WRITINGFIX Visit our "sister site" here:
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  

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 May 2017, which is when this writer's notebook challenge was originally written up! I discovered in January of this year 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.

a format to consider incorporating into your own writer's notebooks
Human Nature Haikus

What 'truisms' do you recognize in human behavior,
and can you capture one in just seventeen syllables?

Essential Questions/Overview/Mentor Text Suggestions:

Possible Essential Questions for the notebook strategy found on this page:

  • How are studying theme and studying human nature related?
  • How can I express a truth about mankind in just seventeen syllables?
  • How can I incorporate a comparison (simile or metaphor) into a human nature haiku?
  • Can I create my own theme on which to write human nature haikus?

Where did "human nature haikus" come from? This is another of my ideas that I owe to my students, who constantly propose different ways to write in our writer's notebook. As part of my vocabulary workshop routine (which is separate from my notebook routine), my students may choose to put one of their weekly vocabulary words into a 17-syllable haiku as one of their writing options. I always say, "The haiku MUST be about nature somehow," which I do because that's generally in the definition of a haiku. A few years back, a student--Dante--challenged me with, "It IS about nature--human nature." We started using 'Human Nature Haikus' as a regular thing because of this former student.

I've begun working on how using 'Human Nature Haikus' in my writer's notebook might work. On this page, I share some suggestions on how I present this new idea and notebook challenge to my students. You will also find an explanation of how I would use human nature haikus to teach bigger concepts, like theme, which I'll bet is a word in the standards you use.

Potential Mentor Texts for this lesson: because I believe so strongly in the importance of using mentor texts when teaching most any element of writing, I've included the titles I would incorporate into my instruction and I share how I use them. If you didn't realize it, if you end up purchasing anything at Amazon by entering the Amazon site through one of our links (like those under the pictures of the books at right), we end up receiving small donation--no matter what you end up buying besides or instead of the book titles we link to.

I freely share this Haiku Riddle lesson write-up posted here at Always Write. It uses If Not for the Cat by Jack Prelutsky as its mentor text, and here are my other haiku classroom mentor texts that regularly inspire better haikus from my writers:

As you will see if you read the whole lesson below, students first practice writing "human nature haikus" by working with partners, and I think when partners work within the context of a common text to inspire "partner writing," the writing turns out better because the students are also working on comprehending text. I, therefore, suggest the following two mentor texts by the kid-master poet, Dr. Seuss. If you were to ask, "What elements of human nature do you recognize in the characters and the advice of these books?" I've had the best luck with:

I believe these Seuss titles also demonstrate human nature that students can describe within the format of a haiku:

Here's a human nature haiku inspired by The Lorax; after discussing this, try a haiku with a different Seuss:
Some men see forests (5)
As potential parking space; (7)
We must dissuade them. (5)

Mentor Text suggestions for haiku:
One Leaf Rides the Wind
by Celeste Mannis

Guyku: A Year of Haikus for Boys
by Bob Raczka
A Mentor Text suggestion for inspiring a "Human Nature" Haikus:

And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street
by Dr. Seuss

Part 1 -- Review Haikus (if needed) before Analyzing Human Nature in some Classic Seuss

Author Barry Lane once suggested that we "Haiku everything!" and I have taken that idea seriously when planning past and current instruction. My students know how to write a haiku early on, but if your kids need to review the basics, here they are:

  • Haikus have three lines, and are seventeen syllables in length. The first and last line are five syllables each, and the middle line is seven syllables in length.
  • Haikus ideally should compare something known to the poet to something from the world of nature, or they should celebrate a truth in the natural world.


Part 2 -- Review Human Nature/Theme (if needed) in some classic Seuss texts and write haikus about those themes

I've always had good success teaching the concept of theme to older students (4th-12th grade) using picture books, and I think the most fun we have when we do this with picture books is when we do this with Dr. Seuss as our mentor author. Besides this lesson, I share two other Dr. Seuss-inspired lessons here at Always Write. Check them out, if you have interest or time.

  • Ridiculous Essays -- I vary back and forth between the years with this lesson I save for my eighth graders, one year using "Green Eggs and Ham," and then using "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" the year after. This is fun practice/review for writing scholarly essays about literature, using academic vocabulary found in your standards. Don't tell me essay writing can't be fun!
  • Vocabulary and Character Anatomies -- partially inspired by "The Sneetches," which was the Seuss book I loved the most as a child, because we owned our own copy of this one.

Seuss observes and often critiques human behavior in his picture books, and when you're talking about human behavior as it was explored by an author, then you're talking about theme. Find one of the Seuss books with a human behavior message/critique that speaks to you, and share that title with your students. "The Lorax" would inspire some great student-generated haikus about human nature, I bet. Me? These are the titles I use:

  • And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street The human nature being explored in this book is--at the very least--that of human exaggeration. My students like to pen their own versions of this tale in their writer's notebooks after I introduce this book to them. My girls insist only the boys exaggerate like the character in this book. Good human nature haikus come from
  • You're Only Old Once! This is a title a lot of my students don't know, and they appreciate Seuss' explorations of a well-lived life. I've gotten some great haikus from this book.

When teaching Human Nature Haikus, I insist that my students write them with partners before trying to compose one independently. So that we can practice in partners on a similar topic, I share a Seuss book with them. Afterwards, they work together to compose a human nature haiku rough draft, to talk about ways to improve the idea or the word choice, and to present [to another group of partners] a "published haiku."

If I have time or more practice is clearly needed, I can have students create with the human nature haiku format a second time with either a second Seuss title or by referring to a character-driven text we've studied together as a class. This can happen on a different day.


Part 3 -- Bringing Human Nature Haikus to your writer's notebook

Ralph Fletcher suggested that we need to help our students learn to observe the world with a "writer's eyes." A writer is a person who sees the world in a special way. Writers know they have places--like a writer's notebook, perhaps--where they can record details and thoughts and ideas about topics that interest them. Because of Sacred Writing Time in my classroom, my students know they are to walk into my room with an idea for something they can explore with ten minutes of free writing. It's not an option in my class; it becomes a requirement to seek topics. They develop a writer's eyes because the routine requires it of them.

One of my favorite topics in my own writer's notebook are based on the interesting people I observe. Some of these people are known to me; my students know I write about them a lot, and it kind of makes them nervous. Some of the people I observe, however, are complete strangers to me. I have learned to observe without being noticed, and I learn a lot about different people's behavior and way of thinking through my observations. More often than not, however, I observe that people are more the same than different. Throughout my writer's notebook, you will find many entries that are simple observations of people I have made.

With the Human Nature Haiku, I now have a new format to consider using when I am observing with my "writer's eyes." In ten minutes of sacred writing time, I am able to compose two or three human nature haikus. Four, if I am feeling particularly poetic. The trick is I have to have a lot of observation time down or currently at the ready before you sit down to write.

Below, you will find several pages from my writer's notebook where I have relied on this unique format for writing: the human nature haiku. If your students like the idea of a human nature haiku, I would love to see you post a picture/scan of their writing at this posting link: Better still, if your students invent a new way to uniquely inspire writing in their writer's notebooks, we want to hear about it: corbett@corbettharrison.com

Modeling Human Nature Haikus in my own Notebook
As always, I begin these writer's notebook ideas with some examples from my own notebook. By going through the process of writing these things myself, I can not only explain the required thinking process much better to my students, but I can also showcase the ways I try to incorporate these unique formats into the "personality" that my notebook develops. Click images to enlarge them, or use the Pinterest links below the pictures to save them to your own classroom's Pinterest Board.

At the end of March, I "reserved" a page in my notebook for April on which I would write my first page of human nature haikus. Over the month, I added a haiku when I observed someone's behavior while out in the world, and it helped that I keep my notebook with me.

Save this example at your classroom Pinterest board(s) by clicking here. You may need to be logged in to Pinterest to view and save the pin.

On May 8, I had a day away from the classroom to visit all my schools where I run an after school program. Since I knew I had six different places to stop, I decided I would not leave until I had written a human nature haiku at each spot. This was a good challenge for me to try.

Save this example at your classroom Pinterest board(s) by clicking here. You may need to be logged in to Pinterest to view and save the pin.

On July 13 & 14, I knew I'd be in four different airports. I set-up a page for human nature haikus in my notebook and kept it with me when I traveled. At each gate, I made sure to write three different haikus about the people waiting to board the same plane I was.

Save this example at your classroom Pinterest board(s) by clicking here. You may need to be logged in to Pinterest to view and save the pin.

If you have a student who is inspired by human nature haikus 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.

Our FIRST Product!
Beginner Prompts, Thoughtfully Presented:

-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --
365 Ideas for Writing/Discussing:

-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --
For Writers Needing a Guided Challenge:

-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --

Did you miss this freely posted lesson?

A Unique Way to Write about Vocabulary!

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

Did you miss this freely posted lesson?

Primary Source Picture Books -- Lesson Link

Never miss another FREE lesson! Join our Lesson of the Month email group here.


Back to the top of the page