Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison, and I have been an educator and a teacher-trainer since August of 1990. I specialize in teaching writing using differentiated instruction. I also focus on critical thinking techniques, especially during the pre-writing and revision steps of the writing process. Every year, I challenge myself to improve my instruction: I am curretly developing grammar and vocabulary lessons so that they're differentiated and promote deep, critical thinking skills, and I incorporate them into my classroom routines to promote a student-centered classroom environment.

The Northern Nevada district I serve has a "balanced calendar" that has me teaching from early August to early June, and during my 7 weeks of summer and during my two annual two-week breaks, I independently contract to present workshops to school districts and professional organizations around the country.

The winter and spring of 2017 are mostly booked up at this point. Beginning in mid-June, I will be available to present at summer workshops in your district or state.

You can find general information about my workshops here.

If you would like to check my availability for summer of 2017, please contact me at this e-mail address.

Always
Write

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

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Is this one of my students finding this page, or a fellow teacher? Either way, are you ready for a true writer's notebook challenge?

Below you will find a special page from my writer's notebook that I don't show everyone. I only show these to my students who are ready for a real challenge. Students, I dare you to look over the photos from my writer's notebook page below, to look over my explanation of where the idea came from, and to create your own notebook pages to rival mine. You up for the dare? You don't have to perfectly copy me, but I expect both care and color on these pages you make from these monthly challenges of mine.

A Writer's Notebook Extra Credit Challenge: Song Parodies for Familiar Tunes

Great Writer's Notebooks Use Humor and Parody! I have an author-friend--Barry Lane (we all use his books in class when designing our lessons, my students)--who travels around the county and presents to teachers. At some of his presentations, he shares some funny writing he did when he was in sixth grade, and he explains that it was writing that he didn't believe his teacher could appreciate--because the writing was meant to be funny. I think it's very sad when a student has a teacher who convinces him/her that all writing assignments for class must be serious in nature. A writer's notebook is a perfect place to be funny, as long as it's "smart funny," not "mean-to-others funny" or "too gross to share funny." Barry's sixth grade parody of Frank Sinatra's song, Strangers on the Night, is a perfect example of "smart funny."

Homework in the Night
a song parody written by amazing adult author Barry Lane (in sixth grade)

Homework in the night
we get it everyday
just homework in the night
There's no more time for play
just homework in the night
please, not another day for me.

Click here to see the entire song at Barry's website; you have to scroll down a little to find the song. Ask your parents if they know the Frank Sinatra tune well enough to help you sing it!

As a kid, inherited my two older brothers' Mad Magazine collection, and I loved to read them before I went to bed at night (when I didn't have homework, of course!). Often, Mad would feature song parodies; I loved them, but I usually had to ask my Mom to hum the original songs for me since I didn't know a lot of the songs they parodied.

As an teacher, I own and share from two favorite picture books that are full of song parodies. Take Me out of the Bathtub by Alan Katz is completely humorous and full of songs that my students love to sing out loud when I project the lyrics on the wall for them; that book was so popular that they created a sequel too! The other picture book with song parodies (as well as parodies of very famous poems) is Jon Scieszka's Science Verse. Not a singer? Science Verse comes with a CD that has all the songs being sung!

And, my final mentor text suggestion if you're introducing this lesson is Good ol' Weird Al Yankovich. Any of his songs would work, but I've always been most fond these Weird Al parodies: White and Nerdy, Eat It, and I Lost on Jeopardy.

This month, I am challenging you to create a song parody and illustrate it in your writer's notebook. In order to earn extra credit with this challenge, you must:

  1. Parody at least one verse and the chorus of the song; if the song originally had rhymes in it, your parody must have rhymes in it too.
  2. Provide your teacher with a copy of the original lyrics, if it's a song you're not sure your teacher knows. If the lyrics from the original are too explicit to show your teacher, you may not use that song.
  3. Neatly print and provide an illustration (with color!) in your notebook. See my example below to help you envision the final product.

Your song parody's topic can be anything, but I have had students in the past report that writing them about school is easier for them. For that reason, I am providing the button-pressing game below to help you explore potential topics and some song suggestions.

Mr. Harrison's Song Parody Idea Generator:

Could you sing about this topic...
 
...
(It's okay to come up with your own topic for your parody, if you're not inspired by any of ours!)

...to the following familiar tune?


(It's okay to come up with your own familiar tune here, if you're not inspired by any of ours!)

              

My Teacher Model from my own Notebook and my Writing Process

Remember, my students, the purpose of your writer's notebook: to playfully explore and examine ideas you're interested in so that you might "borrow" from your notebook for an upcoming writer's workshop. Stuff currently going in your lives or topics you are currently studying that intrigue you, these should be written about in your writer's notebook. Once an idea makes it to your notebook, you can begin thinking about what genre of paper (persuasive, expository, or narrative) you can shape it into. That said, I share my writing and thinking process as I tried to find a song to parody and a topic to explore for this notebook challenge.

My writing and thinking process: In early Spring of 2012, my oldest dog, Pudge, was diagnosed with diabetes. We thought we were going to lose him when we came home and found him in the midst of a diabetic seizure. He went blind temporarily and had to spend three (very expensive) days at the vets until they could diagnose him and lower his blood sugar levels. Based on a picture book I gave my mother one Mother's Day--31 Uses for a Mom by Harriet Zeifert--I began creating a 17 Uses for Pudge page in my notebook (click on image at right to see a much larger version of the page). During this crisis, I wanted to record some positive memories about our faithful, wonderful dog, and I was building a pretty good list over a few days, sharing ideas with my students as they came to me. Each and every item I wrote down has a story behind it, and I kept coming up with great ideas for narrative writing based on the list I'd created. You always need to think about what genre you might be able to work a notebook idea into as you build your pages. Always!

The last two "uses" I put on my notebook list were "veinless wonder" and "patient diabetes patient." While the first fifteen items were all based on stories from my past with Pudge, these final two were directly related to the present situation with his diabetes. Now I have a history with diabetes, but I don't know everything about it. I had a roommate back in my college days who had diabetes, and he taught me how to give him his insulin shots; there were days when he just couldn't give himself his own shot, and so he showed me exactly how to do it for him. Thanks to that past experience, I have had no problem giving Pudge his two daily insulin shots. What's proving very difficult for me is testing his blood sugar--also twice daily. With humans, you can prick the fingertip, and you'll easily acquire a drop of blood that's big enough to trigger the blood-sugar reading machine we now have in the house. A dog's thicker foot pads don't yield drops of blood like human fingers; with a dog, you need to find a vein on his leg.

It's been an interesting learning process finding my dog's leg veins. The first night we had him home, I had to prick the poor beast over 30 times before I found a big enough drop of blood to read his blood sugar. We've become a lot better since then, but there are still mornings we have to lancet him 5 or 6 times. His veins are old and harder to find, and they roam, which means they are never in the same place on his legs. My dog is totally being patient with us, but I know he'd be calmer if I sang to him while I looked for his veins. Pudge is calmed by music--always has been--and so I decided I would write my song parody about him so that I could sing it to him to calm him while searching for his crazy veins.

I tried "Home on the Range" as my first song, but it wasn't working; I couldn't make the lyrics I wanted work with that tune. Amazingly, when I switched to "I've Been Working on the Railroad," the song just started flowing onto the paper. It was easy to build some rhymes, and I am happy with the song. Pudge is happy too; he enjoys being sung to as I have the song memorized now. I think he especially likes hearing his name in the song.

I am now thinking about doing some further research on dogs with diabetes or on dogs and their leg anatomy and creating an expository piece of writing for our final writer's workshop this year. I hope that explaining my thinking process here--as I created two different pages about my dog and his diabetes--shows you how ideas are toyed with in your notebook so that you can find that perfect topic for yourself. If I end up writing an expository essay here, I am totally okay with the fact that my two notebook pages look nothing like an essay; they simply helped me explore some of my own thinking while I searched for the topic I needed to write.

Here is my song parody, students! Please notice that it's neat, it's illustrated and colored, and the original song has been cited. If you are doing this "Writer's Notebook Challenge of the Month," your notebook page needs to match that criteria if you're interested in earning extra credit points, or if you'd like me to post your final product here on this webpage.

 

Share Digital Photos of your own students' Sausage Sentence pages using this link.

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