Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison, and I have been an educator since 1990, and a teacher-trainer 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 steps of the writing process. Every year, I challenge myself to improve my writing instruction even more, and this website is where I post my most successful new ideas.

I have been on hiatus from doing out-of-state teacher trainings recently for two reasons: 1) I'm writng a book on teaching writing, and 2) I'm preparing to retire from the classroom at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

Beginning in the summer of 2019, I will be available once again to train teachers your school or district if you would like to hire me. You can find general information about my workshops here.

If you would like to verify my availability for a specific date or dates starting in June of 2019, please contact me at this e-mail address.

 

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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 things we learn 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
Decalogues -- Ten "Laws"

translating learned information into pictorial representations that come with hidden explanations beneath sticky notes or page flaps

Essential Questions/Overview/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • How can writing about information I researched in the form of "ten laws" help me summarize my research without plagiarizing it?
  • How can I write an original decalogue in my interactive notebook that "adopts the voice" of a true set of laws (like The Bill of Rights or The Ten Commandments, just two examples) that
  • 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 asssigns them an intelligent task?

What's a decalogue? The original decalogue was literally the Ten Commandments, which I believe can be mentioned in school without violating any church and state boundaries. Decalogue shares a Greek root with decade and decathalon and December, as well as a Greek root with prologue and epilogue and dialogue. When I teach Greek, Latin and other roots, I make sure I have some lesser-known words that are "etymology cousins" of the roots in question, and decalogue is a pretty good example of a lesser-known example.

Based on my own success using Barry's Lane's Top Ten List writing assignment, which can be found in two of his books--The Reviser's Toolbox and 51 Wacky We-Search Reports--I decided to create my own adaption of a top ten list, and I decided to call it the decalogue.

In my classroom, we define decalogue more by its Greek roots than its connection to certain religions. We generalize the explanation of a decalogue for our writing assignments, using this definition: "a list of ten laws/rules." If I ask my students to "write a decalogue" by themsleves or in a partnership or small group, I am asking them to apply the idea of rules or law creation to something they've recently researched. If they've research honeybees, have them write the "Ten Laws of the Hive," and each law has to related to something they found in the research. If they research potential honey extinction, have them write the "Ten Laws of Saving the Honeybee."

What makes it fun and a quality writing assigningment is, after they're composed a draft of ten laws based on research, challenge your students to (alone or with others) to change their decalogue's "voice" to a "written voice" inspired by The Bill of Rights or the Ten Commandments. Below, I share two laws from a longer lists that I wrote:

  • The honeybee congress shall enact no law that restricts the number of flowers any honeybee can visit in a day, but to be impressive, shoot for 2000 flowers a day because that's a solid number, bees. (I tried to make it sound Bill of Rights-ish)
  • If thou must use them, thou shalt apply pesticides only in the evening, when the honeybee is less likely to be active. (I tired to make it sound Commandment-ish).

Once the list of laws has been written and possibly revised for voice, the students create a final copy that will become a part of their interactive notebooks. When finalizing decalogues into their interactive notebooks, I challenge my students to add an active-listening challenge for the classmates with whom they will be sharing their writing. Create quiz questions, opinion questions (like, Which law had the best voice?), riddles, etc. that invite a reader into hearing about what you've researched as a student and the piece of writing that emerged from your efforts.

Like all my teaching techniques, my use of decalogues as a writing-based-on-research assignment has bettered over time. The first time was rough. The second time I assigned, my teaching improved because I brought new elements to the instruction, like my own teacher model of a decalogue, for example, as well as student models. I know my lessons are near being the best they can be when I incorporate a good mentor text before, during, or after the learning, so my students can have another reason to discuss a thoughtful piece of writing during their own writing process.

Below are the mentor texts I currently use to enhance my teaching of the decalogue.

Decalogue Mentor Texts: Of course, The Ten Commandments, The Bill of Rights, and any set of laws you have students read over to possibly imitate the structure or style of an actual document counts as using a mentor text. Beyond those options, I also share these three gems:

  • David Letterman's Book of Top Ten Lists by Letterman and his writing staff, when you share from this book or from YouTube videos of old shows (careful, they need to be carefully previewed, and a lot of them are getting pretty dated these days), you give permission for your students to think and write "with their sense of humor," as I call it, as they compose lists of laws. When you think to consciously make someone else smile, you are using writing for a genuine purpose, and you are thinking with a different and important part of your brain.
  • Everyone has a favorite read-aloud, and chapter 4 from Because of Winn Dixie has become one of my favorites to share with my students. A decalogue, if generally defined, can be a list of ten important items as well as a list of sacred laws. Here is a chapter in a superbly written YA novel where two characters discuss a list of "Ten ways I would be able to identify/spot my Mama if I were to see her on the street," which is a list the main character--Opal--requests from her father one night. This mentor text shows how lists can be discussed, and how I expect them to be discussed once written, because that's part of the learning process.
  • In his 51 Wacky We-Search Reports book, Barry Lane introduces a great lesson on how to inspire students to write Top Ten lists based on researched facts while working in small groups.

Mentor texts I use to teach this lesson:

David Letterman's Book of Top Ten Lists
by Letterman and his writing staff


chapter four from
Because of Winn Dixie

by Kate DiCamillo


51 Wacky We-Search Reports
by Barry Lane

Hello--we recently did some BIG changes to this original lesson. The new version with its new models will be posted soon!

Lesson under construction....

Introducing the Decalogue as a Writer's Notebook Option early on in the school year. In the first month of school as I am establishing our daily writer's notebook and sacred writing time routine, I share a lot of notebook techniques that I challenge students to try themselves. A decalogue is a list of ten laws or rules to be followed, and that can be applied to all sorts of personal contexts, like:

  • Ten rules of the car in our family

. If you have younger students, there's nothing wrong with introducing the pentalogue or the trilogue, if ten is too many items for your students to process.

A Writer's Notebook, as you know if you follow this website's philosophy, celebrates what's personally important to the student writer. If you suggest, at the start of SWT one day, that some of them try writing a list of interesting laws or rules, and if you further suggest they try to imitate the voice of the Ten Commandments or the Bill of Rights, you'll start seeing some pop up, and if they're good, share them with the whole class. A good idea, acted out in one student's notebook is easily a good idea that can be acted upon by another student in his/her own notebook.

 

Below, I share the decalogue I share with my students, and I share the techniques I use to make this lesson

Assigning a Decalogue INN Notebook Page...The Way I do it. Please remember, I post these lessons, hoping you will adapt them and not use them as a teaching script. Keep asking, "What topics and techniques would I use to make this idea work with my students?"

 

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If your students like the idea of using Decalogues or lists of laws 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 Conceptual 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.

If you're a teacher who is just getting started with classroom writer's notebooks, welcome aboard. We fund this website--Always Write--by selling just a few of our products from our Teachers Pay Teachers store. Before buying, kindly take advantage of the free preview materials we share so you know if the resources will work with your grade level and teaching style before you purchase the entire product.

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Beginner Prompts, Thoughtfully Presented:


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-- short video about SWT & Bingo Cards --

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365 Ideas for Writing/Discussing:

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For Writers Needing a Guided Challenge:

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RheTURKical Triangle -- Lesson Link

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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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