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.

 

Always
Write

 
       Because writing--when taught right--can be the most enjoyable part of your teaching day, I created this website.

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

A lot of educators find this website because they are interested in our Sacred Writing Time materials, which we happily share. I'm often asked by teachers, "How do you begin sacred writing time? What does that look like?" The new school year started for us here in Northern Nevada on August 4 in 2018, so I documented some of my "rolling out SWT" techniques to share.

First, if you aren't using our Sacred Writing Time Slides, you may not be able to build the routine as successfully as we have over the years. They serve as a "sign post" for my students when they enter class; they remind them to grab their writer's notebooks and be ready to write as soon as the bell begins class. We always offer the August 15-September 15 slides at no cost so that teachers can see if their students respond to them. Not only are they potential writing topics for the students' daily ten minutes of notebook writing, but they serve as great, short discussion starters when you are transitioning between an activity and activity.

In addition, my lovely wife, Dena, has created a very special set of Sacred Writing Time slides for Banned Book week, which is September 24-29 in 2018, the year we posted this lesson. Dena has designed five special slides for those five days, and each slide comes with a short reading passage and task that asks students to analyze a classroom appropriate passage from the five banned authors her slides celebrate. Dena's hope is that if a student can analyze the beautiful words and passages in these banned authors' work, a student might be encouraged to overlook anything not-as-beautiful in these banned books and try reading them without nitpicking certain words and moments from certain novels' plots.

Complimentary Preview: August 15-September 15 SWT Slides!
Free to Use: Banned Book Week (Sept 24-29) SWT Slides!
Download the first month of SWT slides for free here.
Purchase the entire set of Sacred Writing Time Slides from our Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
Download the PowerPoint version or the PDF version of these special slides Dena created for September 24-28, 2018's Banned Book Week. Each slide comes with a classroom discussion task.

sharing techniques I used this August to launch...
A Sacred Writing Routine

Teaching Students the SWT Routine and Giving Them
Permission to Have "Writing Recess" for Ten Minutes Daily

Essential Questions/Overview/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • What are the three objectives of having a Sacred Writing Routine? (Students practice creative and logical approaches to their writing; students apply writing techniques and mini lesson skills discussed in class to their own writing; students develop stronger writing fluency.
  • How do you ensure students are exploring themselves as writers during Sacred Writing Time in class?
  • How can a teacher learn more about his/her student writers by observing them during Sacred Writing Time in class?

  • Bonus EQ: How can I share classroom-friendly passages from banned books and help my students focus on the writing skills of the banned authors more than the elements that got the book banned?

What is a Sacred Writing Time? To be a better athlete, one must practice daily. To improve skills needed to play a musical instrument, one must practice every day as well. This need to practice transfers to writing as well. To build more fluent writers, I require each class to begin with what we've come to call "Sacred Writing Time." My students enter class, see the daily Sacred Writing Time slide on the board, and they procure their writer's notebook. For ten minutes, their pencils "dance."

For the first two weeks of every class I begin in the fall, we teach ourselves to see the world with a "writer's eyes," which means we are teaching ourselves to observe the world as a potential writing topic. Students who say they have nothing to write about have simply not been trained to observe the world with the eyes of someone who knows his/her grade is dependent on them not only coming to class each day with a writing topic of their own, but they must also keep the topic going for ten minutes as they write in their notebooks.

On this page, I share several of the techniques I use faithfully and annually to help my students develop that required set of "writers' eyes." Once they understand they are to be responsible for their own writing ideas as they walk into classroom, they use the techniques I share that work best for them.

By the way, we call it sacred writing time not for any religious reason. The students know they will ALWAYS have this ten minutes to write right when class begins; it is my sacred promise to them. and by promising this will happen daily--even if there's a substitute or a fire drill or a state assessment--I hold them accountable for the "writer's eyes" I expect them to develop. And here's something you may have to say to an administrator: even though "developing a set of writer's eyes" is not in the Common Core State Standards or any other standards I've seen, I couldn't host a student-centered and student-led writing or vocabulary workshop in my classroom if I had students who need to be spoon-fed writing ideas, topics and prompts.

I believe SWT is one of the most important things I give my students to do as an expectation.

My current collection of SWT and Writer's Notebook mentor texts:

Happy Dreamer
by Peter H. Reynolds


A Writer's Notebook
by Ralph Fletcher

 

Technique #1 for developing "writer's eyes"... Teach the "Happy [Writer]." I really am glad I found the picture book work of Peter Reynolds, whose book "The Word Collector" was cited in last month's lesson. His book "Happy Dreamer," which I cite as a teaching technique for SWT here, provides a perfect statement for how students should look at their own writer's notebooks and their own use of Sacred Writing Time.

In a "Happy Dreamer," the imaginative side of all human beings is celebrated. Before reading it, I say, "Imagine your pencil is listening to the story too, not just you. Imagine your pencil is using advice from this book to learn to 'dance' in your writer's notebook."

My favorite part of the "Happy Dreamer" is when the narrator tells us he'll obey and sit quietly in a straight row, requiring silence, but you won't see his best work if you put him in that scenario. My kids connect with this part of the book the most. When I jokingly say, after sharing this book, that Sacred Writing Time is like "Pencil recess," they understand that after sharing this book.

After listening to the book, students work with partners to brainstorm multiple techniques one might use when writing something "pencil recess worthy" in their notebooks. Tell them you're not interested in topics with their brainstorms; you're interested in unique things they could do or put in their writer's notebooks to honor the spirit of the book.

If you look just at the picture from the book I've posted at right, I hope you'll see the kind of thinking this book will help your students to do. I encourage them my students to substitute the words happy dreamers with the words happy writers so that they can develop the kind of advice a good writer needs. My students had a great discussion when they asked how "Happy writers bounce back and move forward..." I predict yours will too.

Do your classroom a favor and give it its own copy of Peter Reynold's Happy Dreamer.

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Technique #2 for developing "writer's eyes"... Go on a "writer's walk." This year (2018), we did this on the third day of school. My sixth graders had spent their first few days of middle school struggling to avoid being run over in the hallways. A writer's walk was just what they needed, according to their teacher.

Here were the rules of this year's first writer's walk through the empty hallways of our school, which was made possible because we took our writer's walk while everyone was sitting in desks in their own classrooms:

  • Before we begin the walk, each student understands that he/she has to find one thing that makes him/her think or wonder about enough to write about for five to ten minutes as soon as we return to the classroom
  • While we walk, we are not to talk or touch or distract each other; if we see something interesting, we can point it out without making any sound. I modeled this by showing a dented locker just outside my classroom as our walk began, and I pointed it out to the students in silence, and also in silence I pantomimed punching the locker, then I raising my shoulders to indicate a question.
  • I am the only one permitted to speak any words, which I do very quietly when I do. This year, I previewed the walk I'd be taking them on and had some funny questions prepared as we looked at posters and in trophy cases. The School Picture Posters were up, for example, so I asked the kids if they think they'd make a good school picture model, like the smiling young man in the posters we walked past.

We returned to the class that day, students immediately grabbed their notebooks, and they had their ten minutes of writing at the end of our walk. For the students I notice not writing, I pass them a small piece of paper that says, "Write about a really bad school picture day, inspired by the poster, if you honestly have NOTHING else you observed to write or wonder about."

Giving credit where credit is due (something more teachers need to do these days, in my opinion): The "Writer's Walk" idea in my classroom is complete an adaptation of an idea that I participated in many times over the years when I attended the National Writing Project's Fall meeting, which usually happened in a cool, big city. One of the other National Writing Project Directors (I can't remember his name; email me if you know it please.) often arranged for a historical walk. On those walks, we'd bring our writing notebooks, and on occasion, we'd all sit down somewhere and write for five or ten minutes about something that occurred to us as we walked and silently observed.

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Technique #3 for developing "writer's eyes"... Scaffold Struggling Students with Open-Ended Writing Prompts Back in 2011, Dena and I created our Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards as our very first "product" when we envisioned selling an item/resource or two online to support the upkeep of this website you're currently using at no cost whatsoever. Each bingo card contains 24 open-ended writing prompts, and each card's center square is linked to an online lesson specially written as a lesson for the writer's notebooks your students are maintaining. We started with nine Bingo Cards, and in 2012 we had a different Bingo Card for each month of the year.

To be a good writing prompt, in our opinion, a prompt should be transferable to other potential writing topics. Take, for instance, the "Best or Worst" writing prompt idea that appears on many of our set of Bingo Cards. The design of the prompt is very transferable to topics that aren't written on the Bingo Card. If the Bingo Card suggests: "Best or Worst? Put one of those two words in front of the word vacation and write for ten minutes." Students should be encouraged to confidently switch the card's suggested word--vacation--to any other word or phrase that inspires them. I already have "Best/worst" writing samples about breakfast cereals, movies, and superheroes.

I share the previous paragraph because I want you to hear our intention in creating a sheet of prompts; we wanted to show students how to create their own prompt ideas, not be dependent on our prompts. If you purchase the entire set Bingo Slides, we hope you won't use them in a way that restricts their writing choices. A great writing prompt doesn't limit possibilities; it opens them wide up!

August and September's Complimentary Notebook Bingo Cards

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Technique #4 for developing "sacred writers." Bring together writing and reading discussions. Students will write about what they're reading in interesting ways if you train them to do so. My class reads Ralph Fletcher's A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You cover to cover (which takes about a week is all, and it's a handbook so it counts as non-fiction). They also hear encouragement from me to start writing about their readings or the characters in their readings; I have read more insight from a student about a book being read in class much more often in a writer's notebook than in any traditional book report.

This week, to honor Banned Books Week (September 23-29, 2018), Dena has created a special set of new slides that, she hopes, will merge reading and writing. She hopes these five slides, if you choose to use them and their accompanying 10-minute discussion prompts, will help give your students to start exploring what they;re reading when you allow them to write every day during Sacred Writing Time.

Click the slide image above (or here) to open the entire week's worth of slides (with links to the 10-minute discussions) in PDF format.

Click here to open the slides as a PowerPoint file, which allows you to edit anything on the slides.


This concludes our first month's resources for launching a Sacred Writing Time routine. To learn more about SWT, be sure to visit our Sacred Writing Time Resource Page.

 


from Corbett & Dena Harrison to you...
Six Conceptual INN Ideas
An Interactive Non-Fiction Notebook (INN) requires students to use interesting true facts they've learned as they create a unique or thematic way to present the information to fellow students. If used well, INNs can help you up the student-centeredness of your classroom.

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.

Our FIRST Product!
Beginner Prompts, Thoughtfully Presented:


-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --
-- Free Preview of August & September --


-- short video about SWT & Bingo Cards --

Our MOST POPULAR 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

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Did you miss this freely posted lesson?

Primary Source Picture Books -- Lesson Link

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Notebook Mentor Texts that Inspire Student Writers:

 

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