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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.

 

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

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

Teaching writing should be two things: skill-focused and fun. If we forget the second half of that equation, we risk creating students who dread the act of writing. Bring a little fun back into your writing curriculum. This lesson might help you do that! It did for me.

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 the lesson ideas contained on this page. 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, purposely attaching no specific grade level to any, as we prepare to share them. We do this based on our shared experience as experienced teachers. Dena taught fifth through eighth grade, and Corbett taught third grade through college, and it was the lesson ideas 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 at all. "How would I adapt this idea?" is what we ask teachers to ask as they read through these lessons and resources.

We provide these lessons to help fellow teachers learn through adaptation. 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

having creative fun with rules students may ask "Why?" about...
Justifying Rules...Spuriously

a writing lesson when establishing/revisiting rules

spurious (adjective) -- describing something that almost sounds true but is actually false. If you know Dr. Seuss' And to Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street, you have a perfect mentor text to teach the word spurious to your students as they analyze Marco's tale told to his teacher about why he was late.

A story from Corbett: My dear colleague Jodie Black once told a younger student (I'm admittedly paraphrasing a bit here): "If it's not true and it comes out of your mouth, it's a lie, and that's bad, but if you go and write it down as a story, then it's called fiction, and that's good." I grew up with two older brothers who told me many spurious tales. They lied to me a lot, but they would love to claim their oral tales were just serving as pre-writing practice for a future in fiction.

David Wisniewski--the author of this lesson's two cited mentor texts--is quite good at spurious story-spinning. Your students will enjoy analyzing part or all of his creative book, which examines adult-enforced rules. I believe my two older brothers would have loved this book as 5th-8th graders.

I teach my students not just to write but also to develop creative thinking skills through my use of the writing process. One of the benefits of learning to be more creative as a life skill is that creative people can teach themselves to tolerate huge bouts of boredom. Creative people can learn to tolerate bureaucracy and its policies and rules by allowing their creativity to always be at work in their minds, even when around such boring things as policies and bureaucracies.

Quick Lesson Overview: Inspired by this lesson's must-have mentor text (owning the sequel is optional), students will creatively explain an oft enforced rule they don't like. Their stories--like those in the mentor text--should attempt to explain the reasoning behind the rules using spurious story-telling skills. Students share their stories aloud during small group author's chair.

Essential Questions/Objectives/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • How do you tell a spurious tale about something real? What details do you need to invent and incorporate to keep your story engaging?
  • How does knowing I will read my story aloud to others affect the strategies I use when revising my spurious story?
  • (Advanced question) How does permission from your teacher to write an absurd-but-believable idea affect the way you think creatively or approach the writing process?
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.1A -- Introduce claim(s) and organize the reasons and evidence clearly.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.3A -- 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.*.4 -- Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

My classroom mentor texts for this lesson:

The Secret Knowledge of Grown-ups
by David Wisniewski


The Secret Knowledge of Grown-ups: The Second File by David Wisniewski

Setting the Mood with Mentor Texts: This is one of those lessons that is dependent upon the mentor text. If you don't own this book, go check your library. It'll be there. It's popular and famous. I'm always surprised that more teachers don't know about this gem of a series.

So the gist of the book is this: the reader has stumbled across top secret files that explain the actual reasons adults enforce rules like "Eat your vegetables" and "Comb your hair." The author invents wonderfully spurious tales that'll make your students laugh.

I have six paperback class copies of this book so that when I teach it --and remember, this lesson is all supposed to be adapted to work for you, not me -- I can have a copy in the hands of someone in each group and assign each group a different passage to pass around and read together as a small group. It takes a REALLY long time to read the whole mentor text as a class, so I have each group become familiar with one of the book's best stories. After reading that smaller story in their small groups, they mix and match with students from other groups and paraphrase the story their group was supposed to read. This way, the students learn a lot of the ideas the author presents in his book.

After you share from the book, tell students they will have a writing assignment coming up where they write something similar about a rule that adults enforce upon them. Finally, suggest for Sacred Writing Time one day, students either a) list as many rules by adults that they can, rules they don't like imposed upon them for ten minutes; or b) start creating the spurious tale of a rule they dislike their parents/teachers enforcing. This SWT prompt can be given a few days before introducing the mentor text as well.

Side note: In my final year of teaching, we had a family emergency in the spring. I had to be out for two days, and I luckily ended up with one of our more competent substitute/guest teachers. I gave her this lesson to teach, and she said it pretty much "taught itself," which is nice to hear. When a lesson does that, you should embrace the opportunity to focus on a writing skill for all students to work on as they take their piece of writing through the writing process. My students had their rough drafts when I returned from my family emergency, and I took the opportunity to focus on humorous details as a skill we all tried to work on during revision. After my family emergency, I needed to read some humorous details from my youthful writers!

______________________________________________________________

Student Samples to Inspire Your Writers: When you use student samples in a lesson, you make sure your writers understand their job is not to copy the other students' ideas; instead, their job is to find something skillful the student author has done and attempt to do something similar when they work on their own drafts. I like using student samples as a learning tool before and during writing instruction, but it's important for your students to understand they are never to copy too much of an idea from a fellow student's paper.

Student Samples to Use in your Instruction/Planning:

Martin shares his published example:

Josh shares his published example:

The ever- imaginative Sabrina's final draft:

Poetic Kayden asked if he could make his final draft rhyme:

My Step-by-Step Teaching Process for this lesson: The mentor text here provides both an idea for writing and the structure for writing. When I have a mentor text that does that, and I find a lot of them do, I try to really teach style and voice when I am selecting skills I want students to try to master with the lesson at hand. I do this--mostly--by analyzing and discussing style and voice in the mentor text and the student samples.

You're certainly invited to change this lesson's order or format, but here is how I taught it during my final year of teaching:

  1. A few days before the assignment, I challenge the student to start thinking about rules they believe are unfair or unnecessary in their writer's notebooks. Many of them accept this challenge and, when those students start sharing with their sacred writing partners, ideas start blossoming in the classroom long before I tell them they have a writing assignment.
  2. We began the lesson by being in small groups. Each group had their own copy of the mentor text. Each group read one of the book's 'chapters.' Then, I mixed the groups so that students had to paraphrase the rule their 'chapter' focused on. "When you paraphrase, try to use words and phrases the author might have really used" is how I alert them to start analyzing for voice and style. We ended with a class brainstorm on rules that we believe are unnecessary or unfair.
  3. Students then had forty minutes to compose a draft that imitated the format of the book's 'chapters.' As they composed, I celebrate lines from their drafts that are already using style and voice to remind them of the skill I want them to focus on with this task. I collected the drafts and kept them safe for a day or two.
  4. I like it when my students' writing and ideas "gestate." A few days later, I hand my students back their un-marked drafts, which have simply sat in a folder on my desk. I put students in small groups, and they share out loud. I ask them to suggest ways each writer might improve his or her use of:
    • descriptive details that CLEARLY make connections between their reasons and their spurious evidence.
    • subtle alliteration (like "the wind whispered last night" to help make the reading aloud of the writing more enjoyable and easy to listen to.
    • logical sequencing of ideas/events in their explanations, and clearing up any links that don't make a lot of sense.
    • a spurious written voice that engages the reader completely as he/she listens to the piece of writing.
    To practice commenting and making revision suggestions on these four specific things, my small groups practiced on a student sample before they were allowed to make commentary about one another's drafts.
  5. After showing me their "marked up" drafts from group response, and then orally sharing with me a specific revision plan based on one of our writing objectives, students were allowed forty minutes to type and perfect their drafts.
  6. A few days later, during our daily enrichment period, I had the students create through decoration "Top Secret Folders" to hold their final drafts. The next time we were in English class, I mixed up the groups from those I had used during response time, and my students shared (out loud) their writing in new small groups. Any exceptional samples (as voted on by the groups) can be shared whole group unless you're pressed for time.
Several of my Students' Decorated "Top Secret Files" that Held Final Drafts

Let us Publish One of Your Students Here: If you teach 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.

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. They received bonus points if they made a "bingo" out of their activity choices.

Please try them before you buy them...

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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

 

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