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.

the "always write" homepage | email me | writingfix | pinterest | facebook | teachers pay teachers | twitter | youtube | lesson of the month  

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

One of my most-requested half-day workshops when I visit other states is our 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 by adapting it, let us know, and we will consider continuing to post ideas like this one.

Happy July 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.

"found poetry" can be an excellent challenge for writers
Writer's Notebook Poetry Tiles

Creating a line or two of poetry in your writer's notebook in order
to launch a piece of writing or too add a poetic element to a notebook.

Essential Questions/Overview/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • How many words of "magnetic poetry" do I need before I am inspired to write something longer.
  • How much does assembling a line of Found Poetry rely on my understanding of the grammatical structures of language?
  • What can you write based on just one line of crafted language? A poem? A paragraph? A persuasive position?
  • What other types of 'Found Poems" might sneakily snake their way into your writer's notebook during sacred writing time?

What's 'Found Poetry'? I don't remember where I first heard about "Found Poetry," but I am guessing it was the first summer I spent working with my Northern Nevada Writing Project. That was the summer I became a much better writing teacher because I learned a variety of writing tools for my teacher's strategy box. 'Found Poems' have been one of my toolbox's tools for almost 20 years now.

The idea of a found poem is that you find it--you take words and phrases from something else that has words and phrases on it. I've seen found poems based on the words found on a restaurant menu, I've seen found poems based on the words found on a page in the Bible, and I've seen found poems based on a page found in the encyclopedia. Here is a visual example of a very interestingly-decorated found poem I found on the Internet; this visual usually intrigues my students, and we talk about ways to do the same thing without ruining a printed page of text, if possible.

Creating this type of poem requires the brain to purposely pick-out interesting words and phrases, then re-assemble those words and phrases in a different type of writing. Sometimes the topic of the Found Poem becomes the same as the topic found on the original printed source the writer is using; other times, the topic of the Found Poem becomes quite different than the words/ideas on the text that's being analyzed by the writer. It's an interesting journey for the brain, and a writer's notebook is a good place to practice writing Found Poems.

Writing Found Poems appeals to many students, but not all of them, and that's why I think it's a perfect option for a student's writer's notebook. They are allowed to choose what they write about (or how they write) during sacred writing time, which is the best daily routine that happens in my classroom. Whether they like Found Poems or not, I find all students get better at writing these types of poems if they have played with our classroom's magnetic poetry tiles at any point.

Magnetic Poetry sets on small white boards make great challenges for groups who finish in-class tasks quickly. In my classroom, we will now have five sets of magnetic poetry; I've added a new set each year, and they hold up surprisingly well if you have a secure place to store them. I just added "Zombie" tiles during the 2017-18 school year. Each set of tiles fits pretty well on am 11 x 17 MAGNETIC small while board, like this one. I leave them around the classroom, and students will independently play with them, but you MUST explain that the tiles cannot leave the board they are currently on. Here's how they work best in my classroom: Throughout the year if a see a small group is doing quality work but finishing much quicker than the other groups, I put a white board with the poetry tiles in the middle that group, and I say, "Since you're done so quickly, you need to work together to write the first few lines of a 'Found poem' by all working together to rearrange these tiles. Please don't leave the tiles on the floor or your desk if they drop there." These magnetic poetry sets serve as excellent tools for differentiation for those groups who are a bit faster at doing quality work in the allotted time I give in class. Remember, all students write at different paces, and as teacher, you need to be prepared for that reality.

I started with just one magnetic poetry kit and one magnetic white board back in 2013. It started as just a "center" for writing on workshop day, but each summer, now that I've added a new one, I am able to use these in more skillful ways that increase my ability to differentiate instruction.

Here, by the way, is a picture of our new "zombie poetry set," all ready to be put in the hands of students now that I broke apart enough tiles to write one short poem to start the thing off well!

My classroom's current magnetic sets:

The 'Geek' Kit

The 'Beat Poet' Kit

The 'Math Poet' Kit

The 'Artist' Kit

The 'Zombie' Kit


Part 1 -- Practicing a "Found Poem" for in the Notebook -- choose a favorite literary passage and model!

I do have several students each year who get visually amazing with their Found Poems in their writer's notebooks after I show them this image, and this image. But before I show those top-shelf kinds of Found Poetry, I make sure all the students know they don't have to achieve that level of visual amazement when they write a Found Poem for their notebook.

In my classroom, this is how we create a practice "Found Poem" in our writer's notebook the first time:

  1. First, show off a finished Found Poem that isn't necessarily visually amazing. See the first picture below. EVERY WORD in my first found poem can be found in the original text by Charles Dickens in my sample.
  2. Next, distribute a xeroxed passage (no more than three paragraphs) of a literary passage; I tend to use ones from books that are coming up, or from books I know my students will read in the years beyond my classroom. You want an author who uses description interestingly. I use a lot of Steinbeck to introduce Found Poems.
  3. Working with partners, students create a Found Poem inspired by the first two paragraphs of Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men."
  4. Partners share their own Found Poems with other partners, noting the similarities and differences in the other group's poem.
  5. Afterwards, I announce, "A Found Poem is a completely acceptable option for you to be doing during Sacred Writing Time. If you'd like to bring in a page or a printed passage or article or email or obituary or encyclopedia page, and take those printed words through the 'Found Poem Process,' you might be surprised at what you discover in the words. From this point forward, I hope to see some Found Poems from those of you who are up for the challenge."
  6. Small group Found Poems, as an aside, make a great "Process this non-fiction" learning task. If you have a fairly short, informative article about a specific topic (like 'Why tryptophan makes you sleepy?"), I find the students make the best found poems. You can balance non-fiction with poetry if you practice doing so as a teacher.
Notebook Found Poem #1
Steinbeck Passage
Notebook Found Poem #2
Inspired by the first paragraph of Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities"
This is the actual handout my students use when we create a found poem in class.
Inspired by Steinbeck's passage, but I don't show this page until after my students write.

Here's ten minutes of "Found Poem" writing I did using only words and phrases in this passage from Dickens that I share a lot with my students. I know they'll probably be assigned A Tale of Two Cities in high school, and it tickles me to think I have students telling their high school teachers, "Mr. Harrison taught us this book back in seventh grade." For the record, I only teach this one-page passage (not the whole book!) in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, but you know how students report things!

Here's another writer's notebook lesson I deliver to my students; it, too, is inspired by this same passage from Charles Dickens. Sorry about that, high school teachers.

I like using this Steinbeck opening because I know most students will see it again, and if I can get them to slowly appreciate the language and its structure in just two opening paragraphs early on, then I think they'll be that much more prepared for Steinbeck's thicker prose.

The handout above comes with the directions I give my students, who write this first Found poem with a partner. They are told explicitly, "Do not finish this assignment simply to finish it. Your job is to write a line or two of poetry you want to save and write more about later on."

This sample features my found poem from the Steinbeck passage from the handout. I liked the poem, so I stored it on a page in my notebook. I later came back to the Found Poem and wrote a larger piece of writing in the form of a memory. The Found Poem inspired it. Encourage your students to save their Found Poems. That's the lesson here.

With this process in place, my students understand "Found Poems" and how they can be used as a way to record interesting words in your notebook that could very easily inspire other interesting words during a future ten minute period of sacred writing time.

Back to the top of the page

Part 2 -- Introducing our Grammar Lesson-Friendly Notebook Poetry Tiles

Dena and I spend each summer designing a new product or two to sell from our website so that we can continue to pay to keep this website online. In the summer of 2017, we worked on a new product called "Writer's Notebook Poetry Tiles." They are inspired by Found Poems and Magnetic Poetry kits you can buy.

I was explaining to Dena the success I was having with using my purchased magnetic poetry tiles with my stronger writers during writing mini lessons. I always have one group or two who complete their writing task well, but they finish five minutes before the other groups do. I just don't want them sitting there, so I've started handing them magnetic poetry tiles on a small magnetic white board with this directive: "Everybody works together to create a five-minute poem. [Name one student in group], you are in charge of making sure all tiles find their way back onto the magnetic white board." This has become a great enrichment task for students who deserve to do something besides sit there for five minutes and not be punished or asked to revise one more time (which often hurts writing more than it helps) just because others' writing processes work slower than theirs.

Intrigued by the idea of using "magnetic poetry" and "found poems" more, Dena and I asked ourselves if there could be some sort of magnetic poetry-like tool for students to use in their writer's notebooks. Dena was interested in designing a tool that enriched students use of poetic descriptions and language, and she thought it might be important to connect the topics to non-fiction topics. Corbett insisted the poetry tiles be connected to grammar so using them could also serve as grammar enrichment, and the grammar enrichment wouldn't be a grammar worksheet.

For our first set of poetry tiles, we designed a pretty thorough template that gave the writer a set of topic-specific words (all categorized grammatically). The current template also provides tiles with all the tier-1 words a writer needs to create sentences, and these tier-1's are all categorized grammatically on the template as well. Students should cut the grammatical sections out before they start composing a found poem. You want conversations like the following one to happen while they work on making Found Poems using this new resource we've developed over the summer of 2017:

  • Student 1: "I need the word during. Does anyone have a during?"
  • Student 2: "Look in the PREPOSITION section of your sheet."
  • Teacher (strolling amongst his students as they work and overhearing this): "That's right, boys and girls. During is a preposition. During class, during a test, during the conference I had to have with my teacher because I did so badly on my test. During is a preposition. Smart writers know their parts of speech."

The best teachers anticipate stumbling blocks in their assigned tasks, and I can tell you here is the biggest one Dena and I both encountered when first trying these notebook tiles: Students want to write a WHOLE POEM with the tiles, and unless it's a very short poem, they most likely can't do this. Or if they try to force a long poem to happen (usually because I accidentally say, "I don't think you would make a very good poem using ALL the words," and I have kids who consider that a personal dare), they usually write something not worth saving. The Big Idea is This: You want to create just one or two (or maybe even three if you're feeling particularly gifted that day) lines of poetic description. That's all. I always stress that TWO LINES are good, as long as they are two lines you really think are interesting enough to do something more with as a thinker...and writer.

Below is a video I created for this lesson that stresses the idea of "Just one or two lines of poetry that's worth saving..." Feel free to share the video with your students and to use the three sets of thematic tiles we freely provide below at the bottom of this page. This August (2017), we will be first offering twenty-four sets of magnetic-like poetry tiles--two different themes for each month of the year to customers of our Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Our You-Tube Video on Using
Notebook Poetry Tiles as Inspiration
A page from my WNB
(writer's notebook)
A page from Dena's INB
(interactive notebook)
We're in the process of making video instructions about different ways to use our products with your student writers. If you enjoy these videos, let me know. Here is my page from the video. My writer's notebook poetry tiles helped me poetically describe my dog, so I wrote about him after we "gardened" together. Here is Dena's page from the video. Dena often has her students decorate white space with writing trait skills they've been working on with the writing.

Back to the top of the page

Magnetic Poetry Tiles: Free Sheet
Preparing the Garden Theme
Magnetic Poetry Tiles: Free Preview
Snow Day Theme
Magnetic Poetry Tiles: Free Sheet
Raking Fall Leaves Theme

Coming in August of 2017 to Always Write!
25 Notebook Poetry Tile Sets = 24 Seasonal Themes + 1 Blank Template

Visit our Teachers Pay Teachers Store this August to learn how to bring these tools to your classroom
and to your classroom writer's or interactive notebook routine.

If your students create a poetry tile-inspired 'found poem' to inspire writing on a notebook page, 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



from Corbett & Dena Harrison to you...
Twelve Unique Notebook/Journal Ideas
Your best notebook keepers are always imagining unique ways to present their ideas. Can you encourage unique notebook approaches inspired by my attempts to be different in my notebook?

This resource page features one of our freely posted ideas we share with 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.


Click here to view my video.
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.

-- 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.


Back to the top of the page