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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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I've been developing some new classroom techniques for our Interactive Non-Fiction Notebook routine. Doing so has inspired Dena and me to start our own Interactive Non-fiction Notebook (INN), which documents the things we learn about that fascinate us while serving as an example we can share with our own students. We've now been adding to it since July of 2017, and we've decided we will be sharing six of our favorite techniques between January and June as our "Lessons of the Month" in 2018. These will be shorter, more visual write-ups because I am working on a book while still managing to post these monthly lessons.

an interactive, non-fiction notebook challenge for student researchers
What's in his/her/its Bucket?

creating a fictional bucket list for a person, place, or thing after researching for unique facts, qualities, and accomplishments

Essential Questions/Overview/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • How can writing about information I researched in order to make a fictional "bucket list" help me summarize my research without plagiarizing or copying it?
  • How can I pre-plan my page of "bucket list" facts so that it has an appealing and interesting layout before I execute the actual page in my interactive non-fiction notebook?
  • For interactivity while sharing of my INN, how can I add a challenge for my fellow students that requires them to be both a good audience but assigns them an intelligent task to complete after I have shared my page with them?.

What's a Bucket List? Not trying to be morbid here, but a "bucket list" is a list of things one would like to accomplish before he/she leaves this wonderful world. Popularized by a PG-13 movie, bucket lists have become the subject of many different types of books.

When I am introducing the idea of a bucket list to the young, and I'm trying not to be morbid, I read Oh, the Places You'll Go! before I even say the phrase "Bucket List" to my writers. Below, you can find details on how I use this book by Dr. Seuss to inspire a page in my students' writer's notebooks.

A really nice book to have to display when you are introducing this technique to students is The Bucket List: 1000 Adventures Big & Small. I also use this book to help my students self-select topics they might want to research because the book is quite captivating with its pictures and its short blurbs of just-enough-text to entice a learner.

How Do I Apply the "Bucket List" to Classroom Research? I'm all about helping my students translate research into their own words. I am a firm believer that--with expository/informative and argumentative/persuasive writing assignments--we, as teachers, do NOT spend nearly enough time pre-writing. Prewriting with these two genres involves a lot of practice putting what we've learned from articles, books, websites, etc, into words and sentences that have an original feel about them. I use the Bucket List task as a way to force my students to practice putting their favorite facts into their own words.

The premise here is simple: make a bucket list from the point-of-view of a person, place, or thing from history or science that speculates on what the person, place, or thing might have wished for early on. The resulting product is a fictional bucket list that amazingly came true.

  • Researched person: If you, for example, researched Thomas Edison, you could fill in a bucket list with things like: "I wish, before I turn thirty, I will invent [fill in the blank and include additional researched details]."
  • Researched place: If you, for example, researched the City of Lights (Paris), the city's "bucket list" might contain lines like: "Someday I hope to host the [fill in the blank and include additional researched details]."
  • Researched thing: If you, for example, researched an invention or a geometric shape, the items' bucket lists could begin with words like "I hope to better the world someday by [fill in the blank and include additional researched details]."

Mentor texts I use to teach this lesson:

Oh, the Places You'll Go!
by Dr. Seuss

The Bucket List: 1000 Adventures Big & Small by Kath Stathers

First, Introduce the the "Bucket List" format as an option for the Writer's Notebook (WNB) ...The Way I do it. Please remember, I post these lessons, hoping you will adapt them and not use them as a teaching script that must be followed verbatim or anything like that. As you read, keep asking, "What topics and techniques would I use to make this idea work with my students?"

If your students are too young to learn that the expression "Kick the bucket" probably came from people who committed suicide specifically by putting their heads into nooses, standing on a upside down bucket, then kicking the bucket they stood on, then don't tell them that. I have used the euphemism, "If you live a good life, your bucket or pail will be full of amazing experiences. What amazing experiences do you hope to have to fill your bucket?"

Since we do Sacred Writing Time daily in my class every single day, I introduce the "Bucket List" idea early on when we talk about types of lists you could create in our ten allotted minutes. One list option I always suggest is the Bucket List, which can be a real or fictional list. One day, as part of a group brainstorm, I'd ask my students to decide on a type of bucket list they wouldn't mind putting in their writer's notebook. The day after we did that brainstorm, I would remind students that their bucket list ideas from the previous day would look great in their writer's notebooks, assuming they had brainstormed an idea they liked. Here are some ideas for SWT bucket lists to get brainstorms going:

  • My own personal "bucket list" of things I'd like to accomplish by age [insert number].
  • A fictional "bucket list" from one of my teacher's point-of-view.
  • A fictional "bucket list" for one of school items: backpack, binder, locker, etc.
  • A fictional "bucket list" for the classroom, which very well may end up sounding like a list of rules and expectations or philosophies.

I happen to be currently (April, 2018) maintaining my "50th Year of Life Writer's Notebook," which I started a few weeks before my fiftieth birthday this past January. While I'm having a great time capturing fun and not-so-fun memories of my 50th year in this notebook, I have purposely ended the notebook with a bucket list. I know, by the end of my fiftieth year, I will still have plenty I want to achieve with my remaining years, so my own notebook shares an "Age 51-101 Bucket List for Mr. Harrison." I share it with you below, since it's the sort of thing I certainly share with my own students before suggesting they create fictional and non-fictional bucket lists in their own writer's notebooks.

Remember, a writer's notebook is a great place for a more personalized bucket list, or one that's based on a students' true experiences. An Interactive Non-fiction Notebook is a more appropriate place for bucket lists based on class learning or research. I will show both type of bucket lists below, but I find it helpful to encourage my students to create a personalized bucket list for their WNBs before I assign them a bucket list based on non-fiction for their INNs.

My "Age 50 WNB":
My Writer's Notebook's Cover
The last page in my "Age 50 WNB":
A Personal Bucket List that Concludes my Writer's Notebook

I try to complete a writer's notebook every year, and that's fairly easy when I write with my own students once a day. The year I turned fifty deserved a special notebook. I love the quote and try to live it:

"The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it." from Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie.

At the time of scanning this page, my notebook was about 3/4's full. I decided the final page of the notebook celebrating my 50th year of life would be a personal bucket list of things I want to do sometime after I turn 51 in 2019.

I kept this as a "running list," adding to it when I thought of another good idea. You can see I have space for a few more items, which will be filled by year's end.

Assigning the "Bucket List" format for the Interactive Non-fiction Notebook (INN) -- Please remember, I post these lessons, hoping you will adapt them and not use them as a teaching script that must be followed verbatim or anything like that. As you read, keep asking, "What topics might we apply to this technique and what expectations would I change to make this idea work with my students?" By my definition, these are the elements assigned to students creating INN pages:

  • Students must find points or facts in the research that personally interest them more, and they focus on those for their INN pages. When they write out these ideas and facts, all must be in the students' own words.
  • Students must plan a layout that allows them to fit the facts and the interactive element of the page (see next bullet). As students improve at making and designing these pages, the assignment of a "theme" can be added to the INN page's requirements, and that theme should influence the layout.
  • Students will present their pages to other students, while in assigned pairs or triads. Essentially, they become "teacher" when it's their turn to share their page. Students in my class are required to include an interactive element on their pages, which simply means each page requires the audience to be actively listening because they have something to accomplish when the page has been shared. My students create quizzes, puzzles, riddles, and hidden messages on their pages, and they become very good at it by the end of the school year.

While I enjoy having my mature students think about writing "bucket lists" based on them personally, I enjoy using this writing technique more as a way to have students process research or non-fiction that they are studying for upcoming projects and papers.

Here are some samples of research-inspired bucket lists based on research:

Research-inspired Bucket Lists for Persons, Places, and Things We've Read about...

I recently taught an online class for our local university on Education methods, and John Dewey's name came up. I quickly realized it had been a long time since anyone asked me to say anything smart about John Dewey. So I reviewed what I remembered about him from college, and I imagined him, as a ten-year-old, making a bucket list.

My interactive element for this page is a vocabulary matching. Each of the four items on Dewey's Bucket List I created can be easily associated with a vocabulary word definitely talked about in most Dewey articles. As it instructs at the top of page two, the audience who listens to the student present this page needs to match the vocabulary words on the right with the idea Dewey talks about on his "bucket list." The vocabulary words can certainly be attacked for their roots and their bases, so I have good luck with this page successfully launching conversations as the students "word attack" the four words in hopes of finding a hint at what they mean. By the way, the answers for the matching activity are hidden under a non-taped-down flap at the end of each vocabulary word I printed and referred to.

I visited New York, New York, back in 2003, and my fondest memory was when a high school choral group, ahead of us in line for the Empire State Building elevator, sang "America the Beautiful in the echo-y halls of the building's art deco lobby. I chose to research this building that I had visited long ago but hope to visit again in the near future. I made a bucket list for the Empire State Building all based on facts about the building I learned.

Dena prefers to type her interactive notebook pages and tape them down, and if they can make this happen, I allow my students to do the same thing. The two pictures of Mayflies she includes here actually flip up or flip down to show more info on their backsides.

If you flip the bottom picture, a student can see the interactive instructions which asks him/her to create several humorous mayfly-related #hashtags based on the facts Dena shared on this "Bucket List for a Mayfly." If you flip the top picture, Dena has three example #hashtags to help students who may have trouble getting started with the interactive task: #MayflyLivesMatter #MoreMayflyModels and #MakesSecondsSpecial If you read over Dena's page with her, each of these hashtags not only makes sense, but they will start a conversation between students about a researched topic.




If your students like the idea of using Bucket Lists--fictional or true--to inspire writing on a notebook page, I would love to see you post a picture/scan of their writing at this posting link: Better still, if your students invent a new way to uniquely inspire writing in their writer's notebooks, we want to hear about it: corbett@corbettharrison.com


from Corbett & Dena Harrison to you...
Six Idea-Generating INN Ideas
An Interactive Non-Fiction Notebook (INN) requires students to use interesting true facts they've learned as they create a unique or thematic way to present the information to fellow students. If used well, INNs can help you up the student-centeredness of your classroom.

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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Beginner Prompts, Thoughtfully Presented:

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365 Ideas for Writing/Discussing:

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Mentor texts to inspire Vocabulary Collectors:

The Boy Who Loved Words
by Roni Schotter

Boris Ate a Thesaurus
by Neil Steven Klayman

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Primary Source Picture Books -- Lesson Link

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Notebook Mentor Texts that Inspire Student Writers:


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