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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.

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

One of my favorite classroom tools was the writer's notebook. We spent ten minutes a day, having fun with words and original ideas in these notebooks during our classroom's Sacred Writing Time. I always am encouraging students to try to find new ways to inspire writing--silly or serious--out of them during SWT. This helped me create a roomful of critical thinkers and writers during my best years of teaching. Establishing an election--a topic that seems to be what's in the current news and commericals every other year at least--is a great thing to inspire writing. So are the eleven other techniques you can link to by using the menu I've placed just to the right of this writing.

An Adaptable Lesson from the Harrisons' Classroom to Your Classroom:
How this free-to-use lesson came to be online: My wife, Dena, and I taught English-- reading & writing, speech & debate, journalism & media studies--for 56 combined years before both officially retiring at the conclusion of the 2018-19 school year. We've had a lot of years to develop passion about certain teaching topics, and focusing on unique ways to teach writing has become a combined passion for both of us. After I earned my Master's Degree in Educational Technology way (way!) back in 1999, Dena and I decided to establish a website and begin freely posting our favorite lessons and resources that we created and successfully used during our time in the classroom.

We began this online task by--first--creating WritingFix in 1999, and there we began posting writing methodologies and techniques from our own classrooms. Two years after WritingFix had been established, we teamed with the Northern Nevada Writing Project for several years, and through their popular inservice classes, we began adding the ideas of many Nevada teachers who enrolled in those classes for recertification credit. When the federal budget floundered in 2008, the NNWP was no longer able to sponsor WritingFix in any way shape or form, but Dena and I keep the site online through user donations and our own monies..

In 2008, we began creating this newer website with writing lessons that specifically focused on our favorite topics and techniques for writing instruction: 1) the six writing traits; 2) writing across the curriculum, 3) writing lessons that differentiate, 4) writer's notebooks, and 5) vocabulary instruction. This "Always Write" website has been growing--month by month--since the summer of 2008. Below, you will find a lesson we posted to inspire a unique type of writing.

Thanks for checking out this month's lesson, and if you have any questions about it, don't hesitate to contact us using this email address: corbett@corbettharrison.com

in a notebook, politics can be serious or silly ...
An Unusual Notebook Election/Campaign

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

Quick overview: Inspired by my teacher's samples and/or a mentor text, students can choose to establish an interesting "fake election" in their notebooks that mimics real election techniques they're seeing. 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 or most satirical 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 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?

Essential Questions/Objectives/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • What elements of propaganda can I review/master 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 I create for my notebook?

    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.1.B -- Support claim(s) with clear reasons and relevant evidence, using credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.
    -- Establish and maintain a formal style.
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.10 -- Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

The following three 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 writer's notebooks. Owning these mentor texts is not a requirement for teaching this lesson, but I believe literacy should set a mood for in-class writing, and these books set a mood for creating one's own notebook election. Check your local library. These are popular books and easy to find for check-out.

Duck for President by Doreen Cronin cracks me up. 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. I also share this book right before we read Animal Farm by George Orwell.

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 is one of Dena's favorites. 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.

Mentor Text Suggestions:

Duck for President
by Doreen Cronin

LaRue for Mayor
by Mark Teague

Otto Runs for President

by Rosemary Wells

At the NCTE Conference in St. Louis in 2017, I co-presented on the importance of keeping a notebook. Here is access to our presentation from that year.

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

You should create your own silly notebook campaign, you know: Ideally, if you're going to try to encourage creating fake elections/campaigns 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 teacher 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 gain the ability to share my metacognition and I can better anticipate (and prepare for) stumbling blocks my students may encounter. I am a good writing teacher because I have my own examples to share, and I can anticipate my students' potential stumbling blocks.

Some background info (a.k.a. exposition) you might need to understand the notebook "campaign" I created below: Way back Christmas in 2015, we got ourselves a puppy--named Boone (after Daniel Boone) for his exploring ways. He took our dog count to three, so one year later, we owned a one-year old Westie (Boone), a four-year old Westie (Tucker), and a nine-year old Westie (Bentley). 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 male. On Christmas day in 2016, 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 continued, though we had no more bloodshed, and Tucker ultimately maintained his position. The whole experience inspired me to create a fake election for my notebook that would imitate some of the highlights of the 2016 election we had just endured as a nation.

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 for my first page about the election in my notebook, 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 interested in running in this election--the oldest dog--and I thought he would serve as our 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; I photographed it after I had established the layout so I could show my students, ask them to do the same.

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 my sacred writing time to create the words that now appear on my "Campaign Kick-off Page" in my 2017 writer's 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 that never existed, true stories about my "candidates" come out.

Follow-up plans for this page: As I mentioned up above, in America (remember, I wrote this lesson idea up in February of 2017!), we'd recently endured a pretty ugly 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 continued to create ads and other rhetorical devices about the campaign as I continued to watch my two dogs duke it out for the Alpha position in our household. They were a superb addition to my 2017 writer's notebook, and they make that notebook fun to look back through.

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" that 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 on a daily basis, you now have a choice:

  • Simply write anything at all 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. Write about the election again. This technique works especially well when saving an artifact that doesn't involve original writing--like a photograph or a fortune from a fortune cookie.

I used both technqiues when I came across these pages I reserved with campaign artifacts I made and taped down.

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: Our Going Deep with Compare/Contrast Thinking Guide, which is now out of print. 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 referred to Holly's write-up a lot as I created my ads above that attempt to smear the opponents' Alpha dog qualifications.

Below, I share the write-up from the out-of-print guide that inspired this idea.

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

I have the entire Compare/Contrast Guide as a PDF file. I send it to teachers who send me student samples after using our lessons.
If you encourage any students to create an outstandding fake election in their notebooks and share, I'll send you the PDF.
Contact me at corbett@corbettharrison.com about this offer.


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 our 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 --

Here's another of our free-to-use lessons:
What kind of List could you
Make Rhymes for?

Rhyming List Notebook Challenge
inspired by Greg and Evan Spinidellis'
The Longest Christmas List Ever
(out of print -- find a cheap used copy!)

What's Vocabulary Workshop?
a learner-centered routine that teaches writing and vocabulary skills while building a stronger community of learners.

Vocab Workshop Resource Page
free resources and lessons for helping
students truly learn vocabulary

If you're interested in purchasing our Vocabulary Workshop PowerPoint Lessons, visit our
Teachers Pay Teachers Store

"Love this resource - so easy to use. Much more creative than standard vocabulary tasks. My students love it.

--Teachers Pay Teachers customer review

Did you miss this freely posted lesson?

Primary Source Picture Books -- Lesson Link

-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --

Texts that Guide our Teaching of Literacy:

Notebook Connections
by Aimee Buckner

Differentiating Reading Instruction
by Laura Robb

Here's another of our free-to-use writing lessons:
Airplanes have First Class seats.
Shouldn't school buses?

First-Class School Bus Seats
inspired partly by Mo Willems'
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

Here's another of our free-to-use writing lessons:
Creating Acrostic-Styled Lists of
Examples and Non-Examples

Vocabulary Acrostic Riddles
inspired by Bob Raczka's Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word

Show Students How Language is Fun!
A Plethora of Fantabulous
Words Await your Students in
Ruth Heller's Books...

Collective Noun Riddles for Writer's Notebooks
inspired by Ruth Heller's
A Cache of Jewels and Other Collective Nouns


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