WRITINGFIX Visit our "sister site" here:
WritingFix lessons--
traits and mentor texts

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 well--can be the most enjoyable part of your teaching day, we created this website to provide fun, adaptable ideas for teachers.

our "always write" homepage | our "Writing Lesson of the Month" | email me | writingfix | pinterest | facebook | teachers pay teachers | twitter | youtube | linked in  

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

Below you will find two special pages 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.

This Lesson is But One of Dozens we Share Freely Here at "Always Write."
If you like our free ideas, you'll love our Teachers Pay Teachers Top-Selling Products!
If you're starting a writer's notebook routine, be sure to consider using our 366 Sacred Writing Time slides or our Notebook Bingo Cards:

Sacred Writing Time Slides at TPT

Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards at TPT

If you're tired of reading dull chapter summaries and book reports from your students, check out our Reading Bingo Cards. Free preview available!

Reader's Notebook Bingo Cards

A Writer's NotebookSuper Challenge: 26 Super, Serendipitous Skills & Superhero Story!
Great Writer's Notebooks Allow for Students' Individual Senses of Humor to Shine! I've always loved the teacher-books written by my author-friend, Barry Lane. When Barry presents workshops, he often says, "There's not enough fun in education anymore," and I agree. One of my favorite cures to bringing more "fun" to my classroom is Barry's brilliant little book, 51 Wacky We-Search Reports: Face the Facts with Fun. Teachers, if you don't have your own copy of this book and you teach 4th-12th grade, change that fact. It's the best for-under-twenty-dollar book that I have on my bookshelf. Students honestly do have fun when they write using the unique formats suggested by Barry in this invaluable collection of lesson ideas. The math, science, and social studies teachers whom I team with all use this book for writing across the curriculum tasks, and I believe I can safely say that our students do more writing in all of their classes than all of the other teams at our middle school. We all find this book invaluable.

Hey, my students, if you look closely at the cover of the Wacky We-Search book pictured at left (click here for a close-up version of the book's cover), in the bottom center you'll see a picture of a dolphin in a suit who is serving as a newscaster. If you come into my room and look at the bookshelf closest to my desk in my classroom, you'll see an 8" x 11" framed version of this small illustration from the cover. The book's author gave that original piece of cover art to me as a gift after he and I did some work together a few years back. It's pretty cool to know and work with real authors sometimes.

I also have some other favorite fun and humor-inducing authors whose books I bring out to inspire funnier thinking from my students. One of my favorites is Dav Pilkey, who wrote Dogzilla, one of my personal favorites of all time. He also wrote the Captain Underpants series, which my nephews love, and which I wish I'd had to read when I was in elementary school. It is the first Captain Underpants book that originally inspired the lesson on this page.

Besides "fun," another of my favorite tools for helping students enjoy what they are choosing to write about is the word serendipity, which refers to original ideas that occur based on chance or randomness. A long time ago, inspired by Captain Underpants, I created a "Serendipitous Superhero Creator" for the WritingFix website, which allowed you to press two-random buttons to see if you could create a completely original power/trait for a superhero to have. Below, you can find the button-pressing game I created when I was first learning about writing web code back in the day. Experience what I mean by serendipity by clicking each button until two random ideas (one from the left, one from the right) come together to spark an original idea in your creative brain.

Mr. Harrison's Superhero Serendipity Game!
Keep pressing the two buttons below until you create an idea for a unique superhero power/attribute that you really like!



Important: You may use no more than four ideas from this button-pressing game when you create your alpha-list of superhero powers for this Writer's Notebook Challenge. I expect originality from you, students of mine!

Back to the top of the page

Part one of this two-part Extra Credit Notebook Challenge:
This Notebook Challenge actually has two parts; you can simply do the first part, if you'd like, but doing the second part will give you even more extra credit points...plus a possible topic for an upcoming writer's workshop!

Because I know you'll ask...I'll give five extra credit points for doing just part one of this task, but if you do part two as well, I'll boost it up to fifteen extra credit points. Trust me, guys, that's an awesome deal! However, I am seeking high-quality pages from your notebooks, which means you need to have--in addition to thoughtful and unique ideas--the following represented on your page:

Part one of this task is to, based on my example notebook page (pictured below; click on it to see a larger version of the page), you need to create a page that will eventually hold twenty-six creative, interesting skills an original superhero might have. For my notebook, I made a column (with thirteen rows) on the left-hand side of my page, and did the same on the right side. I left enough room in between the columns to eventually be able to draw (in Mr. Stick style) my superhero.

It actually took me several days of brainstorming to come up with my entire list of 26 interesting, unique skills. I also wrote my initial alpha-box ideas in pencil first, which I was glad I did because I ended up thinking of even better ideas to complete this alpha-list. Bless my eraser!

Once I had twenty-six ideas down, I played my own little serendipity game. I studied my list of thirteen superpowers on the right, and chose my favorite, then I did the same with the column on the right. "By bringing those two random powers together," I then asked my own brain, "have I created an original superhero?"

A suggested layout to show your students:
My Unique Superhero Page:
Save enough middle space for a picture and name for your finalized superhero!
My finished notebook page for part one of this task is at left; click directly on it to see it in a larger, more readable format. If you want to access the REALLY big version of the file, which allows you to truly zoom in on any details, click here.

Again, my goal was to come up with twenty-six unique, creative ideas so that--upon studying my own finalized list carefully--I could find two perfect skills/traits that fit together. I am a true believer that poor writers, if faced with this challenge, would come up with two ideas and be satisfied; great writers, on the other hand, recognize the value of having multiple ideas brainstormed ahead of time so that the perfect one or two or three ideas can come together, and the remaining ideas can be saved for a future "rainy day."

Now, I always give credit where credit is due. The idea of creating a unique superhero for this page in my writer's notebook was my idea, but I probably wouldn't have done it in "alpha-box" style if I hadn't been first inspired by a really fun alphabet book by Bob McLeod: SuperHero ABC. I mean, they have alphabet books on pretty much every subject out there, but this is the first one I've seen on the topic of superheroes. It felt like a sensible route to pursue as I decided what structure this brainstorm should take for my notebook.

I decided of all of my superhero traits I came up with, the two that I ended up linking the most as a "partnership of super skills" were 1) electric fingers and 2) time traveler (which I accidentally spelled wrong; I always want to double the l's on that word!). When I brought these two random ideas together, I pictured an ordinary guy who, after being hit by lightning while reading his middle school history book, can suddenly transport himself backwards in time by pointing his electric fingers at the appropriate chapter in his history book. And so...Electric Dave (or "ED," for short) was created in my insane wrriter's brain. I drew my best "Mr. Stick" representation of him, colored it, and successfully completed part one of this notebook challenge.

It occurred to me, seeing those twenty-four remaining super-skills from my alpha-list, that I now had the ability to provide for Electric Dave a unique sidekick or a nemesis (arch-villain) by applying the unused powers from this original list of mine to another character. So...I'm picturing ED's arch nemesis--I haven't thought of a name for him yet--as another time-traveler, just an evil one, who has an iguana tongue and oscillating eyebrows. It was this thinking that led me to create part-two of this notebook lesson.

Back to the top of the page

Part two of this two-part Extra Credit Notebook Challenge:
All right, my creative thinkers, you have choices for this additional page based on your original superhero in your writer's notebooks. Read the following choices over carefully.

First, I want to give you a choice of what kind of superhero story you might compose here. Whichever way you go, keep asking yourself, "Is this story going to be worth using as a rough draft for our next writer's workshop?" I want you to write something you can have fun with and that can help you put a new narrative in your writing portfolio.

With superheroes, I find that there are some typical stories they all eventually need:

  1. How did your superhero gain his/her extraordinary powers in the first place? This is called an "origin story," and every superhero has one.
  2. What would be the very first adventure your superhero experiences? It's fun to write about someone with a power just making discoveries about that power.
  3. How would a major fight with a villain go down? In video games, they call these the "boss fights," so write about one your character's "boss fights."
  4. Or...? C'mon, you just created an original superhero. What story do you think would be fun to tell as a narrative piece of writing?

And let's talk about formatting choices for the additional page you'll add to your notebook, if you take me up on this challenge. I'll let you do one of three things here to earn credit for this task:

  1. You can create a storyboard or comic-book style telling of the tale you came up with. I don't want it to be a "silent storyboard," which means only pictures, no words. You need to use a healthy mixture of words and pictures for this second page about your hero.
  2. Using paragraphs, you can simply write out the story as long as you--before doing any writing--create a 3" x 3" empty square box somewhere on the page. When you have written, at least, a page that tells your superhero's story, you can use the empty box to house your Mr. Stick illustration that must accompany the writing. I wanna see some superhero sticks here, folks!
  3. Or...you can do a combination of these two previous suggestions. The top half of your page could be a three-panel (or more) comic strip with minimal words, like dialogue bubbles or quick blurbs of information; the bottom half could be where you explain the story from your drawings using words/paragraphs. This is the option I decided to go with, as you can see from my picture at right.

Back to the top of the page

Original Superheroes from my own Students' Notebooks

7th grader Brooke created a superhero that looks a lot like she does!

6th grader Ryan had fun with the vocab word prehensile with his superhero.

Share your own students' notebook pages...or your own teacher model: I absolutely know for a fact that I have a dozen or more students who will love this challenge and take me up on it. Soon, their work will be posted on this page too. If your students (or you) create a notebook page inspired by this idea, I invite you to share it back with me using this posting page. Lots of teachers from around the world access and use these lessons of mine, and your students' work has the potential of being seen by thousands of educators and their tens-of-thousands of students. The potential of having a real-world audience like that, I find, is a great way to motivate students to do their best work on tasks like this.

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

Return to the Top of the Page