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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.


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 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 March 2017, which is when I wrote this writer's notebook challenge up for publication! I discovered in January 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.
promoting word choice skills and an interest in new vocabulary words
Develop An Ear for Oxymoron

a "found oxymoron" can inspire notebook writing, but so too can designing a purposeful opposite-- like nightmarish utopia--and applying it to interesting people, places, and things

Overview/Essential Questions for this page's Resources
  • How can an oxymoron inspire interesting writing from me? What does my brain do when I am analyzing an oxymoron?
  • Can I create my own original oxymorons to inspire a short piece of writing?
  • What perspective skills (voice) can I practice while explaining someone/thing's nightmare?
  • What perspective skills (voice) can I practice while explaining someone/something's idea of utopia?

In A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You, Ralph Fletcher describes the importance of seeing the world with a "writer's eyes," and knowing you have a safe place--like a writer's notebook--to record the observations one makes as a writer. In my classroom, we learn to walk through the world with our "writer's eyes" because they know each class begins with Sacred Writing Time, and after the first month or two of school, they are expected to be bringing their own writing topics to class with them daily.

This lesson suggests teaching students, after they've developed a confident set of "writer's eyes," to start watching the world with an "ear for oxymorons" too. An oxymoron is a fun bit of wordplay that can actually be used quite effectively to create a ten-minute description--perfect for sacred writing time. My students often use oxymorons as titles of free-verse poems they are working on.

Oxymorons can pop up anywhere! On this resource page, I suggest there may be more ways to incorporate an oxymoron into writing than to simply use it as a poetic title. As I worked on and created this resource page over a month's time, I was truly struck at how many "oxymoronic" ideas I saw in my everyday observations. I believe I truly trained myself to look for them, and I believe I would have missed these ideas if I'd not been on a purposeful quest.

Later down on the page, I also include a brief description of an oxymoron-inspired idea that I sometimes take on: a utopian nightmare page. It is inspired by writing in two of my favorite picture books, which are pictured at right.

Mentor Text Suggestions:

Who Ordered the Jumbo Shrimp?
by Jon Agee

(for a great example of "nightmare")

Diary of a Worm
by Doreen Cronin

(for a great example of "utopia")

All the Places to Love
by Patricia MacLachlan


Part 1 -- Introduce/Review Oxymorons with your Students

I used to have a lot of "coffee can" writing prompts in my classroom. In each coffee can were words or phrases. If students selected words or phrases randomly from certain coffee cans, they often ended up with an idea for a writing prompt.

One of my coffee cans was labeled "Positive Adjectives," and it contained words on small pieces of paper like cheerful, generous and excited. One of my coffee cans was labeled "Nouns with Negative Connotations," and it contained words like slum, wrath and disease. My students liked the idea of reaching into both coffee cans and randomly pulling out a noun phrase--like generous slum-- and then they liked figuring out how to use this original oxymoron in a sentence or as a title for a piece of writing.

Long before WritingFix became the treasure trove of lessons and resources it is today, it was a website where I was turning my coffee can prompts into interactive, button-pressing machines like this one:

Mr. Harrison's Serendipitous Oxymoron Maker:
(link to this interactive prompt directly using this address at your own website: http://corbettharrison.com/free_lessons/Oxymorons.htm#button)
Positive - Negative Oxymoron Maker:



Negative - Positive Oxymoron Maker:



Do any of your serendipitous oxymorons inspire a tile for a piece of writing?
Could you hide an oxymoron in a poem for a fellow student to then look for?

After having students toy around with both button-pressing games above, teachers can challenge students to create their own version of this "game" by creating a few word banks in their writer's notebooks. They can begin brainstorming their own lists of positive and negative adjectives and nouns. That page/word bank can become a page the student revisits later when in search of a topic or a good piece of language to try to use in something they are writing. I am a strong proponent that writer's notebooks should be sparsely populated (every tenth page, perhaps) with word banks like the one I am suggesting here.

Part 2 -- Using Oxymorons as Titles of 10-Minute Sacred Writing Time Work.

When you have a sacred writing time routine in place, you will find that students often collect ideas for writing ahead of time, many of them even going so far as to "reserve" a page to write on later by taping an artifact to it, or by simply writing a title on the page, thus "claiming it." I find that oxymorons heard and celebrated during one class period often become titles of pages the students plan to write on later. Oxymorons make cool titles. If you don't believe me, click the buttons on the interactive button-pressing machine above and wait until a poetic title or a story title jumps at you.

My kids have learned to create oxymorons without the interactive machine above. They simply take a word (and I often encourage them to take a vocabulary word) like, say, miserable or ecstatic. Then, students brainstorm nouns that convey the opposite idea of miserable and ecstatic to create noun phrases like these:

miserable happiness
miserable amusement
miserable celebration
miserable mirth
ecstatic misery
ecstatic sleeper
ecstatic grump
ecstatic sloth

These eight oxymorons strike me as more poetic pieces of language than literal, so my self-expressive brain immediately wants to write a poem that uses one of these as its title, but then I think of people and events I actually know, and I realize that I could tell you a true story about a time the family held a miserable celebration, or I could fictionalize that idea into the beginning of a story. I look at ecstatic grump, and I actually think of a few people I know and like who would probably describe themselves that way, so why shouldn't I?

The three samples below demonstrate me using a self-created oxymoron to write for ten minutes. The first sample below takes the form of prose, and the other two examples are free-verse poems. In all three cases, I reserved the page ahead of time by writing my OXYMORONIC TITLE at the top of a blank page coming up in my notebook.

Oxymoronic Title #1
Oxymoronic Title #2
Oxymoronic Title #3
"The Delicious Disaster"-- a memory
"Under the Over Cover" -- a poem
"Forwards Backwards" -- a poem

Here's ten minutes of writing I did the day after I created a title for this page based on the oxymoron: Delicious Disaster.

I knew I had stories that would fit that oxymoronic title in my personal memory bank, but the one that ultimately came to me when I sat down to do the ten minutes of writing I had prepped for, well the story involved visiting my grandparents when I was probably only eight or nine years old, and there was a bunch of strawberry ice cream in this story, so I went with that.

Click the image above to view it larger.
Click here to access/save the image at Pinterest.

I don't claim to be a good poet, but I like playing with words, and I usually call that my "poetry."

Here, my wife had lost an issue of Entertainment Weekly that I wanted to read when she was done with it, but she couldn't find it. She knew what picture was on its cover, but she'd forgotten the issue came with one of those "Over Covers" that warns you you're done to your last few issues of your subscription. She cried, "It was hidden under the over cover," and I first heard the oxymoron, then liked the two last words in that phrase sitting nest to each other. A poem happened.

Click the image above to view it larger.
Click here to access/save the image at Pinterest.

I heard one of my students utter this oxymoron during a group discussion. I think what he actually said was "I keep going forward in a backwards kind of way," and I took the two words that were the most oxymoronic: forward backwards.

I loudly pointed out the oxymoron to the whole class, then asked the student if I could write a poem with that title the next day during sacred writing time. He, of course, said I could, so I wrote FORWARDS BACKWARDS on the next page in my notebook, and the next time I saw that class, they wanted to see the poem I had written. Through example and involving the students in my writing process, I encouraged them to try oxymoron-inspired poetry as well.

Click the image above to view it larger.
Click here to access/save the image at Pinterest.

Part 2
-- Finding Real World Oxymorons or Inventing Oxymoronic Products (like 'Dessert Pizza!) that should Exist

I found that by creating the three oxymoron title pages above, I suddenly was on full alert for finding oxymorons. They became something I was just naturally playing with while I stood in lines and read the things around me. Some of the oxymorons were written where I saw them, or they hinted at being written oxymorons. The "Come in, We're Closed" sign I saw made me think of OPEN-CLOSED as a topic for writing. Most of the oxymorons I encountered while I was on full alert were created in my mind based on something I saw. For example, I stopped short in the grocery aisle when I saw a brand of canned soup was using the word "home style" as its adjective, and I thought "home style canned soup" has to be an oxymoron because I can think of no one who has a professional soup canner in their homes to make this soup. That's the kind of thinking you go through when you're actively looking for oxymoronic examples in the world.

Below, find the three samples from my notebook I can share with my students when I encourage them to try using an oxymoron as an idea during sacred writing time.

An Oxymoron I'd Invent
Oxymoron...Observed, #3
"Fragrant Garbage" -- a social critique
Buttered Popcorn Ice Cream
"Giant Shrimp" -- my challenge to you!

Here's ten minutes of writing I did after doing the shopping and discovering that we were buying scented garbage bags. I laughed, hoping someone would someday say to me, "You have such fragrant garbage" when they walked by our trash can.

I trimmed myself an artifact off the box in the pantry, taped it on a page, and the next day I wrote my thoughts down about fragrant garbage.

I wanted to apply the idea of an oxymoron to our taste buds, so I brainstormed food products in four different categories I created. When I crossed the categories, I invented strange new tastes, including the one I went with: Popcorn-flavored ice cream, which may actually exist, I suppose.

I used a notebook page to recall my own brainstorm and to advertise for my new product.

I had heard about these invasive giant shrimp species on the radio, so when I created this page on oxymorons, I went back to find a news story on the topic.

If you click the picture above and print it, then you can paste the same visual oxymoron onto a page in your writer's notebook, and we can see how we both approached the same topic differently.

I'll be posting my completed GIANT SHRIMP page here in the near future.

Part 3
-- Invent a Classroom Prompt Inspired by an Oxymoron your Students Like:

My classroom's go-to oxymoron prompt has become this: Give any inanimate object or animal a nightmare and describe what terrifies it in its sleep; then, describe the same item's concept of a perfect vacation. Being in a nightmare and being in paradise are two opposite ideas, so we call this prompt a "Nightmarish Utopia" prompt in my class. I always have one group of maverick student who insist on calling it the "Utopian Nightmare" prompt, and they make a huge deal out of it, and they end up using the word utopian more than anyone would have thought they could have, and that makes their resistance awesome. These days, I use both versions of the name interchangeably.

My classroom's oxymoronic prompt first took form in my classroom years back after I received a copy of Doreen Cronin's Diary of a Worm while attending an inservice class. My favorite page from the book is the one at right. The worm has a nightmare, which is based on the two biggest fears: birds and hopscotch. Those two things blend together to create a wonderful nightmare that could be described.

The nightmare half of this prompt took off in many of my students' writer's notebooks. When it started feeling a bit dark and morbid, I tried to balance it out by suggesting they also write about the same inanimate objects while they are in paradise, or on a perfect vacation. To connect with my students who have a hard time with the word paradise or utopia when it's being used more metaphorically, I share with them Patricia MacLachlan's All the Places to Love, which shares four family members' idea of "paradise" on the ranch they all live on together. I use MacLachlan's mentor text when teaching 1) descriptive language skills for setting and 2) use of prepositional phrases as effective sentence starters. I'm pretty confident no matter what standards you're teaching from, you'll find requirements in those standards that MacLachlan's text will help you give your students; plus, it's a beautiful book in so many ways.

Eventually, the idea morphed into just one prompt: take a topic, and on the same page (or two-page spread), spend some time explaining its nightmare and some time explaining its idea of paradise. It's a nightmarish utopia page. It really helped that I had some examples to share with my students, so I invite you to make your own samples based on your own topics of interest. I also invite you to share mine if you really haven't picked up from me that the most important thing you can do as a writing teacher is try out the techniques you suggest your students use.

More importantly, I invite you to create your own classroom oxymoron prompt that you can suggest to your students. I explained where mine came from, and it's certainly useable by the masses, but the fact that my students and I created it together means it's special to me, and I always find time to come back to the special ideas year after year.

Utopian Nightmare
Nightmarish Utopia
Vocabulary "Enemies"
Inanimate Object: the remote control
Animal: Tucker, my terrier
Personifying Opposite Words

Here's a Utopian-Nightmare prompt told from the perspective of our remote control at home. The remote control is the item in our household that gets lost (by me) the most but amazingly doesn't provoke my wife (Dena) into a fight about it.

It was fun writing from the remote's P.O.V.

Here's a Nightmarish-Utopian prompt told from the perspective of my "middle child" at home: my terrier Tucker. I realized how much I know about my little dog as I wrote a nightmare from his P.O.V. as well as the idea of what his perfect world would look like.

It was also fun writing from the dog's P.O.V.

This particular notebook challenge complements another notebook challenge we created in 2017: Personified Vocabulary Enemies. This prompt has students personifying two antonyms and having them spend the day together.

Personifying antonyms and writing about oxymorons is a bit similar, I discovered.

If you have a student who is inspired to create an oxymoron-inspired page 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.

-- 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

A Unique Way to Write about Vocabulary!

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


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