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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One of my most-requested half-day 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 February 2017, which is when I wrote this writer's notebook challenge up for publication! I discovered last month 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.
this might make a really hot-button topic for your writer's notebook...
Establish an Odd Notebook Election/Campaign

establish two unique opponents and/or a weird office to run for,
then create a campaign within your notebook's pages

Essential Questions:

  • What elements of propaganda can I review/show mastery of with my notebook campaign ads?
  • What creative points of view or real world perspectives can I explore as I create a fake campaign in my notebook?
  • How does word choice combined with visual elements add to a campaign ad?

Inspired by my example, students may choose to establish an interesting idea for a fake election in their notebooks. Every few weeks, they might use their allotted ten minutes of sacred writing time to create a new campaign poster or commercial script for the campaign. Who can keep their fake election going the longest? Who can create the cleverest ads? Can the election ultimately be decided upon? Here are some ideas for fake campaigns/elections that my students brainstormed after I shared my example that's documented below:

  • Who would win the best season of the year election? Spring, fall, summer, or winter?
  • Who would win the Oscar for novel-inspired categories? Best noble deed by a character in a novel we're reading, perhaps?
  • Who in class should be elected President of Losing Homework ? Or Vice-President of Knock Knock Jokes?
  • Who should represent the class as Vocabulary Ambassador? As the Senator of Spelling?

From my Classroom Bookshelf...Mentor Text Suggestions:

The following mentor texts can be used to set the mood of an election that is a little bit unusual or out of the ordinary, which is what the students will be asked to create for their notebooks.

Duck for President by Doreen Cronin. First off, all of Cronin's books are delightful, and they tickle my students' funny bones with wonderfully silly ideas they might write about. In this book, on Farmer Brown's farm, the animals do chores for the farmer, and duck doesn't like his assigned chores. So duck coordinates an election, and Farmer Brown is voted out! Duck then goes on a journey that has him running for governor and president. This book and its illustrations capture in a wonderfully nonsensical way all elements of an election, from registering to vote to kissing babies. At the end of this book, simply say, "See? Anything can run for 'president'. You should use your notebook as your place to campaign for something--like a duck--as it seeks more power." This book will inspire, especially if you share an example. My model is below, but I think you would have a fun time creating your own "election" in your notebook to show off.

Mentor Text Suggestions:

Duck for President
by Doreen Cronin

LaRue for Mayor
by Mark Teague

Otto Runs for President

by Rosemary Wells

LaRue for Mayor by Mark Teague is an epistolary story (much of it being told in different forms of correspondence) about a dog running for office when the current mayor's campaign irks him. As the story unfolds through letters and newspaper clippings, we are shown two different campaign strategies in action. The idea of using primary sources (letters) and secondary sources (newspaper clippings) to tell a story also is a fun strategy for a writer's notebook challenge. If you've not seen my Epistolary Story lesson, click that link to see some of my students' samples of this strategy for telling a story.

Otto Runs for President by Rosemary Wells. The idea of creating a fake election or campaign means you have had some exposure to elections and campaigns, and our littler students usually have not. When I've done election-inspired persuasive writing tasks with students younger than fifth grade, I find this book shares enough election elements (campaign promises, bribing the voters with cookies, etc.) that students can imitate if their teacher helps them to a topic where two weird things are campaigning against each other in a weird election. There is a lesson at WritingFix where younger students hold a "Most Nutritious Fruit" Election, and each pair of students create and promote their own candidate. Fun stuff. Oh, and finally, there is a great use of sticky notes in the middle of this book: mysterious notes on lockers. Could inspire a fun writing assignment at your school.

Next...Start by Sharing an Original Idea from an Actual Notebook:

You should make your own silly notebook campaign, you know: Ideally, if you're going to try to encourage creating a fake election/campaign in your students' notebooks, you would have an example that you created in your notebook to share. If you don't have the time or an idea to create and inspire your own and need to use my examples below, then you can call me "My teaching friend from Nevada" when you share my models below. I will say this, and I know I say it a lot at my website, but it's important: I teach these ideas well because I take the time to go through the writing process it requires to create an original example; by going through the process myself, I have the ability to share my metacognition and I can better anticipate (and prepare for) stumbling blocks that students may encounter. I am a good writing teacher because I have my own examples to share.

The background story (aka exposition) you might need to understand the notebook "campaign" I created: For Christmas in 2015, we got ourselves a puppy--aptly named Boone for his explorer ways. He took our dog count to three. A year later, we had a one-year old Westie, a four-year old Westie, and a nine-year old Westie. I wanted to get Boone so that our energetic middle Westie--Tucker--had a playmate closer to his age. Our oldest terrier--Bentley--is his mama's lap dog, and it's been interesting to watch Boone decide if he wants to be a lapdog like his oldest brother, or if he wants to be a hunter like his older brother Tucker. In December of 2016, we began to see that Boone might be inclined to de-throne Tucker as the house's unchallenged alpha dog. On Christmas day, our two younger Westies got into such an alpha fight that we had blood--lots of blood!--all over the carpet and tile to clean up. The alpha skirmishes continue, though we've had no more bloodshed, and I honestly don't know which dog might end up winning the fray. So, I've decided to create a fake election and campaign for running for alpha dog in our household.

Modeling my process: You can teach or reinforce organization skills to or with your students by requiring them to plan a layout for certain pages in their notebooks. Before I wrote anything, I wanted to design my page by organizing it ahead of time. I have three dogs who will all play their part in this election, so needed three sections. Two of the sections would be about the two separate campaigns for alpha dog, but the third section would represent the single canine voter who isn't running in this election--the oldest dog--and I thought he would be the perfect electorate college. That said, I created the following two-page layout that breaks the two pages into three sections for my writer's notebook.

With the page set-up in sections, I began to brainstorm specifics for each candidate. I came up with four sub-categories to divide each campaign into. I purposely point this out to my students because it demonstrates thinking about organization while creating a piece of writing. The four categories I wrote on a Sticky Note were: 1) Education/Experience; 2) Platform/Promises; 3) Ways to Describe Him; 4) Biggest Planned Change if Elected Alpha. From those four categories, I began using sacred writing time to create the words that now appear on my "Campaign Kick-off Page" in my notebook. If I was sitting next to you and you asked me a question about any fact on the page below, I would have an out-loud story to tell you. That's what writer's notebooks hold: memories of moments that can be talked about later, perhaps even worked into a great story. Even in a fake campaign, true stories about my candidates come out.

Follow-up plans for this page: In America (remember, I wrote this lesson idea up in February of 2017, everyone!), we've recently endured a pretty intolerable election cycle, and I will continue using this fake notebook campaign as my way to heal from the ugly rhetoric that was thrown at us throughout 2016. On pages in this writer's notebook wherein I've established this fake election and campaign, I am going to continue to create ads and other rhetorical devices about the campaign as I continue to watch my two dogs duke it out for the alpha position in our household. I will be posting those additions all year long in the gallery below.

In addition, with this current writer's notebook that I am developing, I am trying out a new strategy: I call this strategy "Reserving a Future Notebook Page." Makes sense. That's what you're doing, I used this strategy with the fake campaign because it lent itself nicely to the idea. You create artifacts for whatever you're doing creatively in your notebook--in this case, I'm making a creative campaign--and then you flip ahead in your notebook 5-20 pages, and you tape the artifact down. By doing so, you "reserve" the page. A week or month later, when you come to the reserved page thanks to all the sacred writing your teacher is having you do, you now have a choice:

  • Simply write around the artifact about any topic you want, all the while remembering that the artifact serves as a continuation of the idea you have previously established.
  • Let the re-emergence of the artifact inspire the writing you do. This would work well when saving something that doesn't involve original writing--like a photograph or a fortune from a fortune cookie.
Continuing my Fake Campaign in my Writer's Notebook:
First, I designed this fake campaign ad:

(Click to enlarge)
Then, I taped it down on a future page:

(Click to enlarge)
Later, I wrote around the artifact:

(Here, the campaign ad inspired the previous page but what I wrote on the actual page with the ad had nothing to do with the election.)
First, I created this fake campaign ad:

(Click to enlarge)
Then, I taped it down on a future page:

(Click to enlarge)
Later, I wrote around the artifact:

(Here, I decided to write out our latest dog tale, inspired by the fake ad for the campaign on the page. Click to enlarge)
First, I created this fake button:

(Click to enlarge)
Then, I taped it down on a future page:

(Click to enlarge)
Later, I wrote around the artifact:

(Here, the election button adds a decoration to the page even though the topic I wrote for during that ten minutes was not about the election.
First, I created this fake campaign ad:

(Click to enlarge)
Then, I taped it down on a future page:

(Click to enlarge)
Later, I wrote around the artifact:

(Click to enlarge)

Giving credit where credit is due: In late 2008, while I was becoming the outgoing Director of the Northern Nevada Writing Project, I helped our new incoming Director with a project: The Going Deep with Compare/Contrast Thinking Guide. We created a three-part resource and distributed it at dozens of trainings, and we showed teacher learning groups how to use the guide as a--well, guide--when they were creating professional development goals for themselves.

I helped create the guide's middle section. This middle section contained different writing challenges that required comparative thinking from the writer. One of those ideas came from my Northern Nevada colleague, Holly Young. She helped us create a writing challenge based on a fake smear campaign between two things that would never run in an election against each other. The idea was "How would your opponent use your qualities against you to make him/herself look like a better candidate?" It's actually a pretty good learning task, and I thought about it a lot as I created my ads above that attempt to smear the opponents' reputations.

I wanted to share that assignment that Holly and I created together for the middle section of the guide.

Holly's Sample from the Compare/Contrast Guide
Click here to open this two-page lesson write-up from the Compare/Contrast Guide.

At present, you can order a copy of the Going Deep with Compare/Contrast Thinking Guide through Amazon.

If you have a student who is inspired to create a fake notebook campaign 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 , or you can post it to this blog post.


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 --
For Writers Needing a Guided Challenge:

-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --

Did you miss this freely posted lesson?

RheTURKical Triangle -- Lesson Link

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

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

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

-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --

A Text that Guides our Teaching of Literacy:

Notebook Connections
by Aimee Buckner

Differentiating Reading Instruction
by Laura Robb


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