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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  

resources from one of my favorite teacher-workshops: Writing Across the Curriculum & Exit Tickets

My license tells me I am a language arts and computer teacher, but I purposely identify myself as a writing teacher and a critical thinking teacher when I am asked. Secondary teachers identify themselves by their content specialty--math, science, language arts, history, health, P.E., etc.--but I try not to do that anymore. I think every teachers' job is to know their content and to teach critical thinking skills about that content. After presenting my Writing Across the Curriculum and Exit Ticket Workshop, I challenge teachers to somehow add critical thinking teacher to their job title.

Here's a little secret about writing, if you want to know why every teacher should explicitly teach it as a skill to their students: it's the best evidence of critical thinking that you'll ever receive from them.

Worksheets and those questions at the end of the chapter require almost no critical thinking; they simply ask students to locate information, copy it down, and promptly forget the information. Let's just admit to ourselves that these are short-term memory, regurgitation tools, and they've remained popular because they keep kids busy and relatively quiet.

And when we assign reports and projects but do not explicitly teach our students to summarize (instead of copy) information from sources, then we're doing little more than teaching skills that will someday become plagiarizing.

My Writing Across the Curriculum and Exit Ticket Workshop demonstrates what critical thinking looks and sounds like when writing is used well in all content areas. My workshop provides lesson-building tools and instructional formats that help even the most-resistant-to-writing teacher see the value in teaching students to write as a way to show that learning has occurred. We learn to design instruction where students write but cannot plagiarize.

I am so very passionate that every teacher should be using writing as a thinking tool. In order for that to happen, writing strategies must be explicitly taught in every classroom. On this page, I freely share a few of the resources from my one-day and two-day versions of this popular workshop.

Can't attend my Writing Across the Curriculum Workshop?

I recently began selling my presentation materials on Teachers Pay Teachers. Visit my TPT Store to see all of our products (with free previews) or visit this page to purchase materials from one of my WAC workshops.

Looking for a trainer for your school or district?

Between June and August, and during Fall and Spring Breaks, I am available for hire for two- and three-day workshops outside of Northern Nevada. Click here for details about bringing me to your district.

Writer's Notebook Challenges that Strategically Promote Writing Across the Curriculum
Each of our 10 Monthly Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards comes with a "center-square" lesson that purposely have students explore Writing Across the Curriculum topics. I find using these lessons both encourages and reminds my students that they can write about any topic in my Language Arts class, including topics from science, history, math, and their electives. Here is complimentary access to two of my favorite center-square lessons from the Bingo Cards:

Start & Stop Poetry
(notebook sample from 8th grader--Brooke)

This free-verse format for poetry can be taught by any teacher, especially by showing great examples, which you will find if you click on the lesson link.

Important Book-inpsired Passages
(notebook sample from 7th grader--Eric)

The Important Book--which is one of my Exit Ticket formats, by the way--has a structure and a format that can easily be impersonated by any teacher, not just English teachers!


You Can Purchase My Training Materials at Teachers Pay Teachers

7 Elements of a Differentiated Writing Lesson

The two hardest educational topics I ever took on as professional development goals? Writing and Differentiating Instruction. The materials from this two-day training allow teachers to set professional, long-term goals around these two important topics. The link above will allow you to purchase the materials as well as freely preview them.

Critical Trait Thinking for Pre-Writing & Revision

A lot of writing teachers jump from the application level of Bloom's taxonomy straight to the create level, skipping two important steps: analysis and evaluation. This workshop's tools for pre-writing, peer response, and revision (including our famous sticky note templates with traits language) helps develop students who can intelligently analyze and evaluate writing skills.

Exit Tickets Across the Curriculum

Common Core and state standards are pushing for more Writing Across the Curriculum in schools, and I developed this half-day workshop both to introduce a manageable WAC technique that honors multiple learning styles and to showcase several other entry points that will help even the most resistant teachers find value in using writing as a formative assessment measure.

You can save $7.50 if you purchase all three of the above-mentioned workshop materials together. Use this link to get the special price.

The Best Mentor Texts for Encouraging Whole School W.A.C.

51 Wacky We-Search Reports by Barry Lane

In 2006, as Director of the Northern Nevada Writing Project, I secured a grant that allowed us to put this Barry Lane book into the hands of 200+ Northern Nevada teachers if they particpated in a 15-hour inservice we based on the book's content. We successfully helped K-12 teachers implement more WAC into their curriculum. Click here to access the resource page at WritingFix we built to be used by our class participants.

The Going Deep with Compare and Contrast Thinking Guide by the NNWP

We (the NNWP) put this guide out in 2008, and its focus--comparative thinking in writing--is still highly relevant in the world of educational research.

A Sampling of Resources from this 1-Day Workshop:
provided to give you a glimpse of what we learn about in this professional development experience
I. Remembering Traditional Writing Across the Curriculum Experiences from our own School Days

I suspect every teacher knows what it's like to receive writing from a student that feels--maybe not plagiarized--but certainly regurgitated.

In fourth grade, my teacher--Mr. Borilla (pictured at right)--assigned us a two-page report on a president of our choice. Two pages and an original drawing...that was his assignment.

Mr. Borilla wheeled in a cart of encyclopedias from the school library and told us to write about what we learned while reading from them. Now, I was one of Mr. Borilla's best creative writers, but this writing task confounded me; I didn't know how to do it. I ended up with a report of piece-mealed, mostly copied sentences from the encyclopedia's voiceless article about Thomas Jefferson.

To this day, I am sure the only fact about Thomas Jefferson I retained from that two-week project in fourth grade was that T. J. was the first president who actually lived in what's now known as the modern day White House. Why is that the one fact you remember? you would be wise to ask. Well, it's because that was what I drew a picture of for my required illustration for the report.

Basically, I ended up with an illustration and two pages of copied writing that taught me almost nothing about my topic. Amazingly, I earned a B on that report. Mr. Borilla told me my handwriting should have been neater, and that I might have used a ruler when drawing my picture of Mr. Jefferson watering tulips in front of his columned white house.

Here's the truth: Mr. Borilla was actually the best teacher I ever had (click here to see my on-line dedication to him), but his president report-writing unit needed some serious revision. Mr. Borilla did what a lot of teachers did back then, and still do (to some degree) today; he assigned us to do summary writing without ever showing us how to summarize research.

Assigning a written product (like a report) without first teaching a writing skill (like putting research into your own words) is just not a valuable writing across the curriculum lesson.

At this point in my workshop, I ask teachers to share a memory of a time they were assigned to write a product but weren't taught enough skills to do the writing well. Over the years, I've heard about many plagiarized reports that many teachers wrote when they were school kids. Not because they were bad students, but because they were never explicitly taught to summarize.

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II. Comparing Traditional and Not-So-Traditional Report Writing

I hand out these three pieces of writing early on my training. This handout includes a fourth grader's paragraph about bats, a fifth grader's report on Argentina, and an explanation of the Big Bang Theory from a sixth grader.

I ask the teachers, "Which student has learned the most about the content?" And "Which student demonstrates the best skills as a writer?"

There's always some debate about which student--Dante or Wittekin--has learned the most about content and demonstrates strong writing. There's never a question about which student has learned the least. That fifth grade report (by Dena) is actually my wife's fifth grade report, which always makes everyone laugh that I have such a things and show it off! To assure my participants this wasn't her best piece of writing from school, Dena demands that I show her 6th grade prize-winning poem, Summertime Magic. Dena is another great example of a now-teacher who was a plagiarizing then-student simply because she received no explicit instruction. She was assigned writing, but she wasn't taught the skills she needed to create an expository report. And her poem is proof that she was a student who liked to write, so I have to believe a simple mini-lesson or two on summarizing would have helped her produce a piece of quality writing about Argentina. By the way, she remembers nothing about the country of Argentina from her report except what the flag looks like, and yes, she was assigned to have an originally drawn picture of the country's flag in her report.

Looking again at the three examples, I ask, "Which type of writing would you prefer to receive from your students?" And "Which type of writing would be the most enjoyable to assess?" The discussion that follows sets the stage for the rest of my workshop, whose goal is to show that writing across the curriculum assignments can be both creative and useful.

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III. Exploring Creativity and Writing Across the Curriculum Lessons

I believe report-writing is important. Students absolutely do need to learn to write formal reports in school, but the best writing across the curriculum lessons are much smaller than a formal report...and they can be very creative in nature.

Barry Lane's awesome book, 51 Wacky We-Search Reports: Face the Facts with Fun, taught me so much about adding fun to my W.A.C. assignments and mini-lessons. When I teach this workshop in Northern Nevada, I always ask for a budget so that I can purchase this book for the class's participants. If you are bringing me to your district to present this workshop, you should consider purchasing this book for your participants too; it's cheap and it's eye-opening to teachers from all content areas. Barry gave us permission to post four of the fifty-one "report ideas" on our Writing Across the Curriulum page at WritingFix.

At WritingFix, Barry has allowed us to share four of the book's fifty-one ideas. Click here to access the page where those free samples are stored.

Barry's book taught me to think outside of the box when designing writing lessons. It had never occurred to me that a recipe could be a writing assignment...or a wanted poster...or a report card...or an imaginary photo album.

To prove that anything with writing on it can convey learned information, I have my teachers read "Ordeal by Cheque." I remember reading this unusual "short story" in a college methods class and had forgotten about it completely until I started using 51 Wacky We Search Reports; it's can be found in many places on-line. The teachers completely enjoy deciphering this story together. Inevitably the teachers in my workshop ask, "So did the story (from 'Ordeal by Cheque') ever get written down in a way so that we'd know what happened for sure what happened to the characters?"

When they ask this, I respond with, "Sometimes school isn't about having the right answer; sometimes it's about having a good group conversation that explores many interesting possibilities." The word research is purposely written as we-search on Barry's book; good writing instruction goes hand-in-hand with quality group discussion prompts.

One of my workshop participants--elementary teacher Kathy McCormick--saw so much possibility in the "Ordeal By Cheque" format, that she translated it into a writing assignment, which you can access by clicking here. Kathy designed the assignment to be an alternative to the traditional "What I did over summer vacation" assignment.

"Ordeal by Cheque" inspired a Writing Lesson of the Month from me a few years back.
Epistolary Narratives

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IV. Inspiring Original Wacky We-Search Formats

Near my desk hangs a poster that a colleague bought me when she learned that I was a huge fan of "The Simpsons." Each episode of the show, as you may or may not know, begins with a scene of Bart writing (and re-writing) an "I will not..." statement on the chalkboard about some rule he has obviously broken at school. Each episode begins with a new "I will not..." statement, so you always make sure you watch the opening carefully. The poster I have is a collection of some of Bart's funniest ones from over the years.

As I personally explored the idea that anything might become a creative and useful writing assignment, I kept looking at this poster. An original idea hatched, and I found myself creating an original Wacky We-Search Report. Barry's book has fifty-one original ideas; I had created number fifty-two!

My Wacky I Will Not... Chalkboard assignment, which I share with my workshop participants, can be accessed by clicking here. It comes complete with an example that I created based on this list of facts about giraffes.

I have the teachers in my workshop work together to create I Will Not... Chalkboards based on this list of facts about jellyfish (example at right).

I challenge my workshop participants that a healthy exercise I will be asking of them is to work with others to create another original Wacky We-Search Report to use with their students. Below are three models that were created by teachers attending this workshop.

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V. Teaching Summarizing as Part of Writing Across the Curriculum

I don't believe we teach our students to summarize as well as we could. Students regurgitate well, and I suspect many think that's all what we want them to do when we say, "Write about what we've learned today."

At this point of the workshop, we do an exercise in oral summarization. I pass out this list of facts about humpback whales. Participants read the list silently, then select five facts that they were the most interested in from the set of facts. I inform them they will soon return the list of facts to me, and later I will ask them to discuss the facts with others. They usually ask for a few minutes madly memorize several facts for that future discussion.

I take the facts away and, later, I have them move and sit with a partner. They go back and forth using this sentence frame: "I thought ____________ was an interesting fact because __________."

Now they switch partners, and I have them use this sentence frame: "I was just partnered with __________ who thought _____________ was an interesting fact about whales because ___________."

We return to our original seats where they rate (from 1 to 5) their ability to talk intelligently about humpback whale facts without needing the original list in front of them

Now, the tables draft and publish a group Wacky We-Search report from Barry's book. Their topic is the humpback whale, but I do not return the fact sheets; they must depend upon their oral summarization discussions (and their memories) to create a poster. For my workshop, I allow them to choose one of the following two formats: The Wacky Report Card or The Wacky Wanted Poster.

At left is an example humpback whale report card created by workshop participants. Click on image to enlarge it.

At this point , we come back to my original Mr. Borilla and the encyclopedia cart story. We all agree that exercises--like creating Wacky Report Cards for a topic of study--teach us how to summarize. Had Mr. Borilla required us to make report cards for our presidents before writing, we a) would have learned to summarize and b) could have been taught to use our report cards to organize the actual report.

It takes a little longer to explicitly teach a skill like summarization. The goal of my workshop is for teachers to see the value of investing that time early on.

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VI. The Power of Great Mentor Texts when Designing Writing Across the Curriculum Lessons

As part of most of my Writing Across the Curriculum Workshops, I feature a discussion on the power of using a mentor text to inspire student writers.

A mentor text, by my definition, is a published piece of writing whose idea, whose structure, or whose writing style can be used to inspire students before they write in class. In my Seven Elements of a Crafted Writing Lesson training, mentor texts are one of the seven elements that help differentiate great writing lessons from ones that are simply good.

There are fantastic mentor texts for math, science, and history available, and we explore some of my favorite titles and talk about how these titles might inspire original writing across the curriculum from students.

In 2007 and 2008, when WritingFix was still being sponsored by the Northern Nevada Writing Project, we launched a great project that combined Writing Across the Curriculum with mentor texts. The efforts from that project created three sister sites for WritingFix:


HistoryFix was our first "sister site," and we were able to post alomst thirty unique lessons before the project lost funding..

Close to twenty great lesson ideas were posted at NumberFix before the NNWP decided to no longer sponsor the project.


ScienceFix was the third Writing Across the Curriculum resource page we launched. There are ten lessons stored here.

Even though these projects were only half-finished before funding was lost, there are some great ideas for writing across the curriculum lessons here.


Lessons I've Developed at Always Write that Promote W.A.C. through Mentor Texts
February's Featured Lesson for 2016:
Historical Tour Guide Scripts 

inspired by Cathy Morgan and Holly Young's Help Wanted at Mount Vernon
October's Featured Lesson for 2015:
Life is a Cookbook

inspired by Patricia Polacco's Thunder Cake and our Notebook Bingo Cards
March's Featured Lesson for 2014:
Primary Source Picture Books

inspired by Frank Keating's Theodore and Ellen Jackson's My Tour of Europe
Have a free lesson emailed to you every month!
Join our Writing Lesson of the Month Ning


WAC Mentor Texts that will Become Future Lessons of the Month Here at Always Write

Math Curse
by Jon Scieszka

Now & Ben
by Gene Barretta

Water Dance
by Thomas Locker
VII. Exit Tickets Across the Curriculum: A Logical Starting Place for All Teachers

"Where do I begin?" is the question I receive the most from teachers who've never explicitly taken time to teach writing skills to their students. My answer has almost always been "With Exit Tickets."

An Exit Ticket is a short response to learning that a student writes at the end of a lesson. With secondary students, I suggest exit ticket responses either be a) about five sentences or b) shorter, if the student is asked to think creatively or abstractly about the content that's been presented. During my workshop, teachers often cite "Exit Tickets" as the most useful thing we learned about during our time together.

If you bring me to your district to present my Writing Across the Curriculum Teacher Workshop, I will share my PowerPoint and training packet used during this portion of the training. If you cannot attend my workshop but are interested in a solid place to begin teaching writing across the curriculum, I invite you to look at the offer below.

If you cannot attend my writing across the curriculum workshop, you can now purchase my

Exit Tickets Across the Curriculum Presentation Materials
Price: $10.50

Exit Tickets are a technique that I have been using for years, and they involve a simple process: at the beginning of a lesson, students are introduced to an inquiry question that they will be expected to answer at lesson's end; the lesson is taught; the students write a thoughtful paragraph--or Exit Ticket--as they leave class; teachers then use the collected Exit Tickets as a quick formative assessment to gauge the need to re-teach a concept or to move on to the next one. It's a simple but effective use of writing across the curriculum, and it builds stronger writing and thinking skills.

For many years now, I have been helping the schools I work with see the value of--what I have come to call--Exit Tickets Across the Curriculum. I genuinely believe if every teacher in a middle or high school required just one Exit Ticket per week from every student, and if they taught their students to write better and better Exit Tickets over time, the repeated exposure to writing and writing skills would create students who could think deeper and better about content. The schools where I have worked that implemented the practice consistently have seen a huge difference in students who can create better writing that shows depth of thinking.

I have now presented my Exit Ticket workshop over thirty times well-over a thousand teachers, and I feel confident that it is one of the best set of materials I have ever created on writing across the curriculum. The Exit Ticket portion of my workshop focuses on three topics: 1) crafting high-quality Exit Ticket questions; 2) choosing a format for Exit Tickets (I present four options) that works for different classrooms; 3) assessing Exit Tickets and responding to the data.

I now offer for sale--to teachers administrators, or professional developers--my 22-page packet of Exit Ticket materials and the 20-slide PowerPoint show that I use during my workshop on this topic. Purchase of these materials allows you to use them in your own classroom or present them to groups of teachers you are working with. If you have questions about this product, do not hesitate to contact me at corbett@corbettharrison.com.

Click here for information on purchasing this 4-hour workshop's materials and self-paced resources.

But if you'd rather have me come present this workshop live in your district...

...well, first of all, thank you! I do pride myself on being a dynamic workshop presenter and facilitator, and I know having me in the room for real is much better than just having my presentation materials.

Between June and August, I make myself available to be hired by districts outside of Northern Nevada, which is where I call home and maintain a teaching contract during the traditional school year. If your district or school is interested in having me come do a two-day workshop on one or two of my training topics, please visit my presenter information page to learn how to start the process of making that happen.

I hope you have enjoyed and learned from any materials I have presented on this page.

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