week one is flummox, which means to perplex or confuse or to confound someone. In Mr. Mercedes, this word was actually flummoxed, and that means I have to explain to my students when they find words with -ed or -ing as their suffixes, they will often need to remove those in order to look the word up. If you try to look up flummoxed, you'll find it buried inside the definition for flummox, and so I teach my students to clip the verb suffix and simply look up the right form of the word if they find a verb as a vocabulary word. Now, if you're not a grammarian like me, you may not know that if you add -ed or -ing to any verb, you're either giving it a tense or you're turning that verb into an adjective, and I think that's important information for students to start understanding as readers, writers, and thinkers. We don't learn all this on this day, but we start that particular conversation this day.

The writing activity I chose to do with flummox is called "Word Art" and here is a link to it since it's housed at my website: Word Art lesson. My kids love it, and even those who can't draw find ways to allow the process affect both their logic and their creative thinking. Students MUST include a written explanation of their letters/word art.

Our discussion of flummox mostly focuses on the word "informal," which is included in most definitions I find of the word. We discuss what that means, and why it's important to see it before you start creating a context in which to use your word. I say, "In a conversation with the president or the principal, flummox might not be your best choice. When hanging out with family and friends for game night, well, that's most likely a perfect context to use that word."

In partners, I have students brainstorm situations or people where using the word flummox would and would not be appropriate.

My current collection of vocabulary-inspired mentor texts:

The Word Collector
by Peter H. Reynolds

The Boy Who Loved Words
by Roni Schotter

Boris Ate a Thesaurus
by Neil Steven Klayman

The Word Collector
by Sonja Wimmer

The Very Inappropriate Word
by Jim Tobin

Fancy Nancy
by Jane O'Connor

Max's Words
by Katie Banks

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet

by Devin Scillian

Thesaurus Rex
by Laya Steinberg

Noah Webster & His Words
by Jeri Chase Ferris

Day 4, week 1, week 4: The fourth word for week one is alacrity, which is what a person shows who is all ready to jump out of their seat and help anyone out. I'll bet you have students who show alacrity, which I celebrate, and I eventually give them the fancier adjective version of the word: alacritous.

The writing activity that I did to show my impression of the word alacrity is the "Vocabulary Words as Phone Apps" writing task that can be found at this website: Vocabulary Phone Apps. I do NOT teach this writing activity to my students on this day; rather, I let them know it's one that they will be allowed to use in the future; they'll be allowed after they all show me they have become good at "vocabulary collecting" for Vocabulary Workshop.

Instead, I have the students work with partners to create a personified, three- or four-sentence description based on the word alacrity. Al, as you might expect, is a common named used by students in this personification.

I end the fourth class session, just as I end the previous three...with this challenge: "Don't be reckless with this new word, but try to find a genuine place to use this word today in a conversation."


Four new 25-cent words for Week 2: For the second week, I have four additional words from one of my summer reads--Mr. Mercedes; when I model, I try to show that I find--at least--eight words per novel I am reading. If I can't find eight in a novel, I usually conclude the book was too easy a read for me. This helps my students understand that one of the criteria I use when choosing a new book is I want an author who intrigues me with interesting word choices. Most appropriate-leveled books give student way more than eight vocabulary options per book.

During the second week, I purposely use my online vocabulary collecting form, which allows me and the the students to type the writing, and they can utilize clip art with the online form; however, you'll notice I still hand-wrote in three of the four boxes because I have students who do that too. I also have a lot of students who type in their words and definitions but still hand-write in the boxes, and that is fine with me as long as they are attempting to be legible.

During week #2, I also casually announce for the first time, "By the way, I'm collecting the words for the whole class for the first month of school. Once the second month starts, I'll be passing that responsibility to you all, so pay attention to how I do things this month. You'll be expected to teach your words to your classmates as interestingly as I do!"

Day 1, week 2, word 1: The first word is insouciant, which describes someone/thing that doesn't seem overly concerned with whatever situation they/it find themselves in. I included in my paraphrased definition exactly how the author used it because it stuck with me when I read it. King wrote a sentence where he described someone raising an "insouciant eyebrow" as they listened to another character, and I thought, "Cool use of a word I should probably use more!" and that counts as a criteria for selecting 25-cent words for collecting for Vocabulary workshop. I again remind students how I spelled the word correctly, identified it by part of speech correctly, and I paraphrased a definition after looking up--at least--three other definitions.

The writing activity I completed for this word was what we call a "Mr. Stick Cartoon." It's an option that requires the following: 1) a context/situation to put/draw Mr. Stick in where the word could be used logically; 2) a caption that uses the vocabulary word correctly OR 3) a dialogue bubble that uses the vocabulary word correctly. Regardless of where they use the vocabulary word, the cartoon must contain both a caption and a dialogue bubble, and they must attempt to amuse me with their use of Mr. Stick in a contextual cartoon. You can visit our Mr. Stick resource page for ideas on introducing Mr. Stick to your classroom as a "margin mascot" and vocabulary helper. Trust me...he's fun!

With this vocabulary word, I give partners this challenge: "Think of three different contexts/situations where someone/thing might be insouciant and ask, 'What would my Mr. Stick cartoon contain if I was to try and create an original Mr. Stick cartoon with the same word?' Give partners each time to make a sketch individually and share it with one other. During sharing, students should laugh and smile at their attempts at using Mr. Stick; one of his paramount purposes in my classroom is that he encourages sharing and builds community.

Day 2, week 2, word 2: The second word with this second set of words is jocose, which is a word that describes someone/thing that is showing humor or playfulness, and one would use the word in more formal settings than in informal settings. We discuss what that means, and then I explain why I chose the writing task I did for this word. Whenever I have a good six- or eight-letter vocabulary word, I consider our classroom's "Acrostic Antonym/Synonym Phrase Poems" as my writing task. With jocose, I created such a "phrase poem."

The reason I like to choose the words with even numbers of letters is this: the goal of the "Acrostic Antonym/Synonym Phrase Poem" is to create an equal amount of synonyms and antonyms from the initial letters of the vocabulary word. When the student is presenting one of these "phrase poems" to a partner on Vocabulary Workshop day, the partner's job is to correctly identify whether the phrase is a synonym or an antonym; the writer of the poem knows so the audience has to guess based on good listening skills.

There are a variety of ways these poems can be structured, and doing it with questions as I did with jocose is just one technique I show to my students early on in the modeling of Vocabulary Workshop.

Try it. Click on the word jocose here. Which of my six questions would be considered synonymous with jocose, and which would be antonymous? I didn't leave an answer key for fellow teachers, but I'll bet you can figure it out. And please note what happened when you interacted with my "acrostic riddle." You learned a bit more about a new word by having to think about it in different contexts! And when a student writer creates his/her own context(s) for a vocabulary word, the student is having a meaningful experience with the word. Without meaningful experiences with vocabulary words, they don't stick to our memory. The words we write about and teach each other on Vocabulary Workshop day are the words we not only remember the longest but also continue to use in our writing and discussing.

Challenge your students, working with a partner, to change two of the six phrases in the example poem. Let students decide which two they can create a brand new context for jocose in. Have them share whole class or with another partner.

Day 3, week 2, word 3: The third word with this set of words is asperity, which is a word that's synonymous with someone's harsh attitude or harsh tone, and it's a noun, not an adjective. So...you would show asperity, but you wouldn't make an asperity display. Students have a hard time using 25-cent nouns correctly often, so you need to be there to help them.

For this word, I completed our classroom's"Original Metaphor/Symbol" activity, which requires two things: 1) the creation and representation of an original metaphor or symbol that stands for the word's meaning. No cliches! No predictable choices! You can't use a rose to symbolize love (or ardor), and you can't use an owl to represent wisdom (or sagacity), because those are not very original metaphors or symbols; 2) there must also be a three- to four-sentence explanation of why the metaphor symbol was ultimately chosen.

I ask students, in partnerships, to brainstorm and be prepared to share three or four original and different symbols for the word asperity that could have been used instead of a drill sergeant. If we have time, we share whole class; otherwise, they share with another partner group.

By the way, on my original for this sheet, I once again misspelled the word sergeant, and I had to fix it by covering it with a blank mailing sticker that I trimmed and wrote the correct spelling on top of. I show this on my model because I explain that what they bring on Vocabulary Workshop day needs to be as perfect as possible. Vocabulary Workshop is a commitment.

I, as usual, end class by challenging my students to find an appropriate way to use the word asperity in any of their classes today and to report back the next day.

Day 4, week 2, word 4: The fourth word with this second set of words is ostentatiously, which means to do something in a way that shows one wants attention, especially if that attention is based on one's appearance. Male birds are often ostentatious, but so are glamorously dressed and tuxedo-ed movie stars on red carpets.

This word's writing task is one of my favorites: vocabulary haiku. The rules of writing a vocabulary haiku are as follows: 1) the haiku must be seventeen syllables and three lines (though I do have a differentiated seventeen word/three line version I use with younger students!); 2) the haiku must focus on some aspect of nature or the natural world; and 3) the vocabulary word must appear in the haiku. Basically, a student has to ask, "What in nature can I apply this new vocabulary word to?" The student has to create a specific type of context for this writing task, and they have very few words to say something interesting, which should be the ultimate goal of all writing assignments. Vocabulary haikus are actually tougher to write than they appear.

To write my haiku, I thought back on our trip to the coast last year, where we saw the male elephant seals along the Pacific all trying to out-do each other on the beach where they lounged in the sun. I labeled my haiku's syllables (5, 7, 5) and ask the students to check my work in each line. I'm sure I'll have to explain how Mrs. Stick in the background is representing the character I remember in the first Rocky movie that had a poster announcing each successive round in the final boxing match. Mr. Stick doesn't have to be drawn well--explaining it to your audience only increases the conversation about the word that's been chosen.

My students all notice, of course, how the vocabulary word takes an entire line because it's five syllables on its own. That often happens with vocabulary haikus. I teach the students the word ostentatious too, and explain that it's always acceptable to use another form of the word when you're writing a haiku--if another form exists. Good dictionaries tell you if they exist!

"Who can spot someone or something outside of school today that is being ostentatious today?" I ask as the class ends.


Four new 25-cent words for Week 3: For the third week, I share four more words from a mini-series we watched over the summer of 2018: The People Versus OJ Simpson from the FX Channel. I'm trying something new this year; I know my students watch informative television at home, and I know a lot of informative television uses great vocabulary words. I'm making the deal with my students that, if they bring a note from their parents that says they watched the show with the closed captioning turned on, I will allow them to find words for our Vocabulary Workshop from that kind off source. Please note: we do vocabulary with each of my novels and poems and short stories I teach, so I am not dumbing down my curriculum by allowing them to watch tv for their words; I want my Vocabulary Workshop to teach them to be lifelong vocabulary collectors, and I feel I am setting them up for better listening skills by allowing this new source.

During the third week, I once again use my online vocabulary collecting form, which allows the students to type their writing, and they can utilize clip art; however, I still hand-wrote in three of the four boxes. I have a lot of students who type in all their words and definitions but still hand-write in the boxes, and that is fine with me as long as they are attempting to be legible.

During week #3, I also casually announce for the first time, "By the way, I'm collecting the words for the whole class for the first month of school. Once the second month starts, I'll be passing that responsibility to you all, so pay attention to how I do things this week and next. You'll be expected to teach your words to your classmates as interestingly as I do in a few weeks!"

Days 1 and 2, week 3, words 1 and 2: In the past year, I've had two or three instances where I find two words in the same week that are almost synonyms of each other. At first, my instinct was to choose the better of the two words and only use it, but then I thought, "Why not learn them both, and learn a way to remember any subtle differences between them at the same time?"

That happened while I was collecting these particular four words over the summer. I found the words specious and spurious in the same week, and discovered how similar they were in meaning. I was determined to not only learn them both but to try and find a way to remember the difference between when to use one over the other.

On day 1, I introduce them to just specious, which I put into a showing sentence for this model. A showing sentence is a compound or complex sentence that contains the following three things: 1) the vocabulary word used correctly in an interesting and accurate context, 2) three underlined action verbs, and 3) a visual that connects the sentence to the word's meaning somehow.

Students work with a partner to create a showing sentence that uses the word specious in a different context and with different action verbs.

On day 2, we focus on spurious as our word of the day, which means almost the same thing as specious from the day before. I explain how I purposely chose two great words that mean similar things because I wanted to challenge myself to find a way to remember the difference between the two. I did just that, as I will explain here.

First, for the writing task, I used another Synonym/Antonym Acronym Riddle. With this one, I used both single words and phrases to create my riddle, which still requires my audience to determine if each acrostic line is serving as an antonym or a synonym. On these acrostics, students are NOT allowed to copy down words or phrases they can't explain back to me, which sometimes happens when they try to write these using just a thesaurus sometimes. Please note that all my acrostic's single-word lines are--with the exception of specious--words a student should be able to explain without needing a dictionary--or 10-cent words.

I created the following mnemonic device for remembering the difference between using the two, which I next share with the students. I say, "Specious is focused on something's attractive qualities to make you overlook the truth or what might actually be there, and spurious can be applied to any untrue-but-believable-sounding statement or argument, I created a mnemonic to help me remember which of the two words is about 'attractiveness.' First, I placed a very attractive piece of handwriting above my showing sentence about specious, and that will serve as a visual mnemonic device when I glance at this sheet any time in the future. In addition, by my way of thinking, I don't think the spurs that cowboys wear are very attractive. I'm sure I'll get arguments on that, but spurs seem utilitarian to me, and I picture them covered with fur and rodeo residue, so in my mnemonic device, they are NOT attractive; thinking like that, I can help myself remember that the word with spur in it is not the word that means cover up the truth by being attractive.

Day 3, week 3, word 3: When I heard and spotted the word disingenuous in closed captioning, I said to myself, "I know what that means, but there's a good word I do not use enough." I let the students know it's okay to choose a word for Vocabulary Workshop you've seen before but freely admit you don't use enough. By putting this word into my own vocabulary collection, I am saying, "I am committed to using this word more this year so that it becomes a part of my regular vocabulary."

You'll recognize the writing task here, I hope: a vocabulary haiku with seventeen syllables that figures out how to use the word in reference to something from the natural world. I liked this haiku because it was based on a true story. A few springs back, we had an early warming period that made everything bloom, and then it all froze, and to call it a disingenuous spring just sounds really smart--almost poetic--by my way of thinking.

Once again, we brainstorm other instances in nature where something might be disingenuous and create a 17-syllable haiku if there is time with our partners.

Please note. My students ultimately have over ten writing tasks they can choose from when they are collecting their words for the next Vocabulary Workshop, but with every four words, the four activities must be different. I re-used Vocabulary Haiku here because I hadn't used it yet this week, even though I used it during the previous week.

As usual, students are challenged to find a way to use disingenuous in a conversation between now and our next class meeting.

Day 4, week 3, word 4: For my fourth word this week, I created a computer-generated Mr. Stick cartoon, which my students enjoy doing when they are using the online vocabulary collecting form. The word I had collected was paramount, which describes something that is more important than anything else. I found a Mr. Stick clip art of a hiker, and I thought how sometimes a hiker's most important accomplishment of his day is to get to the top of the mountain...or maybe even a pair of mountains, which made my brain start playing with the words that became my Mr. Stick cartoon's caption.

I do plan to ask my students, "What's the one thing I forgot to do with this Mr. Stick cartoon?" The answer is that I should have included BOTH a caption and a dialogue bubble, but if this had been a student submission, I would have probably overlooked that because the caption did something clever with words and showed clever thinking.

We end the day creating, with partners, lists of three things, asking, "Which is the paramount example?" So...for example...Spiderman, Batman, or Iron Man, who is the paramount superhero? Food, shelter, or water, which is the paramount need if you want to survive in the wilderness? Dumbledore, Ron, or Hermione, who is the paramount friend to Harry Potter? I challenge them to find a way to use paramount in one of their other classes that day and to share how they did it at our next class meeting.


Four new 25-cent words for Week 4: Here is my final teacher model that I will use to introduce Vocabulary Workshop to my students. Two weeks after week #4, my students will each be bringing in four of their own vocabulary words they have found. We will have practiced with four of the writing tasks several more times so that each feels confident to create their first vocabulary haiku and their first vocabulary showing sentence. Every other week, each student brings four more words, and by the end of the year, the students have mastered the writing tasks and begun creating their own. Creating Word Art and Vocabulary Phone Apps are the kind of ideas my students from the past have come up with on their own.

During the fourth week, I once again use my online vocabulary collecting form, and I purposely set it up like I receive many from my students. For some reason, students find time to type three of their four activities quite often, then have to print it off and do the fourth activity by hand in class, often moments before it's due to me, I've discovered. I point this out to my students, and I always say, "If I receive one like this from you, guess which word I'm going to grade the hardest? The one you procrastinated on or the one you found time to make sure it was done well?"

The source of my words for this final set is one of my wife's favorite shows that uses good vocabulary: "Mysteries at the Museum" on the Travel Channel. I plan to send home a suggested list of good, non-fiction shows my students can find their vocabulary words from, and this show will be on the list.

Day 1, week 4, word 1: I chose the word befuddle as my first vocabulary word for the week to teach my students. We will do a review of writing a definition in your own words with this word. Have students read the definition I have included and decide if it makes sense. Ask, "How would you put it in your own words in a different way?"

You'll no doubt recognize that I've used a vocabulary haiku again, and I decided the animal from nature that would be very befuddled is a loggerhead sea turtle as it hatches in dry sand and is trying to find its route to the ocean for safety. I have students double-check my syllabication for accuracy, which it is.

Finally, I have students brainstorm other instances in the natural world where something might show befuddlement that could be captured in seventeen syllables. If there is time, I have them write a different haiku for befuddle to prove to me they understand the vocabulary haiku's expectations.

Day 2, week 4, word 2: I occasionally sneak in a "bad model" to see if the students are paying attention, and I did just that for the second word this week, hurtle. On the Mysteries at the Museum episode I watched, they referred to Skylab hurtling through space. For this model, I have purposely confused the words hurtle with hurdle for my writing task, and I give the students a few minutes to see if they can spot my mistake. If they can't, I reveal it to them, and I warn them to be careful with words they choose because language is often confusing. They need to closely check the dictionary before designing any of their word tasks for Vocabulary Workshop.

The writing activity I provide shows a confused attempt at a Metaphor/Symbolic Representation of the word hurtle. I did a more correct version of this activity back in week #2 with the word asperity and my drill sergeant comparison, so if you want to remind them of that example, here it is: asperity.

Working with a partner, my students brainstorm better symbols than my confusing hurdling shoe/explanation for the word hurtle. We share five or six favorite ideas as a whole class for a new symbol for hurtle, ruling out any that might be difficult to draw or find clip art for. As a class, we vote for our favorite choice of a symbol/metaphor from our hurtle brainstorm, and each group composes a 3- to 4-sentence explanation of why their new symbol/metaphor is a good one.

Day 3, week 4, word 3: Oops, I did it again. Another mistake on my writing activity for the third word this week, gild. It's a small mistake though. Of course, when I collected this word, I had actually heard and read the word gilded when I watched Mysteries at the Museum, but I removed its -ed suffix before I looked it up because I think its important for my students to know this oft-used adjective comes from a good verb. So that part isn't the mistake.

The mistake lies simply in the fact that I created a showing sentence here, and I included three verbs as I was supposed to, but I only underlined three. The showing sentence writing task teaches them to both identify and apply action verbs, and I used three but only identified two of my verbs. This may feel like a minor mistake, and it kind of is, but I want my students to learn the writing tasks correctly from the get-go, so I make a big deal about my own petty mistake here. I ask my students to check their work carefully before turning it in. I remind them that I'll probably grade hardest the activity or two that looks like they did were finished at the last minute.

I have students brainstorm synonymous verbs and verb phrases for admired and respected here. They rework the showing sentence so that it still contains three action verbs, but they can no longer use the words admired or respected, and they can't change the intent/meaning of the original sentence. Listen for phrasal verbs like "held in high regard" and explain to students they would be allowed to use them as well as single-word synonyms.

If you want to compare this slightly flawed showing sentence for gild with a more correct one, here is the link to the one from week 3: specious. This might be a good opportunity to informally quiz your students that they understand the requirements for a Vocabulary Showing Sentence.

Day 4, week 4, word 4: My final collected vocabulary word that I model is another Antonym/Synonym Acrostic Poem based on the word squabble. A squabble could easily be synonymous with the word fight, but it's a fight with a little more expectation of a context; a squabble, and this is part of what students learn to look for when they collect their own vocabulary words, is more of a fight with an informal feel. Thinking about the "formal versus informal" context helped me shape my acrostic poem.

Show squabble to the whole class if you can, asking partners to determine which lines of the acrostic poem are synonyms and which are antonyms. Note that my writing task and expectation helps my audience learn the word too; that's the point of Vocabulary Workshop!

Remind students they have now seen three differently-styled Antonym/Synonym Acrostics: jocose, spurious, and now squabble. This is one of the writing activities a lot of students start with, so it's important they understand the requirements of the writing task. Show all three again, asking, "Which is the best of these three acrostics...and why?"


This concludes my first month's resources for modeling Vocabulary Workshop. To learn more about our Vocabulary Workshop, be sure to visit our Vocabulary Workshop Resource Page.

If your students end up creating excellent vocabulary word samples through collecting and Vocabulary Workshop this year, please post them to our posting group: http://writinglesson.ning.com/group/vocabulary-collectors Better still, if your students invent a new way to uniquely inspire writing in their writer's notebooks, I want to hear about it personally: corbett@corbettharrison.com

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This resource page features one of the freely posted ideas we share with our fellow writing teachers. We hope this page's idea inspires the establishment of a writer's notebook routine in your classroom.

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