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
Text Battles!

translating learned information into an imaginary text conversation between two rivals or two contemporaries

Essential Questions/Overview/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • How does designing a page of texts between two people (or places or things) I've researched affect the way I choose to compose texts for those people (or places or things)?
  • How can I showcase my skills of voice and point of view with this writing and research task?
  • How can I design an Interactive Nonfiction Notebook page that contains summarized texts AND contains an interactive element that my audience must complete after I finish sharing my INN page.?
  • How does a writer who creates an "interactive challenge" for others in his/her notebook ensure that he/she has reached the deepest levels of Bloom's taxonomy?

Three-Sentence Overview: Students reasearch two complementary or opposing topics. Students imagine the two topics they have researched have smart phones, and they create a text conversation between the two topics. The texts must show evidence of researched facts, and the two "texters" can either disagree or agree with each other as their page of texts unfolds.

What's an Interactive Non-Fiction Notebook (INN) Assignment? When we are studying a new piece of fact-driven content, I often assign my students to add one or two new pages in their Interactive Non-Fiction Notebooks. These composition books' pages are researched, planned, drafted, polished, and presented to two or three other students on a special day we set aside, and usually we can get through the process of making and sharing these in 2-3 days. I try to provide a menu of ideas for students to use when designing an interactive non-fiction notebook page (using a series of non-linguistics representation is certainly on my classroom menu of choices), but ultimately I want my students to create their own ideas for interesting ways to present information they've learned about a topic of study. We teach a lot of concept attainment in traditional schools, but I don't see enough teaching that pushes the students to a place where they are encouraged to create their own conceptual ideas, their own unique ways of presenting the information they've learned. That's what I aim for: I want my students to create their own concepts with which they can explain their learning to an audience or to me, their teacher.

When I assign an Interactive Non-fiction Notebook page, on the final copy that is actually presented in small groups and to me, I expect to find and assess the quality of the following:

  • facts that the student has decided are worth remembering have been recorded in a way that others can read them and understand them;
  • facts that are written completely in the student's own words (aka summarization);
  • personal reactions/responses/connections to content that can be pointed out and explained when the INN page is shared in a small group;
  • (required for my advanced learners) an interactive element--like a quiz, riddle, game, active listening task--the audience is made aware of so they can participate fully when the page is shared in small groups or with partners.

What I like about Non-Linguistic Representation-based pages is, if you conceal the explanations of the pictures, the page becomes a natural tool to

We don't always use our Interactive Non-Fiction Notebooks (INNs) when we learn new content, but when we do, my students know they're to do two things: 1) learn the content that truly interests them deeply; 2) reflect on that content personally to create a unique way to share what was learned on the page each student designs for the notebook.

If you need Mentor Texts to display this idea, here are three I own:

  • Scrooge: #WorstGiftEver by Dickens and Brett Wright -- If your classroom is a non-profanity zone, like my classroom is, this book (and the rest in the series) does NOT use direct profanity but it does imply at profanity with its WTFs and its counterparts. I approach this in two ways: 1) I either acknowledge that I know the initials mean something different but say in my class they will stand for what I say they stand for, if profanity might be called into question. WTF, therefore, becomes "What the frankfurter!" or something along those lines.
  • srsly Hamlet by William Shakespeare & Courtney Carbon -- My students are a bit young for exploring Hamlet's themes, but simply showing them a clean exchange between characters in text form is a perfectly valid use of a mentor text: a mentor text, after all, can inspire ideas for topics, form of writing, or writing technqiues.
  • YOLO Juliet by William Shakespeare & Brett Wright -- True story: I used to like Romeo and Juliet, but then I taught the play six years in a row. Sometimes we learn to hate good things by over-teaching them. Now any chance I have to escape the play, I take. When I came across this briefer version of the play in this series, I decided to replace my real Romeo and Juliet with this version to see if it intrigued them.

I am going to stress something here again: these books imply profane words with their texting abbreviations. If you don't know how to handle that situation with your kids, then don't use them. I make these books work as mentor texts by sharing just the previewed pages I want them to see. Please don't tell anyone I recommend bad mentor texts if you missed reading this warning.

Introducing the "Text Battle" as a writer's notebook formatting option: I believe a writer's notebook is a place to explore both the idea, the shape, and the style of writing. I have plenty of examples in my own notebooks where I have fake text battles going.

Three favorite text-inspired mentor texts

Scrooge: #WorstGiftEver
by Charles Dickens & Brett Wright


srsly Hamlet

by William Shakespeare & Courtney Carbone


YOLO Juliet

by William Shakespeare & Brett Wright

The trickiest part, I feel, when teaching this writing format is helping students create dialogue or speech bubbles that represent the texts. And doing this in a way that looks like a slight amount of care was taken by the student creating it. Even with practice, I still have trouble filling a page with just boxes for texts, so I created the following layout-plan for my students. Each student receives this printout, a piece of scrap notebook paper, and these instructions: "Replicate what you see on my handout onto your scratch paper. Let's see who can have the straighest lines without using a straight-edge."

I have included a PDF version of my handout at right. Please use freely but keep the page citation on the original when sharing with other teachers.

I know a lot of teachers use the handout at right as a rough-draft sheet, and that's fine, but here are two things I always consider:

  • In real life, would your students be handed a graphic organizer like this one to complete the task? Or...
  • More likely, in real life, would your students be asked to create their own layout and design for a task like this? I believe the latter is the right answer here.

I give my students a lot of graphic organizers early on, but I require them to replicate them on their own paper--because that's more of a life skill than sitting with your hands folded waiting for a brainstorming worksheet! I also allow them to make adaptations to the original ideas, so they begin the process of understanding how to create an original advance organizer for a lesson.

And, can I just ask all my teacher friends, "Does this worksheet make you remember Poems for Two Voices, which was a format of writing featured in Newberry medal-winning Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices?" If so, I'll bet you'll see a natural new way to have students think about pairing up and writing poems for two voices that involve texting. I especially see it working in the writer's notebook as a technique; however, your students won't have the skillsets to design such a page if you don't have them imitate a form like the one above onto their own scratch paper.

Models of "Text Exchanges" from my own Writer's Notebook

Not all kids can play the "Always ask a question" game, but for those who can, these make for good topics for Sacred Writing Time.

It doesn't take much of a leap to take this idea to the "Text battle" ideas found later on this page.

Both of these pages came about after I had created a camera phone template for my students to use to put their favorite camera pix in their notebooks to write about during SWT. I even have a video--here's the link--to show students how to input their photos into the template.

My oldest dog Bentley has gotten much older since I wrote a tribute to him through Shakespeare's voice, and I've always thought Batboy was a funny character to include in just about every notebook I have kept.

Using the "Text Battle ," as an option for the Interactive Non-fiction Notebook (INN): When we do research projects, one of the products of learning I often ask my students to complete is an Interactive Non-fiction Notebook page or two-page spread that looks like a "Text battle between your research topics" . My students who've created fake text exchanges in their writer's notebook before I introduce this idea, not surprisingly, are quite a bit better at creating text batttles in their INNs that reflect a lot of research that can be discussed, and they can serve as group leaders, if you choose to use grouping during this type of assignment.

Dena and I both found it best to make our models--a person-inspired page, a place-inspired page, and one for a thing-inspired page--when we came up with a topic that had two different topics that complemented each other. An African elephant wouldn't have a text battle with himself that was very interesting; you'd want there to be a text battle with an Indian elephant. And that requires doing two pieces of research. So I am saying this format for writing works better with some topics than others.

For the "Text Battle " for an Interactive Non-Fiction Notebook, you want the writing that ends up on the page to focus on the research the student has done on whatever topic your class/student is researching. For that reason, we made the following requirements for our students when they create the notebookpage:

  • The title needs to be identify the two topics that were researched.
  • The teacher may set any assigned number of texts to be written; I teach my students to prepare an actual rough layout on scratch paper before they put their ideas into their notebooks because I believe this teaches skills of organization that many of my students lack.
  • Each text must contain a fact found in research, and each fact must be written using the voice of the texter, not the voice of the research.
  • The students must hide an interactive message in their text battle page or their critiques so that, when they share their pages with a classmate or a small group, the group has a reason to actively listen.

Need models to understand? If so, that doesn't make you unlike your own students. That's why I show models--both mine and my own students. Below, are my models that I worked on in the summer of 2018.

Models from our Interactive Non-Fiction Notebook
Dena's model required her to research two characters of personal interest to her, Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland. Corbett's model required him to research the differences between crows and ravens. Corbett is interested in such things.

___________________________________________

If your students like the idea of using Text Battles 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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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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