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.



       Because writing--when taught right--can be the most enjoyable part of your teaching day, I created this website.

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

One of my most-requested workshops when I visit other states is the writer's notebook/journal presentation. When I display my students' voice-filled samples (check out my Pinterest boards to see what I mean!) with other teachers, the idea of a writer's notebook routine seems both feasible and important. On this page, I share a new type of writer's notebook resource we're developing for the Always Write website. If you use it, let us know, and we will consider continuing to post ideas like this one.

Happy January 2017, which is when I wrote this writer's notebook challenge up for publication! I also discovered in January that I would be co-presenting at the 2017 NCTE Conference, being held in St. Louis the week before Thanksgiving. I will be co-presenting with two of my personal teacher mentors and favorite authors: Gretchen Bernabei and Aimee Buckner. Our presentation will focus on teaching voice through a journal/writer's notebook expectation. Because we use sacred writing time in my classroom, and because that routine is being used in so many fellow teachers' classrooms these days, I will be speaking about the importance of establishing a routine for this practice and the rationale you should share with administrators, fellow teachers, parents, and students. If you missed the presentation In November 2017, here is a link to the materials for you to access and use: Journals and Writer's Notebooks: a resource for writers.
Tape a little piece of paper into your notebook to see what happens!
Fortune Cookie Fortunes

How many ideas do you have for using a fortune in your notebook?
Enjoy my growing collection below. Email me new ideas!

Essential Questions/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • What original and creative idea for using a fortune cookie fortune in my writer's notebook can I come up with and share with others?
  • What's the most sophisticated sentence pattern I can spot in a cookie's fortune?
  • How do I use my developing knowledge of sentence grammar when I write compound and complex sentences?

A Writer's Notebook Lesson Write-up with Mentor Text Suggestions: If you've taught your students techniques for exploring fresh ideas in one's writing notebook/journal, then they understand that taping artifacts--like photos, like concert or movie ticket stubs, and like FORTUNE COOKIE FORTUNES--into their writers' notebooks gives them an opportunity to write about those artifacts, and then possibly explore them as a person who is exploring the use of language. My writer's notebooks is full of taped-in artifacts, and so too is the writer's notebook mentor text my students flip through the most: Amelia's Notebook by Marissa Moss.

So here's the question that drove this idea and this challenge. If you tape a fortune cookie fortune into a writer's notebook, will it inspire an idea/challenge that would benefit a student writer? This free-to-use resource page explores several ways I am personally attempting to be inspired by fortune cookies, including lessons in grammar and structure of language! I find some of my best grammar lessons focus on single sentences that we analyze, and most fortunes are a single sentence.

A notebook link to literature? If you have a theme of foreshadowing or prophecy in any of your upcoming class novels, plays, poems, or short stories, you've a great opportunity to have fun using chinese restaurant fortunes in your writer's notebooks. What an anticipatory set! Those paper fortunes found in cookies can serve as great inspirations when introducing either of those subjects or potential themes. Because most everyone positively associates with the idea of having fortune cookies, and no one can be intimidated by a simple sentence or two, which is all a fortune is, I find they can inspire interesting small pieces of writing that can be used--later during writer's workshop--in other ways. On this page, I am sharing several techniques I am challenging my own students to try in their own writer's notebooks during sacred writing time and beyond sacred writing time. If I can use a small fortune cookie writing challenge to help me introduce an upcoming theme or a concept (foreshadowing/prophecy), then I will do that; so think ahead and--perhaps--find a place in your curriculum where talking about fortunes might benefit both your reading and your writing mini-lessons. Then bring out this lesson, or come back to this lesson, when you get there.

Remember I am big into mentor texts, and you have to remember that not every student in your classroom might have had an experience with fortune cookies I don't assume all of my students have experienced a fortune cookie or understand its purpose when I share this idea, so I always make sure I share a story or an article about a topic like fortune cookie. My favorite text I've found so far is Fortune Cookie Fortunes by Grace Lin. It's a story for a young audience, but the concept of fortunes that night come true is one even my older students think is fun to plan a piece of writing for. So I love this little book. Most of my kiddos want to sit on the floor while I share it, and when I suggest after its reading, "Next time we have sacred writing time, you might think it was fun to write a different and original story where someone's fortune seems to be coming true," I usually have a taker in every single class period. I also end up with a roomful of students who have had a meaningful experience with a fortune cookie. And that makes it a safe topic.

Finally, I challenge you to come up with creative ways to acquire paper cookie fortunes that your students can tape into their WNBs. Here are some of mine that work:

Mentor Text Suggestions:

Fortune Cookie Fortunes
by Grace Lin

Amelia's Notebook
by Marissa Moss

A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking
the Writer Within You
by Ralph Fletcher

Fortune Cookie Fortunes

  • If you have a favorite Chinese restaurant that you frequent, tell them you're collecting paper fortunes for a class project. My Chinese place's take-out order person almost always saves a good handful for me if I ask and then come in regularly for a few weeks. I think she gets them out of the bottom of the bag when they go through a whole plastic sack of fortunes. Once, she gave me the last third of one of those bags, so my students got to open and eat the cookies too.
  • Send a note to your parents that says, "We're doing a writing project and are collecting fortune cookie fortunes. If you happen to acquire some, please send the clean ones in with your students." Students who bring me fortunes because of this letter home earn a pick or two from my Dollar-store funded extra credit basket of pencils and stickers and stuff. I end up with quite a few fortunes using this technique.
  • You can write your own fortunes (based on ones created by your students or by doing a Google image search for fortune cookie fortunes.) on a Word document, format them so they are fortune-sized, and cut them out. I store ones I've created and that I use when I need extras in a red coffee can labeled "Fortune Cookie Fortunes."
  • You can buy 100 individually wrapped fortune cookies for between 10 and 15 dollars at Amazon. That's about 12 cents a student, if you think that's an affordable option. This is the product I have ordered and was happy with when I went this route.
  • Got another technique? Email it to me (corbett@corbettharrison.com), and I'll include it on this list if it's a feasible one.

Below, you will find four techniques I've created to make my students think about adding fortune cookie fortunes to their own writer's notebooks.


Perhaps...Start by Demonstrating the Interactive Fortune Cookie Fortune Maker:

WritingFix is still an active resource for writing teachers, and I am proud to say that it grew so much during my time as the Director of the Northern Nevada Writing Project. It was my idea to apply for grant money and we used that money to reward some really great writing teachers with books or credits or stipends in exchange for having them write-up some of their best writing ideas that we could post at WritingFix. Dena. I remain the owner of the WritingFix website, and I am proud that so many teachers helped us to post great ideas about improving writing instruction; I have no intention of ever letting WritingFix go away, especially if people keep sending us small donations.

During Writingfix's heyday, we created a series of "Interactive Writing Topic Generators" that used word banks and randomization to create writing topics. The act of personalizing your own topic by pushing the "interactive" buttons really appealed to students of all ages. At one point in the early WritingFix days--because I have always liked the idea of fortunes and prophecies--I created an "Interactive Fortune Cookie Fortune Maker" for teachers to use, and I turned it into an official writing prompt. It still exists at WritingFix, but here it is--newly revised--as part of this new write-up at Always Write as well:

Mr. Harrison's Interactive Fortune Cookie Fortune-Making Machine

You will...


If you have an idea for a fortune that's not exactly like the fortunes created by pressing the buttons here, that's okay! Your job is to write down a good fortune cookie fortune--inspired by the game above or by your brain's innovation.

Writing Prompt: At some point in time (yesterday, today, or tomorrow), a character will receive (or has received) the fortune cookie fortune you can create by pressing the three buttons at left. Press the buttons to serendipitously create someone's fortune.

During Sacred Writing Time: Maybe...write about a character--let's say,--24 hours before or 24 hours after they opened a cookie and found an interesting fortune. Or at the moment they open that cookie and see it! Tell the story in your writer's notebook. Can you mention fate or prophecy in your story? See my story idea just below!

When I share the interactive prompt above with students, I have already handed out small pieces of fortune cookie-sized chits of paper. Students work in the lab, from our laptop cart, or from our class set of iPads to click the buttons above until they find a fortune (or think of an original fortune) after playing the button-pressing game above. Our hand-printed fortunes get taped into our notebooks, and we try--for ten minutes--to write a story that is inspired by the fortune.

After we write, I say, "If you liked what you were writing, you can continue it. It can also be a stand-alone entry in your writer's notebook. Above all, I want you to notice that found items taped into writer's notebooks can inspire interesting things to write about. Right behind that, I want you to notice that you can have dozens of stand-alone pages in your writer's notebooks; each page can represent a totally different idea, if you want."

I have students who bring in actual fortunes, tape them down, and write about them after using this prompt as if it was their own idea. More often, I have students who--after this fortune cookie fortune exposure--start examining other small and flat things that might be taped into their notebooks to inspire writing. Business cards, party invitations, a page from Mr. Harrison's classroom Word of the Day calendar (I save all the pages in my class calendar after the day they represent passes by so students can use them.)

At right, if you click the thumbnail image, you can see a fortune cookie fortune-inspired story draft from my current writer's notebook; this represents my ten minutes of writing inspired from taping an artifact into my writer's notebook; in this case, I used a fortune, but you can tape pretty much anything (or photos of 3D anythings) into notebooks to inspire writing. I also have this page, which features writing inspired by a photo of something more 3-D that I didn't want to physically tape in my notebook, so I used a photo of said item instead; I have a lot of students do this with photos of important items after I show them examples where I've done it.

The use of a fortune as a tool in a story often proves to be an interesting artifact to drive the telling of the story. I tell my students, "Your notebooks are the place to capture your original and crazy ideas, so you might come back to those ideas and reshape them as something new." A fortune cookie story is simply a unique way to play with an idea that might become something bigger and more interesting.


Let's Get Interactive...Creating Mad-Lab Fortune Cookie Fortune for Classmates:

My students' favorite collection of Mad-Libs from my bigger collection of Mad-Libs is my Undead Mad Lib collection (pictured at left). Using a good Mad-Lib can be a sneaky way to teach your students a little something about grammar, or to review it. Mad-Libs are interactive pieces of writing, and in my student-centered classroom, I'm always looking for things that involve two or more people working together to create something. That's what a Mad-Lib is by its very nature.

My teaching teammates and I all require notebook writing as part of our the learning process. In my Language Arts class, we call these special places to write our writer's notebooks while in science, social studies, and math they are called interactive notebooks. Pages are designed to be more than just shared; they are designed to be interacted with.

A note about the students wanting to share their writing. You will know that your writer's notebook and sacred writing routines are becoming strong when students want to share finished ideas and drafts with one another. "Can we share?" is the most often asked question in my classroom some days! My kids genuinely like to share what they've put on their notebook pages once we've been notebook keepers for a month or more. I purposely demonstrate the idea of setting up "interactive pages" in your notebook through instruction, because doing so confirms that great opportunities exist to create a piece of writing in your notebook that might somehow involve a fellow student's input. You can create writing that--by its very nature--needs to be shared to be completed--like a Mad-Lib. My writer's notebook contains riddles whose answers are hidden under sticky notes, it contains multiple-choice quizzes about silly topics, and it now contains Mad-Libs inspired by fortune cookie fortunes.

If you say the word Mad-Lib to your students and have them explain to each other what a Mad-Lib is (for the benefit of those who may not know), then say, "If you were the person writing the Mad-Lib for your friends--those friends would be the ones filling in the blanks in the Mad-Lib--then you would be creating an interactive notebook page. You--the notebook keeper--could create a Mad-Lib in your notebook that could only be completed by having a friend fill in the blanks you have left in something you have written.

Interactive pages in our notebooks = good.

I demonstrate my technique of setting up a writer's notebook page of Fortune Cookie Mad-Libs after my students have had a review on the parts of speech. I believe Mad-Libs are an activity best suited when enriching and reviewing grammar instruction, not introducing it. My process for myself when setting up the Mad-Lib page is as follows:

  1. Locate a fortune from an actual cookie that has three or more nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs that a student can identify by part of speech. You can mix and match your needed three here, meaning you can use a fortune with one adjective, one verb, and one noun, for example. You need to have--at least--three to proceed however. Prepare to begin by taping the fortune onto a page in your writer's notebook.
  2. Write out the fortune in your writer's notebook, this time omitting the three (or four) words you identified, and replacing the word with a blank line. Leave enough room to write the part of speech in parentheses below each line. Poll/quiz your friends to fill in the blanks of your "Fortune Cookie Mad-Lib," record their answers on sticky notes, then write their fortunes in a space you've saved for them. (See my three photographed example, below on the left and right.)
  3. Did the friends I polled/quizzed create a better or worse fortune than the original fortune that inspired my Mad-Lib? Could I honor one of my friends' new fortunes by using it in a story somehow?
  4. Did I just encourage my students to make even more Mad-Libs in their notebooks regularly, and thus practice grammar a bit when they involve and share with their friends?

Interactive classroom where students share and help each other create writing = good thing.

Below, you will find my three step process in creating these Mad-Lib pages based on analyzing a fortune cookie for its use of the parts of speech.

My Process for Setting up and Interactive (Mad Lib-like) Writer's Notebook Page Inspired by a Fortune
First (example 2)...
First (example 3)...

My finalized page...

My finalized page...
My finalized page...


Idea #3--Create a Fortune Cookie Fortune "Word Bank:"

I have found that analyzing the structure of the sentence(s) found on a small piece of paper--like a cookie fortune--is not very threatening to a student who thinks they can't do or understand grammatical conversations with me and with others. Certainly spending a grammar lesson focused on one sentence is much less threatening than handing out a grammar worksheet or a grammar packet and setting a timer for thirty minutes. To complete the Mad Libs notebook task above, I had to first analyze a cookie fortune for its parts of speech to move forward. But sometimes those parts of speech work together to form something bigger (phrases, clauses, etc.) and that's why I like the idea of breaking the a fortune into logical, grammatical chunks. Creating a Fortune Cookie word bank--this next suggestion for the notebook I am sharing--is a fun and less threatening way to see what a student understands about the chunks of grammar they find or say or write. I am requiring a fortune cookie fortune word bank in our notebooks this spring! The third picture below is my example of this.

Below, you will find three word banks from one of my personal writer's notebooks; I call this particular notebook my "Cadillac Notebook" (because it is so very nicely kept), and my students love to flip--very carefully!--through it to find ideas they might try in their own notebooks. The idea of creating a personally satisfying word list for a notebook appeals to my students when they see my examples. A writer collects words, and a writer's notebook is a perfect place to occasionally store a new collection of words that mean something to you personally.

Three Word Banks found in one of my own Writer's Notebooks

Click here to see/save this page at Pinterest.

If we are ever asked to write to the dreaded "What I did over summer vacation" topic, I find having the students create a word bank expands their options for idea development and it gives them word choice options when they begin to draft. Click the image to see the page I created back after the summer of 2005--the year I married my Dena in Maui. A lot of these words still "light up" specific memories of that summer.

Click here to see/save this page at Pinterest.

This word bank (for three different types of nouns) is the opening page of my "Cadillac Notebook." I created it to show my students how creating such a list and then randomly choosing a word from each column gave me an idea for a story or a scene that I might write. I allow them to create such a word bank during sacred writing if they will use the ideas to inspire future writing for class.

Click here to see/save this page at Pinterest.

This is the interactive page I created the month before I created the interactive cookie fortune maker prompt above. If you look at both versions of this idea, you will see 1) the word bank became bigger when I created the web-tool, so the notebook was my idea initiator, not the final draft, and 2) the online version of the tool is actually a lot more fun with those extra words.


Idea #4--Cookie Fortunes as Page "Illustrations" or "Omens"

I'm almost ready with my three samples to share here. Check back soon. This fortune cookie idea keeps inspiring new ideas now that it's something I've made myself think about a lot.

Idea #5--Fortune Cookie Fortune Comics

Everybody listening? I'm calling "Trademark!" on Fortune Cookie Fortune Comics. It's August 8, 2017, and that's the day I've recorded my patent for Fortune Cookie Fortune Comics. Actually, like everything else, this has probably been done by someone clever at some point before, but since I can't find any evidence, we'll let the original date stamp on the pictures below serve as the first time a writer's notebook fortune cookie fortune was ever mentioned on-line anywhere.

You can't make a comic with every fortune you find in a cookie. Oh dear no, it takes a special one. What the writer has to do is imagine a conversation where what's said on the fortune becomes the quote inside someone's speech bubble in a comic. I have a zipped-up plastic baggie full of fortunes. Since I launched this original lesson in January of 2017, I am amazed how many people have stopped me and handed me a fortune or several fortunes with a "I knew you were saving these." I'm getting them in my staff mailbox now too. At least I now have a great variety of fortunes to choose from as I ponder my next Fortune Cookie Fortune Comic™.

As of August 7 of 2017, I have three different fortune cookie fortune comics in my notebook. The first one, which is certainly my least interest example now, was stuffed in the upper corner of another page. The second and third--because I needed to build them a better background visual, I devoted to an entire page.

And the whole idea started with a silly question I asked back in January: "How could I use cookie fortunes in my writer's notebook?"

My Three Original Fortune Cookie Fortune Comics...
Fortune Cookie Fortune Comic...try #1

View/save this comic at Pinterest.

My process, fortune cookie comic #1: The fortune I received said, "Character is the cornerstone of success," which is a nice little metaphor, I suppose. My brain, searching for an idea for a one-panel comic, asked what would happen if I turned the idea more literal. What if there was a cornerstone that someone had actually named 'character'? How would I represent that in a visual comic where one of the characters could speak the words on the fortune. The first image below shows my final product, which was a fair attempt, but I knew I could do better.

Fortune Cookie Fortune Comic...try #2

View/save this comic at Pinterest.

My process continues, fortune cookie comic #2: The fortune that inspired me this time asked two questions: "Why not go out on a limb? Isn't that where the fruit is?" I could easily picture these two questions being asked in a conversation between two friends or colleagues. To make the comic funny, I--once again--played with swapping the whole metaphorical idea with a more literal one, and that forced me to set the scene in a grocery store so the last line could be humorous.

Fortune Cookie Fortune Comic...try #3

View/save this page at Pinterest.

My process once more, fortune cookie comic #3: I discovered I had three cookie fortunes that focused on COURTESY; in fact, each fortune began with that very word. I was saving these three fortunes, thinking I'd write a page about courtesy in the future, and these three fortunes could have served as my page's 'illustrations.' I use voice recognition when writing texts and I ask SIRI questions enough in my daily practices that I know SIRI has trouble with some people's first names. I sounded out the words "Curtis see" from the larger words, and I suddenly had an idea for a comic where SIRI misunderstands what I'm saying about my friend Curtis. I have to say, I am quite happy with this third comic. I hope it's neither my apex or my swan song fortune cookie comic...I very much doubt it well be. These are proving to be fun when they work.

If you have a student who is inspired by fortune cookie fortunes after I shared this page, I would love to see a photograph of a student's page who's not one of my own. I often reward teachers who send me samples free items from our Teachers Pay Teachers site. You can email me a photo/scan of students' work to corbett@corbettharrison.com


from Corbett & Dena Harrison to you...
Twelve Unique Notebook/Journal Ideas
A writer's notebook keeper is a person who is always seeking unique ways to present his/her ideas. Can you invent your own unique notebook approaches inspired by my twelve examples?

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.

365 Ideas for Writing/Discussing:

-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --
-- Free Preview of August 15- September 15 --
For Writers Needing a Guided Challenge:

-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --
-- Free Preview of Italian "Menu" only --

Did you miss this freely posted lesson?

RheTURKical Triangle -- Lesson Link

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A Unique Way to Write about Vocabulary!

Use this Free Lesson with your Students:
Personify a Vocabulary Word

'Found Poems' in Students' Notebooks

-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --

-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --

Mentor texts to inspire Vocabulary Collectors:

The Boy Who Loved Words
by Roni Schotter

Boris Ate a Thesaurus
by Neil Steven Klayman

Did you miss this freely posted lesson?

Primary Source Picture Books -- Lesson Link

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-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --

A Text that Guides our Teaching of Literacy:

Notebook Connections
by Aimee Buckner


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