Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison, and I have been an educator and a teacher-trainer since August of 1990. I specialize in teaching writing using differentiated instruction. I also focus on critical thinking techniques, especially during the pre-writing and revision steps of the writing process. Every year, I challenge myself to improve my instruction: I am curretly developing grammar and vocabulary lessons so that they're differentiated and promote deep, critical thinking skills, and I incorporate them into my classroom routines to promote a student-centered classroom environment.

The Northern Nevada district I serve has a "balanced calendar" that has me teaching from early August to early June, and during my 7 weeks of summer and during my two annual two-week breaks, I independently contract to present workshops to school districts and professional organizations around the country.

The winter and spring of 2017 are mostly booked up at this point. Beginning in mid-June, I will be available to present at summer workshops in your district or state.

You can find general information about my workshops here.

If you would like to check my availability for summer of 2017, 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

Happy January 2017, which is when this lesson was originally created! As a writing teacher, I have made a 2017 New Year's Resolution: Each month this next year, I will be creating and posting a brand new challenge I have tried out in my own writer's notebook. When I create interesting new techniques to try in my own WNB (writer's notebook), I immediately share these finished page(s) with my students. I explain my own metacognition in completing my notebook challenge, and I "dare" my students to imitate me or to find something original to do--perhaps inspired by what they have seen me try. When my sacred writing time class routine is running like a fine-tuned classroom routine, I have plenty of students who take me up on "dares" like these because they recognize me as the person in the room who has the best writing "dares." And my notebook is one of the most enjoyable ones in class to flip through because I dare myself to try new things.. This year, I am committed to posting twelve new techniques for WNBs, and they will become 2017's twelve Writing Lessons of the Month. If you're looking for a writing lesson that isn't focused on using a writer's notebook challenge, be sure to visit this webpage's lesson of the month archive; between 2012-2016, we posted dozens of lesson ideas for different writing projects for your classroom that aren't connected to one's WNB, and you can access them from the archive link.

When complete in December of 2017, I will have a new collection of twelve clever ideas for a WNB that come with the teacher models I shared with my own students. Should I inspire my own students to create a new page in their own WNBs, I will share those student models here for further inspiration. I will also be asking for teacher users of our website to share their teacher/student models with us in exchange for free access to materials from our Teachers Pay Teachers store. So if the ideas below inspire you to inspire your student, share with me, and I'll send you something in return!

My Twelve 2017 Writer's Notebook "I Dare You to Try this..." Challenges:
These are the lessons/write-ups I have planned or finalized during this 2017 year that challenged me to create more unique writer's notebook ideas to share with my student. These are the lessons/write-ups I have planned or finalized during this 2017 year that challenged me to create more unique writer's notebook to share with my students:

January 2017's Notebook Challenge
Use a Fortune Cookie's Fortune as Inspiration
February 2017's Notebook Challenge
Create a Fake Notebook Campaign/Election
March 2017's Notebook Challenge
Explore Unusual Nightmares and Utopias
April 2017's Notebook Challenge
Vocabulary Friends, Enemies and Frenemies
May 2017's Notebook Challenge
Human Nature, Page-Corner Haikus
June 2017's Notebook Challenge

Thanks--as always--for showing an interest in my classroom ideas that inspire my students to become fearless and thoughtful writers!


A Technique for Inspiring Creative and Independent Thinking in a Writer's Notebook
that little piece of paper from your Chinese dessert taped into your writer's notebook...
Fortune Cookie Fortunes

what can be learned while playing with and analyzing that prophetic chit of paper

Overview/Mentor Texts that Inspire Better Writing:

Possible Essential Questions/Objectives for these strategies/learning tasks:

  • 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 compound and complex sentence patterns can I identify in cookie fortunes and then imitate them in my writer's notebook?
  • 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?

Writing Lesson Overview/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 lover 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.

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 page explores several ways I am 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.

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.

You have to remember that not every student in your classroom might have had an experience with fortune cookies. I once assumed that all my students--because we live where it snows a half dozen or a dozen times a year--I assumed that all of them would have had an experience with snow they could write about. About 10% of my students had never been in the actual snow despite where we lived. 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 come true is one my older students think is fun to think about trying out. 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:

  • 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.

If your students are inspired by any of the fortune cookie ideas on this page,
consider posting photos/scans of student/teacher notebooks here at our Blog/Ning.

Teachers who successfully use any part of this lesson and shares a quality student sample or two at our posting page become eligible to earn a complimentary product from our Teachers Pay Teachers site.

This Lesson's Mentor Texts:

Fortune Cookie Fortunes
by Grace Lin

Amelia's Notebook
by Grace Lin

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

Fortune Cookie Fortunes

Writer's Notebook Technique #1: The Automatic Fortune Cookie Fortune Generator

WritingFix is still an active site, and I am proud to say it was my idea to use grant money to reward really great writing teachers with books or credits or stipends in exchange for having them share some of their best writing ideas that we could post at WritingFix. Between 2001 and 2008, we received a healthy dose of sponsorship and grants to grow the site, but when federal funding was cut from the National Writing Project in the economic crises that surrounded 2008, we lost that sponsor. We've been keeping WritingFix online through generous public donations, so the 400+ lessons we received and posted at WritingFix during the seven years that we had sponsors are still available to peruse and use. I am the owner of WritingFix, and I am proud that so many teachers helped us post great ideas about improving writing instruction; I have no intention of ever letting WritingFix go away.

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 our students. At one point--because I have always liked the idea of fortunes and prophecies--I created an "Interactive Fortune Cookie Fortune Maker" at WritingFix, and I turned it into a 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 Prompt

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: Write about the character--let's say,--24 hours before or 24 hours after they opened a cookie and found their 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?

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. The fortunes get taped in 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 my thumbnail image, you can see a page from my current writer's notebook that has ten minutes of writing inspired from taping an artifact into my writer's notebook. I also have this page, which has a photo of something more 3-D I didn't want to actually tape in my notebook, so I used a photo of the item instead; I have a lot of students do this with photos of 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 tool 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.

Writer's Notebook Technique #2: Fortune Cookie Mad-Libs

My students' favorite collection of Mad-Libs from my bigger collection of Mad-Libs is my Undead Mad Lib collection (pictured at left). A good Mad-Lib is a sneaky way to teach your students 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 know your writer's notebook and sacred writing routines are flourishing 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, so I purposely demonstrate the idea of setting up "interactive pages" in one's notebook because it shows that there are great opportunities to create a piece of writing in your notebook that somehow involves a fellow student's input. You can create writing that--by its very nature--needs to be shared. 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. I came up with this idea when I was hatching this whole fortune cookie fortune in your writer's notebook idea.

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 = 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

My finalized page...

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


Writer's Notebook Technique #3: Fortune Cookie Fortune-Making Word Banks

I have found that analyzing the structure of the sentence (or two) found on a small chit of paper--like a cookie fortune--is not all that threatening to a student. Certainly it's 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 else (phrases, clauses, etc.) and that's why I like the idea of breaking the a fortune into logical chunks. Fortune Cookie word banks--this next task for the notebook I am sharing--are 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!

Below, you can 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.

Three of 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.

I am happy to say I have begun experimenting with a new fortune cookie fortune interactive page I am designing in my current notebook. Below documents my writing process, followed by photos of my notebook page as it developed, thanks to input from my students and colleagues.

A Visual Documentation of my Newest Process of Creating a Grammar-inspired "Fortune Making" Word Bank

This is the Fortune-Making page I created as a place to revisit in my notebook when I just had a few minutes to write. This page was inspired by the fortunes taped to each page. Below these pictures, you will find a written explanation of the steps I took to create the tables/columns you see on this page. This picture shows I have gone through steps 1-3 that you'll find explained below these three pictures.

Over 3-4 weeks, I had came back seven times to create the lists you see above.

Here I have added my ten favorite new fortunes created through this" doodle" page.

Below I have written out the steps I took to create the page that the three visuals above showcase:

Step #1: Find a fortune whose words you can identify by parts of speech. Step #2: Brainstorm possible categories based on the parts of speech you find.

cautious = adjective (category idea: adjectives that ends in -ous suffix)
walking = verb + -ing (category idea: a verb that stars with w that ends in -ing)
darkness = noun (category idea: things found in space or a noun that ends with -ness)
alone = adverb (category idea: how someone might approach danger)

I decided I'd use the first two ideas and the last one for my three word list categories. I felt it was too hard to find a word that substitutes easily with the word darkness; plus, I liked the idea of darkness being in all fortunes that were made here. So my fortune's formula would be:

Be _______ while ________ in darkness __________.

Step #3: Create a table in your notebook based on three categories--you can "doodle" here!

Step #4: Populate the lists over time. Try to get 15 words before moving on to the final steps.

adjectives that end in -ous 'w' verbs + -ing How someone should approach danger (adverb of manner)

I show my students how I went ten or twenty pages ahead in a notebook to set up this fortune making page in my notebook. On a day in the near future when I run out of energy on a topic before my ten minutes of writing time is up, I can visit this page and fill in words on these lists while my classmates/students finish their writing.

adjectives that end in -ous 'w' verbs + -ing How someone should approach danger (adverb of manner)

nutritious, etc.

washing away
waddling, etc.

with care
only when necessary
carrying a really big weapon, etc.

Step #5: Create as many options as possible by jumping from column to column. Step #6: Celebrate your favorites somewhere near or on the 'Doodle Page."
  • Be atrocious while waltzing in darkness slowly.
  • Be atrocious while waltzing in darkness [and] carrying a really big weapon.
  • Be atrocious while waddling with care in darkness.
  • My favorite two I created:
  • Be marvelous while waltzing in darkness with care.
  • Be bodacious while waddling in darkness bravely.

Author/Webmaster's note: When I designed the organization of this third section of this page, I wasn't sure if I should place the three pictures first or the six steps first. Both made sense but also seemed problematic. My suggestion if you're reading this is to scroll back to the beginning of this section and look at the three pictures again. They will probably make a bit more sense now that you have read the six steps above. Click on the images to open bigger pictures that can be zoomed in on for details.


Writer's Notebook Technique #4: Thematic Fortunes?

These last two ideas I have done in my writer's notebook, but I haven't had time to write these up yet. The write-up is coming. Check back if the titles intrigue you.

Writer's Notebook Technique #5: Grammatical "Doodle" Pages Based on Fortunes

These last two ideas I have done in my writer's notebook, but I haven't had time to write these up yet. The write-up is coming. Check back if the titles intrigue you.

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