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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 right--can be the most enjoyable part of your teaching day, we created this website to provide fresh ideas and lessons for teachers.

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

This page contains one of my original writer's notebook lesson ideas I created for my students. We write every day in my middle school classroom, and my wife can say the same thing about her second- through eight-grade students. To assist every one of students as they each maintain a writer's notebooks, my amazing wife and fellow writing teacher--Dena Harrison--and I created three tools that ensure our students always have something to write about during our first ten minutes of class each day. They are:

  1. Sacred Writing Time Slides: with a posted daily holiday, bizarre trivia fact, inspirational quote, and vocabulary word, these slides continue to inspire interesting ten-minute sessions of writing from even my most reluctant writers. (Click here for a free sample of this product)
  2. Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards: for those students who prefer a prompt, here's a variation of that strategy that still gives students a choice. Each Bingo Card has twenty-four interesting writing prompts, and challenging students who like prompts to make one Bingo a month works well. (Click here for a free sample of this product)
  3. Writer's Notebook/Workshop Choice Menus: these menus contain more depth and complexity in how they present their prompts to students who prefer a choice of prompts to "spark" their writing. These menus' "entree sections" also set up students to create pre-writing that could very easily become a piece for writer's workshop, if you use that model. (Click here for a free sample of this product)

As soon as we are settled, we write in silence for ten minutes. Most of my learners bring their own ideas with them to class, but others still need a creative or logical jumping-off place. Musicians improve when they practice every day. Athletes improve when they practice each day. So too do developing writers. My students learn to take their ten minutes of sacred writing very seriously because that is the expectation I set forth from day one. We write. Every day. For ten silent minutes. And develop fluency. And practice newly learned writing skills. And try creative approaches. Often we share with our SWT Partners after Sacred Writing Time. It's the established routine in our classroom.

Here's one of my best tricks for helping your students really love their notebooks: Once a month, I also require a special creative page from all my writers for their notebooks; these pages need to be the kind of page that--if you flipped back through your own notebook a year later--you'd always stop and say, "Wow, I put some time, effort, and thought into this page!" when you encounter it again. I use these assigned notebook lessons to teach a trait-specific writing skill in a fun way, and we use those skills to create rough drafts on scratch paper, then we create a final draft of the writing in our notebooks. The final draft in the notebook is supposed to be revised, edited, and--somehow--visually appealing.

For my assigned monthly notebook pages, I am always seeking out a new idea or an easy-to-imitate writing structure that my writers can have fun with, and then I teach a writing lesson that gives them a writing skill to try out. The lesson below is a new idea I am premiering during a Writing Across the Curriculum workshop I am presenting in Spring of 2016 in the great state of Oregon. After it works well with my teacher participants, I will be sharing it with my students.

A Teacher-Guided Lesson Specifically for Writer's Notebooks:
teaching voice and ideas using familiar structures or organization:
My Own Dang Math Curse!
a silly-yet-smart writer's notebook task your students will really like!

Overview of this Notebook Task:

Last month, I was presenting a Saturday session on writer's notebooks and critical trait-thinking in Carson City, Nevada, and I was amazed how many of the teachers weren't aware of the mentor text pictured at right. Now, I have been meaning to create a writer's notebook lesson based on this book for many years now; as luck would have it, I am presenting next week on Writing Across the Curriculum in Oregon, so I've decided to craft this new lesson to share with those teachers. When Spring Break is over, I will share it with my students (who quite frankly need a light-hearted lesson as we cruise to the end of the school year), and by putting this lesson online as I create it, I hope to increase all teachers' awareness of this charming picture book.

I found this photograph of one of the two-page spreads from Scieszka and Lane's picture book on someone else's website. It gives you a general idea behind the picture book. The book's narrator is told by his teacher that basically the whole world can be thought of as a giant math problem, and then he can't stop applying math-like questions to everything that happens to him. It becomes a curse that he can't stop thinking about. The charm of the book is that author Scieszka has total fun making light of the "voice" we expect when we think of tests, especially multiple-choice ones. Most of his questions are impossible to answer but they are based on a real world set-up that is mathematical in nature. To me, this is a perfect idea to inspire writing across the curriculum.

My mentor text for this lesson:

Math Curse
by Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith

After sharing this mentor text, my students will spend several days writing "practice Math Curse-inspired" problems about events in their own lives. After they have multiple ideas to choose from, they will select two of their favorite ones to "publish" in their writer's notebooks as a special page. My hope is--inspired by this fun idea--they will continue to "math curse" their notebook pages on future days when they might not have come to class with a topic for sacred writing time.

Read the Cited Mentor Text for Ideas, Structures, and Writing Style

First of all, allow me to confess that I have a curse, like the math curse experienced by the narrator of this lesson's cited mentor text. My wife was the first to actually call it a "curse." Here it is: I have a hard time looking at any picture book in the bookstore without asking, "How could I use this book as a mentor text for a writing lesson?" My wife thinks it's my curse to no longer be able to just enjoy the book for what it is, and she's probably right; however, I do have more wonderful writing lessons than most people, and all of my best ones are inspired by mentor texts I've discovered in my travels. I become bored with my own writing mini-lessons after having taught them four or five times, and so I need to constantly be replenishing my supply, and it's my "mentor text curse" that keeps my supply of lessons fresh and fun for me to teach.

I believe that using a mentor text well while teaching is one of the elements that either makes or breaks a writing lesson. A mentor text--this is my definition--is a published piece of writing shared sometime during the writing process that gives students an idea for writing, a structure for imitating, or a writing style to imitate. One of my favorite handouts from my teacher-training days remains my handout that explains how I classify my mentor texts. Click on the image of my handout (at right) and freely share it with your colleagues. It's a good one, and I challenge teachers to find a use of mentor texts they've never tried...and then try them. Mentor Texts are undoubtedly the most popular of elements of lesson design we explore during my Seven Elements of a Differentiated Writing Lesson Workshop for Teachers.

My students know I am using my mentor texts to inspire them as writers, so when I say, "Here is the mentor text we're reading today," they know they have a piece of writing they'll be creating as a result of reading. At this point in the school year (spring), they also know I expect them to find an idea, a structure, or a writing style in the text to borrow from. Sometimes, a mentor text's idea, structure, and style are all worthy of consideration, which is the case with the book "Math Curse." It has:

  • a great idea: finding math problems in one's everyday life...
  • an imitate-able structure: a test-worthy question...and let's face it, our students see too many test questions in their time with us in school these days...
  • an imitate-able voice in the math problems: Scieszka's narrator's exasperation is easy to spot and imitate, and your more talented writers will enjoy the challenge of making fun of test problems as the author does in the original text...

Remember, adapt this lesson so that it works for your student's abilities, your teaching style, and your daily time constraints.

Modeling the Writing Process for your Students:

I will begin this lesson by sharing the mentor text and the teacher model I have created. I will ask my students to spend the next week thinking back or reflecting on the present, and looking for situations to write about that might be told using lots of numbers--like a math problem. I have documented my writing process for my teacher model below, and sharing this will be part of the process discussion we have as the week progresses. I invite you to use my model and the process, but I encourage you--as always--to create your own teacher model because I think that's more meaningful to your own students.

Spring Break memory #1: Repairing the ten-year old drip system in my yard Spring Break memory #2: Getting our new custom-built dresser installed in our master bedroom Spring Break memory #3: The freak snow storm of March 2016 that probably killed my peach crop
My initial numbers brainstorm:
  • There are approximately 240 feet of 1/2" base tubing around my yard's perimeter.
  • I am approximating that there 200 drip buttons coming off the base tubing out there.
  • I am approximating that I will ultimately be replacing/repairing 30 of the buttons and 50 of the connectors.
My initial numbers brainstorm:
  • The store-bought dresser we are replacing has 9 drawers and 1 cabinet.
  • The new unit will be about three times larger than the old one. It has 8 huge drawers, 6 large drawers, and two cabinets.
  • The huge drawers are about four times larger than the old drawers, and the large drawers are about three times larger than the old drawers.
  • There are nine piles of clothes in the closet that must fit into these new, bigger drawers.
My initial numbers brainstorm:
  • Our peach tree began blooming on March __ and there were no freezing temperatures at night during this time.
  • At 4:00 a.m., on March __, snow began falling.
  • Five hours later, we had nine inches of heavy, wet snow covering everything, including the peach blossoms.
  • The temperature dropped to just below freezing (31 degrees) for the next two nights.
  • How many peaches will survive if any?
My rough draft math curse problem:

If I set aside two 8-hour days to make repairs to the 240-feet of drip line that surrounds my front and back yards, and there are approximately 200 drip buttons and connectors in place, and 80 of those will need replacement, how much time can I afford to spend on each repair?

My rough draft math curse problem:

If the old dresser had 9 small drawers and 1 small cabinet, and our new dresser has 2 large cabinets and 14 drawers, 6 of which are large and 8 of which are huge, which of the following is true:

My rough draft math curse problem:

If my peach tree was in full bloom between March 22 and March 27 during good weather, then a snowstorm on March 28 dropped 9 inches of snow in five hours, and the temperature dropped below freezing over the next two nights, what chance do I have of having a peach crop this summer?

My rough draft for math curse answers:
  1. It depends on if the drip system is buried in dirt or gravel.
  2. It depends on if you thought ahead to buy the needed supplies at Home Depot before starting.
  3. It depends on if this is really how you wanted to spend your time off over Spring Break.
My rough draft for math curse answers:
  1. All nine piles of stacked clothes in the closet will be able to fit in their own drawers now.
  2. It is easier to keep old clothes that really don't fit than it is to donate them to GoodWill.
  3. It is easier to buy new storage than give away used clothing.
  4. You need to hide the credit card because this gives permission to buy more clothes now!
My rough draft for math curse answers:
  1. A good chance, if there were more than enough bugs present to pollinate between March 22-27.
  2. A fair chance unless the temperature ever dropped below 30 degrees.
  3. Very little chance because you're growing peaches in Nevada and it's a desert for a reason.

Part 1 of revised/final draft that went into my notebook:
Part 2 of revised/final draft that went into my notebook:

Click here to view/save image at Pinterest

Click here to view/save image at Pinterest
Part 3 of revised/final draft that went into my notebook:

Click here to view/save image at Pinterest

My Two-Page "Math Curse" Spread in my Writer's Notebook--Memories of Spring Break 2016!

Click here to view/save image at Pinterest

Focus Skills & Adaptation Ideas:

Skills: My students will be receiving three trait-inspired grades for their final writer's notebook page:

  1. Idea Development: to what degree did the student develop an idea for a math problem (with lots of numbers) based on their own experiences?
  2. Voice: to what degree did the student successfully capture the "voice" of a test question in their write-ups?
  3. Conventions: to what degree did the student edit their drafts before placing them in their writer's notebooks?

Adaptations: I create these lesson write-ups and share how I plan to make them work with my own classroom routines, the time allotment I can give this lesson, and the abilities of my student writers. I strongly encourage adaptations if you want to use this lesson's ideas with your own students. Here are some adaptive ideas I have, and if you have others (or samples), I encourage you to post them here:

  • I actually premiered this lesson with adults at a Writing Across the Curriculum workshop for teachers. As part of the workshop, we began creating our own writer's notebooks OR interactive notebooks. We had time to draft, share, revise, and publish one "math curse" sample, inspired by situations from our own classrooms. Might your staff benefit from trying this activity at a future professional development workshop on ways to bring more WAC into all classrooms?
  • I will be encouraging my students to either "capture" their own Spring Break memories with "math curse" write-ups, or they may choose to "math curse" things that happen on the first week back from Spring Break. I suspect I will only require my students to create two "math curse" problems even though I have three. What topics might you have your students "math curse"? Upcoming field trips? Plans for summer? Advice for future students to be successful in your classroom?
  • Remember, just having time to create one "math curse" problem is completely fine. The big idea should be that--at later dates--you can suggest students create more during their sacred writing time or as exit tickets. Once they learn a unique writing format like this one (or like the one from The Important Book), they have the ability to go back and use it in new ways independently of you, or as a way to respond to future tasks/assignments.