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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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       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.

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Contact me through my e-mail address with questions/comments about this lesson: Corbett@CorbettHarrison.com

Big news from the Harrison household: Dena said farewell to her classroom of 26 years in August of 2018, and Corbett will be joining her in retirement from his school district for the past thirty 30 years in June of 2019. The Harrisons are thrilled about this life change because it will allow them to work from home on this website and its resources. Starting in mid-June of 2019, Corbett will also be available to come do personalized 1- or 2-day workshops for your school, district, or regional educational center.

In the meantime, Corbett will continue to post these monthly free ideas, all based on techniques I am currently using with my 30th and final group of students. These final postings before retirement may be a bit shorter than usual as I have promised my sixth graders this final semester with me would be their best yet, and that's keeping me busy. I am also--in what little spare time I have--still working on my book on NOTEBOOK STRATEGIES that I'm having incredible success with during this final year.

Thanks for checking out this month's lesson (originally posted in November of 2018), and if you have any questions about it, don't hesitate to contact me: corbett@corbettharrison.com

the lesson I'll start my final creative writing elective with...
First-Class School Bus Seats

helping my students who don't see themselves as creative redesign something familiar to experience the origin's of creativity

"Creativity is contagious. Pass it on," is an oft-cited Einstein quote in my classroom. If you're running your writing time using a workshop-inspired workshop, using this bit of wisdom from Albert E. will help you set up a great community of students who share their ideas with one another.

I designed this lesson to introduce my new incoming creative writing students to the idea behind Einstein's quote. My creative writing class is an 18-week elective class, and I like to start right off by showing them the power of community thinking.

A lot of shared ideas go into each students' ultimately-chosen final copy of the tour they will each be writing that shares the new features of a school bus that comes with a first class section as well as a coach section. For this task, the students focus on a no-budget-restrictions design of the perfect first class seat they'd like to see on a school bus.

Using specific and unique details is the number one objective of this lesson. Using the mannerisms and the style of speaking of an imagined tour guide's voice is the second challenge of this lesson.

Essential Questions/Objectives/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • How do written details help my reader visualize the creative setting I have established on my imaginary school bus redesign? How can I use descriptions that are unique and memorable ('your warm beverage will snuggle right into the state-of-the-art cup holder" as opposed to "there is a cup holder that will hold warm and cold beverages."
  • An airline would hire someone with a unique and easy-to-listen-to voice to narrate my written script, if this was to become a video, so how can I include elements of voice into my writing to make the narrator's job that much easier?

    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.4 -- Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
    Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. 
    Maintain consistency in style and tone.

Introducing the writing idea through mentor text, including a video: I have a lot of luck obtaining good writing from my students when I introduce the idea of "Fierce Wonderings" to them. I borrowed this idea from both authors Ralph Fletcher and Marissa Moss. To show your students where creative thinking begins, you teach them to ask good, 'fierce' questions. To me, the questions are 'fierce,' I explain, because they require more than casual answers; when they require an answer, you want to provide your audience with a fierce amount of creativity.

The problem with creative "prompts'--or 'sparks' as I call them--is that they're completely subjective. No creative prompt works for every single kid...not ever. What works as a technique for you won't necessarily work for all your students. I consider myself lucky when somewhere around 70% of the students I'm coaching to be creative actually feel an idea I throw out to them is something they can actually run with. The rest of the students? You have to differentiate for and teach them to propose choices based on the original idea I suggested.

The idea of thinking creatively about school buses is not new. If you don't believe me, feel free to share from any of the mentor texts I own and display when I am beginning this lesson. After talking about creative approaches to using or making a school bus, I propose the following creative prompt:

"Good news from the school budget. We wrote for and obtained a ridiculously generous grant that will allow us to upgrade all the ten school buses that serve our school. While everyone on each bus will be getting a seatbelt, we are also going to be dividing the bus into two sections: first class and coach class. Your job is to think just about the first-class section, and you will design a school bus seat that would be worth paying extra for."

My students, working in small groups, will go through the following steps:

  1. Watch the video on new first class features on some airplanes;
  2. Brainstorm features that would make a school bus ride as comfortable as passengers on any airline's first class section;
  3. After the group brainstorm, each individual selects five features he/she will include in his/her write-up;
  4. Each participant will create a tour guide's script, welcoming passengers to the buses' new first class features. Each script must contain--at least--five different features being described with interesting details and through an interesting voice.
  5. Each student shares his/her her rough draft, asking for suggestions.
  6. Each student submits a final draft, analyzing their own use of DESCRIPTION, VOICE, and CREATIVITY on their final copy.

Picture books that transform school buses, as this assignment asks students to do...

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
by Mo Willems

Bus-A-Saurus Bop
by Diane Z. Shore

Magic School Bus: inside the Human Body
by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen

A favorite picture book of mine that begins with four prepositions in its first sentence:

Gus, the Dinosaur Bus

by Julia Liu

Below the video link, find the above six overviewed steps, shared with a quite a bit more detail.

A Video Tour of an Actual First Class Seat on American Airlines
I start the whole process by asking if anyone's never flown before. Any students who haven't, I have the other students explain what first class seating is on an airplane--as opposed to coach seating. Then, I show them all this video:

There are plenty of other--many much more extreme--videos showing off the first class features on airplanes. I use this particular one because it's under five minutes, and I think that's more than enough time to "spark" a creative idea if I ask the students to apply the ideas to a new type of school bus. I also think the narrator's voice is the perfect voice to try and imitate for this assignment; when my students read their aloud, they learn to do a pretty good job with the gentle voice of the narrator.

After watching the video: I'm using this lesson as a first-week-of-creative-writing-class tasks in January of 2019--when this lesson was originally posted--and one of my personal (and extra) objectives when starting a new elective class (like Creative Writing) is that I want students to work with many other students as they create their own individualized piece of writing about their own school bus ideas. This lesson is designed to be a community builder. No one works completely alone during the brainstorm. To make sure that happens:.

  1. Right after the students watch the video about the airline's first class features, I ask them to brainstorm with a small group for two minutes about additional features they think would be desirable on an airplane in first class; then, I introduce the idea of adding a first class section to the schools that transport my students to and from school. With this slightly different context to now think about, they continue to brainstorm desirable features that would/could/might work if they were designing a new type of school bus. The brainstorm continues for three more minutes.
  2. Students number off in their small groups, and then I mix them all up by having all the "ones" sit together and the "twos" in another spot, etc.
  3. In their new groups, students continue to brainstorm by thinking up additional first class school bus features, and they continue to brainstorm by sharing ideas they liked from their previous grouping, then asking their new group to help them 'shape' the idea they liked further. How could we describe this cool feature we've thought up with words?
  4. After three more minutes of brainstorming, each student is given the drafting sheet pictured at left. You can click here to download a PDF of the document, or you can click directly on the image of the handout at left.
  5. Before allowing students to write anything on the worksheet, make sure they see there is a rubric-checklist at the bottom of the handout. Ask them to note the differences among the three example sentences that come with the rubric-checklist. Ask them to try and use details closer to the "3" example than the "1" example.
  6. After students write quietly on the handout about one of their bus's features, they share with their current group. Since the students ALWAYS ask, tell them "three to four complete sentences" when they ask, "How long?"
  7. I have students, after sharing, return to their original groups and share a second time. Remember, I use this lesson to build comfort about sharing writing right at the start of my 18-week Creative Writing elective so I tend to have students talk a lot to each other as we brainstorm and compose their scripts.

8. The second part of the drafting process involves the second handout, pictured at right. Click here (or directly on the image of the handout) to open and print this handout for classroom use.

9. Some notes about the second handout:

  • I require my students to have something structural in mind before they begin drafting after their brainstorming. I don't want gigantic, page-and-a-half paragraphs here. I use this handout to help them visualize the structure of their narration/script.
  • I find if you require students to think of a really interesting word or phrase to use in a certain description before they write the description, then they're more likely to use that word or phrase in their actual draft; that's the purpose of the middle column.
  • Part of thinking about writing something creative that has a structure to it should focus the student on possible transitions. I tried to suggest (and I STRONGLY suggest students don't use my suggestions!) transitional lines for this type of script that also show a bit of VOICE.
  • Refer to the "3" description in the checklist at the bottom when having them think in a way that will help them write better words and phrases in the middle column.

Building a Community of Writers through this writing task: Again, I'm starting with this lesson as my elective starts over at semester break because I have designed it to force my students to brainstorm together. The topic they will brainstorm--as all topics should be early on in a writing class--is something they can all contribute to, but they are also invited to go off into separate directions when they hear a good idea from a peer but want to adapt it. I want them to hear one another's different approaches and voices to a task that--truthfully--allows for a lot of creative choices by the student within the parameters established by the teacher in this lesson.

  • Group sharing: You will have a lot of ways to have students share, and I still vote that everyone sharing whole class is the absolute worst technique. I like my students to present in small groups of 4 students, and if the assignment has been worked on for a substantial amount of time, then I make sure we rotate groups so that students can share twice in small, more efficient groupings.
  • Differentiated Option for your Advanced Writers: I've been teaching my sixth graders to make narrated presentations using Google slides and Screencast-o-matic, which is free to use if your students' videos are under fifteen minutes. For your advanced students, you might suggest they find some way to record themselves speaking aloud their narration on the computer while visually displaying words and pictures in a Google slide show. My sixth graders have become quite skilled with Screencast-o-matic in a short period of time, and they think it's quite a fun way to publish and share. Videos like this can certainly be shown whole class--after they've been previewed of course.
Student Samples of School Bus Descriptions
I wrote this lesson over my Winter Break in 2018, and I will be rolling it out to my new Creative Writing elective classes when I return to school for my final semester on January 16, 2019. Student samples coming soon!  


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