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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 right--can be the most enjoyable part of your teaching day, we created this website to provide fresh ideas and lessons for teachers.

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Teaching writing should be two things: skill-focused and fun. If we forget the second half of that formula, we create students who dread writing anything. Bring a little fun back into your writing curriculum. This lesson might help you do that!

Don't know what I mean by fun? Click on this image then, and tell someone what your superhero name would be. I'm the "Galactic Skull," and I'll happily use that character name to battle any of the superheroes my students created below in this FUN lesson.

An Adaptable Lesson--from the Harrisons to You:
How this free-to-use lesson came to be online: My wife, Dena, and I taught English, reading, and writing for 56 combined years before both retiring at the conclusion of the 2018-19 school year. We've had a lot of years to develop passion about certain teaching topics, but sharing unique ways to teach writing is the focus of this website and lesson. 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 write-up these lessons, attaching no specific grade level, as we prepare to share them. We do this on purpose. Dena taught fifth through eighth grade, and Corbett taught third grade through high school, and it was the lessons given to us that we had to adapt that taught us to be better writing teachers. The lessons that were handed to us ready to go, well, those lessons didn't teach us much. "How would I adapt this idea?" is what we ask teachers to ask as they read through these lessons and resources.

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

writing just for fun or for a writer's notebook/workshop...
Original Superheroes

an ABC notebook challenge, followed by the creation of a hero with original powers, and possibly followed by a narrative story...

We absolutely need to teach essays and expository writing, but we MUST remind our students from time to time that WRITING IS FUN. This lesson is dedicated to all my favorite mentor texts that allow me show students that writing can be an enjoyable task.

Quick Overview: This lesson has three parts that each feed into the next part, but you aren't required to do all three parts if you don't have time. In part one, students create an ABC list of unexpected superpowers; then, they select two of their favorite superpowers and combine them to create an original superhero for their writer's notebooks. In part 2, students create a 2-page minimum comic book based on their unique superhero. For part three, students can write a narrative that explains the students' original heroes' origin story or the story of a boss fight between the hero and a supervillain the student also creates.

Essential Questions/Objectives/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • How does serendipity play a part in creating something original or unique? Does serendipity work for you as a potential writing prompt/idea generator?
  • What original back-story can I give the original superhero I create? Can I create a story that explains how my character gained his/her unique superpowers? (Trait: Idea Development)
  • What other final draft form can I use to transform my rough draft's story into something that uses both visuals and words?
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.3.A -- Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.3.B -- Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.5 -- With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

Setting the Mood for this lesson with Mentor Texts: Great writing lessons often start with a good mood being set. Each summer these days, we seem to be blessed with two or three brand new superhero movies that my students are "dying to see." This becomes evident when they return with the beginnings of spring fever, which is when I usually introduce this lesson.

May 1 is "Batman Day," so I often try to start the lesson a week or two before then, but you can do this lesson any time your students seem to need a fun (but useful) writing task. To start, here is a "What would be your superhero name?" handout that I use a few weeks before rolling out this superhero lesson. I allow my students to write about themselves during Sacred Writing Time after seeing this handout, creating the superhero their initials have given them.

About a week before "Batman Day," I share The Day I Lost my Superpowers by Michaël Escoffier, and I ask, "What would your superpowers be? And what if you could have TWO superpowers? What would your two superpowers be? Would they work together, or would they work separately?

I hand out an alpha-box collection brainstorming sheet, and working with partners, students create the most unique, alphabetized list of potential superhero skills. I share from Superhero ABC by Bob McLeod, but I challenge them to be even more creative with their alpha-lists than the. I say, "You can't use these--because they're my original ideas--but this is the kind of UNIQUE superpower you should be trying to brainstorm, not just coming up with the first thing that pops into your minds: 1) Radioactive Ears would be a unique superhero power/source of power, I believe; 2) a Nearby Guilt Sense would be fun if you were looking for bad guys in a crowded room; 3) and (even though this probably isn't original) I will say Boulder Fists as one of my unique powers on my list because my character's boulder fists can also transform into magma, and I think that's a bit more unique.

McLeod's book perfectly models a brainstorm for them; I try to add a UNIQUE idea element, because I believe I should be pushing my students to original thinking.

Ann Cottringer's Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero, which I quickly summarize for my students (instead of reading the whole thing) and display on the front desk in my classroom so those interested can read it at their leisure, the book reminds us how different superheroes can be quite different from the personalities they portray when they are not in their superhero costumes. Eliot's story is a great example of this, and I use it to have them think carefully about the mild-mannered-by-day character who will become their superhero when the world needs saving.

After creating a 26-item brainstorm for their notebooks (based on the alphabet), my students have one of two choices:

My classroom mentor texts that encourage thinking about original superheroes:

The Day I Lost my Superpowers
by Michaël Escoffier

Superhero ABC
by Bob McLeod

Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero
by Ann Cottringer

  • Students can write a draft that recounts the ORIGIN STORY of the day the superhero "earned" his/her superskills.
  • Students can write a draft that would serve as the CLIMACTIC SCENE between the superhero and the arch-villain of the story--you know, the "boss fight" scene.

When students have created drafts for their ideas, they must transform their story into a 10-panel comic strip. This strip must be drafted, then carefully crafted to look as nice as it can be. Color is an option but not required.

Sidenote: I am teaching this lesson during my school's mandated state testing. All the computers in the school--include the computers used by my creative writers on a daily basis--have been commandeered by the powers that test. Although I prefer my students to do their creative drafting and revising using more authentic tools--like computers--I recognize that sometimes state assessments win no matter what. So...I designed and created this lesson to be one that could be created completely computer-free, and the examples I will display from my students will be the computer-free ones.

Hey, sometimes you have to just allow administration take your class's designated computers for three or four weeks of tortuous testing.


Lesson, Part 1: a notebook page based on students' unique ideas is created.
An ABC List of SuperPowers: Never begin this lesson by telling your students your superhero will have two powers. If you tell them that, then try to get them to brainstorm 26 possible superpowers with a partner, their brainstorms will be lazy. You have been warned.

Start with a brainstorm. The lesson begins with the students partnering up to see who can create an ABC list based on the topic "Interesting/Bizarre/Unusual Superpowers for Superheroes that don't yet exist."

The objective here is to make the students dig deep in their partner-allowed pre-writing as they attempt to come up with a truly UNIQUE superpower that starts with 'A', then 'B,' then 'C,' etc. I was thinking "Atomic nostrils," and "Brain that shoots thought lasers," and "Crown of Invincibility" as three unique examples I will share as they begin working on their brainstorms.

The ultimate goal here for pre-writing for this lesson is for the students to create a 26-item list that they can "publish" in their writer's notebooks. To show them what I am looking for, I display the following page from my own notebook. I show them the layout long enough for them to see the ABC list, but I don't display the image long enough for them to be able to study and "borrow" any of my answers.

I created this new brainstorming sheet for this go-around with this lesson during the final semester I am teaching it. I like it, and I hope you do as well. It provides a ABC Brainstorming sheet that comes with an unnamed teacher's answers, and it comes with a challenge to the students to invent a more unique answer than the teacher did.

If you click on the thumbnail image of the two-page handout at left, you will open a PDF version of the handout I created.

This is a brainstorm that usually takes multiple days. Overnight and between classes, my students often come up with better ideas, so we re-visit this sheet as often we can over the first few days of the lesson. Just for a few minutes at a time. Trying to fill out the sheet in one sitting is kind of exhausting, so break up the brainstorm with other tasks--like sharing from superhero-based mentor texts or classroom appropriate videos about superheroes or superhero movies.

I try not to show student models for this notebook lesson until after my students brainstorms are completed. That way, students have to rely on their brains for letters that prove harder in these brainstorms. They don't have student samples to go "borrow" ideas from. They have already been told they cannot borrow from my "Electric Dave" notebook page example (see above), and keeping these samples hidden until the students start planning their final draft is important to me.

Once my students' brainstorms are complete, they begin creating a final draft that will either be in their writer's notebook or on a poster. Before they begin, I show them some student samples from the past that I considered to be quality efforts:

Enjoy our Gallery of Weird Superheroes!
Student Samples to Share Before Students Begin Final Drafts for Notebooks

Zoa's poster

Elliott's typed poster

Nathaniel's poster

Selina's notebook page

Lillian's poster

Andrew's poster

Kayla's notebook page

Lucas' poster

Lesson, Part 2: a two-page comic book -- either an origin story or a boss fight.
Don't let this lesson become "Crayola Curriculum": My students were graded on the quality of the language in their captions and dialogue with this comic book assignment. They were told from day #1 that I would not grade them at all on their ability to draw. "Be creative and use language well, and you will do okay with this assignment."

Several immediately asked, "Can it be longer than two pages?" and I said yes. One pair asked if they could collaborate on a 4-page story, having one person work mostly on the pictures and the other working mostly on the words. I told them yes, if they both always had work to do on the collaborative project. One pair asked if they could tell two different origin stories for the superhero they had created together; they wanted to each do their own version of the comic book's origin story, so I told them yes.

As I mentioned above, I used this lesson during our four weeks of state testing that took over every computer in our school. I'd been working with my creative writing class to teach them authentic word processing and desktop publishing skills. And then the available computers all disappeared on us. So we approached this lesson as an opportunity to create something without computers.

It didn't feel as though it was my most authentic assignment that year, but it wasn't "Crayola Curriculum" either. We worked on developing the following genuine writing objectives in our captions and dialogue.

Final Comic Book Samples from my Students

Tony did a good job focusing on his writing first, the art second, though we admitted he could use some more dialogue bubbles next time.

Reilly created a boss fight that really could have used more written details, but some cool smudge effects were used that I like to show the students.

Starla demonstrates balancing her writing between picture captions and dialogue bubbles pretty equally, which was appreciated.

Haley provided an average art example (but I don't grade on art!) and not really enough detail in the writing that was drafted and revised.

Ellie was one of my most unique thinkers. She put tons of work into this sample and, even though it didn't have enough words for my absolute happiness, its creative approach and unique storyline trumped my rubric. This happens sometimes in a creative writing class.

Clara provided a great art example (but I don't grade on art!) and--again-- not really enough detail in the writing that was drafted and revised.

More Final Comic Book Samples from my Students

Macy--as always--did a marvelous job with using more than enough dialogue and captions in her comic. I told students art wouldn't be graded and that color would not be required.

Cameron--in addition to a two-page comic--created a comic book cover. This assignment generates a lot of interest from students who normally don't take a lot of interest in my other creative assignments.

These final four pages come from Lauren, who ALWAYS went above and beyond with her creative writing assignments. I didn't grade this on art, which Lauren knew, but she was genuinely excited enough by the task at hand to create an artistic sample she was proud of. In the future, though this is more skilled art than I would ever expect from a writer, will help me show the use of perspective and silhouette when I teach this again someday. Keep student samples! In this age of scanners and digital photography, keep your student samples.

Lesson, Part 3: a written, descriptive story-- either an superhero origin story or a boss fight.
If you use writer's workshop or a model that allows students to self-select pieces they can work on for their writing portfolios: My English class saw the comic book characters my creative writing elective students were working on, and several asked if they could write out (instead of making a comic book) a story about an original superhero for their next writer's workshop.

I am in the process of typing/scanning several of their stories. Please check back soon to see a third step this writing task can take.

Written Samples of Superhero Origin Stories or Boss Fights
Mr. H's sample goes here. Jordan's sample goes here.
Joey's example goes here. Mary's sample goes here.

Let us Publish One of Your Students Here: If you teach any of the parts of this lesson and end up with a student sample you're particularly proud of, contact us at: corbett@corbettharrison.com We'll send you--as our thanks for receiving a sample we can share here--our 500+ Journal/Writer's Topics with Question Leads to use with your students.

Plan ahead! I teach this lesson so it falls on
May 1 is Batman Day,

and we have a Sacred Writing Time slide for that!

Open/Retweet our #Batman Day Sacred Writing Time slide by clicking here or on the slide above!

You can order all 366 Sacred Writing Time Slides by visiting our Teachers Pay Teachers store.

"Such a time saver! Thank you!"

--Teachers Pay Teachers feedback

Even Smarter-Sounding
Socratic Seminars!

I created these "formula poems" with two purposes: 1) to build small group cooperation; and 2) to add a strong new word to our socratic seminars. The day or week before our next seminar, students group together to write one of these poems as a team.

Please try before you buy...

When you visit our Teachers Pay Teachers store-page for this product, select PREVIEW to download full, complimentary access to two of the eighteen Socratic Seminar poetry formats we created for this for-sale product. All proceeds from sales like this keep our Always Write website online and free-to-use.

Even if you don't purchase the entire set of poems from us, please use the two poems we share freely as a group-writing task in class one day.

"You put so much time into everything you do. These are great resources, thank you!"

--Teachers Pay Teachers feedback

Tired of boring book reports?
We were too!

Dena created these twenty-five reflective tasks for her students who were responding to chapters in novels. Each week, her students completed one new activity, and after four or five weeks into a novel unit , the students each had a small portfolio of writing about their book.

Please try before you buy...

When you visit our Teachers Pay Teachers store-page for this product, select PREVIEW to download full, complimentary access to three of the twenty-five instead-of-book-reports writing response formats we created for this for-sale product. All proceeds from sales like this keep our Always Write website online and free-to-use.

Even if you don't purchase the entire set of twenty-five ideas from us, please use the three writing formats we share freely instead of summarizing a chapter one day in class.

"This is one of the best school supplies I've ever purchased! Thank you."

--Teachers Pay Teachers feedback

Do you appreciate free lessons but can't purchase our for-sale items?

That's fair, but did you know there are two less direct ways you can financially support our site. We actually receive a small "bounty" from Amazon for each person using the following referral links to try out one of their products. If you've been thinking about trying either of these out, kindly use these links so our site can pay the bills to stay online.

Try Amazon Prime for free, and we receive a small donation from Amazon that we use to stay online. Use this link please. Try Audible for free, and we receive a small donation from Amazon to stay online. Use this link please. You'll get two free books!

By the way, Dena and I are both Prime and Audible members, and we love everything about both services.

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

Alpha Genres, Tones, and Topics
inspired by Susan Allen and Jane Lindeman's
Written Anything Good Lately?

Support our Site through our Products at Teachers Pay Teachers
Our FIRST Product!
Beginner Prompts, Thoughtfully Presented:

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

-- a short video about SWT & Bingo Cards --

366 Ideas for Writing/Discussing:

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Here's another of our free-to-use writing lessons:
Begin this one on school picture day, or somewhere thereabouts...

Worst School Picture Day Ever Lesson
inspired by Margie Palatini's Bedhead

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!

Color inspires student poetry:
One of the best mentor texts for teaching poems about colors

Color/Crayon Poems
inspired by Mary O'Neill's
Hailstones and Halibut Bones


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