Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison, and I have been an educator and a teacher-trainer since August of 1990. I specialize in teaching writing using differentiated instruction. I also focus on critical thinking techniques, especially during the pre-writing and revision steps of the writing process. Every year, I challenge myself to improve my instruction: I am curretly developing grammar and vocabulary lessons so that they're differentiated and promote deep, critical thinking skills, and I incorporate them into my classroom routines to promote a student-centered classroom environment.

The Northern Nevada district I serve has a "balanced calendar" that has me teaching from early August to early June, and during my 7 weeks of summer and during my two annual two-week breaks, I independently contract to present workshops to school districts and professional organizations around the country.

The winter and spring of 2017 are mostly booked up at this point. Beginning in mid-June, I will be available to present at summer workshops in your district or state.

You can find general information about my workshops here.

If you would like to check my availability for summer of 2017, 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

Happy March 2017, which is when this lesson was originally written up! As a writing teacher, I have made the following 2017 New Year's Resolution: Each month this entire next year, I will be creating and posting a brand new challenge I have tried out in my own writer's notebook. When I create interesting new techniques to try in my own WNB (writer's notebook), I immediately share these finished page(s) with my students. I explain my own metacognition in completing my notebook challenge, and I "dare" my students to imitate me or to find something original to do--perhaps inspired by what they have seen me try. When my sacred writing time class routine is running like a fine-tuned classroom routine, I have plenty of students who take me up on "dares" like these because they recognize me as the person in the room who has the best writing "dares." And my notebook is one of the most enjoyable ones in class to flip through because I dare myself to try new things. This year, I am committed to posting twelve new techniques for WNBs, and they will become 2017's twelve Writing Lessons of the Month. If you're looking for a writing lesson that isn't focused on using a writer's notebook challenge, be sure to visit this webpage's lesson of the month archive; between 2012-2016, we posted dozens of lesson ideas for different writing projects for your classroom that aren't connected to one's WNB, and you can access them from the archive link.

When complete in December of 2017, I will have a new collection of twelve clever ideas for a WNB that come with the teacher models I shared with my own students. Should I inspire my own students to create a new page in their own WNBs, I will share those student models here for further inspiration. I will also be asking for teacher users of our website to share their teacher/student models with us in exchange for free access to materials from our Teachers Pay Teachers store. So if the ideas below inspire you to inspire your student, share with me, and I'll send you something in return!

My Twelve 2017 Writer's Notebook "I Dare You to Try this..." Challenges:
These are the lessons/write-ups I have planned or finalized during this 2017 year that challenged me to create more unique writer's notebook ideas to share with my student. These are the lessons/write-ups I have planned or finalized during this 2017 year that challenged me to create more unique writer's notebook to share with my students:

January 2017's Notebook Challenge
Use a Fortune Cookie's Fortune as Inspiration
February 2017's Notebook Challenge
Create a Fake Notebook Campaign/Election
March 2017's Notebook Challenge
Explore Unusual Nightmares and Utopias
April 2017's Notebook Challenge
Create Vocabulary Frenemies in your Notebook
May 2017's Notebook Challenge
Human Nature, Page-Corner Haikus
June 2017's Notebook Challenge

Thanks--as always--for showing an interest in my classroom ideas that inspire my students to become fearless and thoughtful writers!


A Student-Created Option for "Publishing" a Word for Vocabulary Workshop:
inspired by one idea from a great picture book
Utopian Nightmares

oxymorons can inspire notebook writing,
but so too can designing nightmares and utopias for interesting things

Overview/Mentor Texts that Inspire Better Writing:

Possible Essential Questions for these strategies/learning tasks:

  • How can oxymorons inspire interesting writing?
  • What perspective skills can I practice while explaining someone/thing's nightmare?
  • What perspective skills can I practice while explaining someone/something's idea of utopia?

Notebook Challenges, an Overview: This lesson has three parts to it, but any of the parts could be taught as a single writing lesson. I've had pretty good success challenging my students to think "oxymoronically" as they explore ideas for topics and when strengthening writing during revision; part one of this lesson, as a result, focuses on ways I've challenged my students with oxymorons. Parts two and three build on each other; the first half of the lesson based on one of many humorous ideas found in Diary of a Worm, while the second half of the lesson takes the idea to an opposite place after exploring the powerful writing style of Patricia Machlachlan's All the Places to Love.

Oxymorons: (part one of the lesson below) My students especially appreciate using good oxymorons they create as title-inspiration for their poems. I think when you're basing writing on a title, you can create a word bank that helps you create that title. Below, you will find two techniques I've written to help my students pay more attention to using an oxymoron in their writing.

Utopian/Nightmares: (parts two and three of the lesson below) My students smile and brainstorm like crazy after I pose this question, "If inanimate objects or animals had nightmares, what would they dream about?" There is a brief-but-inspiring description of the worm's nightmare (caused by eating junk food!) in Doreen Cronin's book. All of them have no trouble describing an unusual nightmare for an animal or an inanimate object for ten minutes during sacred writing time.

For part two of Utopian/Nightmares, we up the challenge so it almost seems oxymoronic! After sharing the wonderful language of Patricia Machlachlan's beautiful portrait of being home on a farm, with all of the family members' favorite (or perhaps perfectly utopian) places being described, students will be challenged with a new type of page: the utopian nightmare, wherein an animal or an inanimate object describes BOTH its nightmare and its idea of paradise.

Teachers who successfully use any part of this lesson and shares a quality student sample or two at this posting page become eligible to earn a complimentary product from our Teachers Pay Teachers site.

Post photos/scans of student/teacher notebooks here at our Blog/Ning.


This Lesson's Mentor Text Suggestions:

Who Ordered the Jumbo Shrimp?
by Jon Agee

Diary of a Worm
by Doreen Cronin

All the Places to Love
by Patricia MacLachlan

Part 1

Let's start with an oxymoron challenge: Back in 1999, when I was deciding what exactly to do with the WritingFix website I had purchased at the conclusion of my Master's Program in Educational Technology. I knew I wanted to put something useful online that both teachers and students would be inspired by during writing time. Back in the 1990's, way before we had Internet, I created serendipitous writing prompts by filling coffee cans with words and phrases, and the idea was that when you randomly drew from each, you could very well end up with a serendipitous writing prompt that will inspire you. I wanted to create an online random oxymoron creator at WritingFix, that was one of my earliest decisions with the website. Jon Agee's out-of-print book about oxymorons shares most of the really famous oxymorons and makes us laugh, but I wanted my students to create original oxymorons.

It occurred to me that an oxymoron was just a noun phrase, usually only two words. I determined that if you took a random, positive-sounding adjective (like excited, carefree, generous, etc.) and put it in front of a noun with a generally negative connotation (like slum, disease, scab, etc.), you could make some pretty interesting oxymorons (like generous slum). If you asked your student groups to dream up a story about a generous slum, they could have a pretty good conversation and explore a lot of possibilities; more importantly, they might inspire a desire to write about a good idea that was shared during the brainstorm. If you then suggest that oxymorons make great poem titles or lines in poetry, you will have a few poets take you up on drafting an oxymoron-inspired poem in their writer's notebooks during sacred writing time.

Here, I share the original "automatic oxymoron maker" that we published at WritingFix. One day after introducing the concept of oxymoron, put the button-pressing game below on your Promethean/Smart Board before sacred writing time begins, and invite students who come early are allowed to click the buttons and think about ideas that come to them.

Mr. Harrison's Serendipitous Oxymoron Maker:
(link to this interactive prompt directly using this address at your own website: http://corbettharrison.com/free_lessons/UtopianNightmare.htm#serendipity)
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 playing the button-pressing game above, you can challenge students to create a two-columned word bank one day during sacred writing time. 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.

Oxymoron Notebook, Idea One
Oxymoron Notebook, Idea Two
Oxymoron Notebook, Idea Three
Word Bank Page
Corner/Margin Oxymoron Challenge
Oxymoronic Tastes
First, I divided my notebook page into two halves, and then I spent several days revisiting the list (10-15 minutes total time) to create a list of positive adjectives and nouns that have negative connotations. This page serves as an idea or descriptive phrase generator for future ideas I am writing about in my writer's notebook. I think every three weeks or so, it's okay to have students create a word bank in their notebooks I'm experimenting with the idea of "corner/margin short writes" in 2017. If you have an open corner on one of your already-finished pages or an empty-looking margin that might look improved with a short, skill-based-but-fun writing task, then try this technique. Here, I have an example of a Corner Oxymoron that I wrote on a page I'd already thought I'd completed. It served as an opportunity for me to look back at my earlier pages. One of my father's favorite books was John Steinbeck's Cannery Row. There is a scene where Doc, just because the idea is bothering him, asks them to make him a beer milkshake at a diner. He just needs to know what it tastes like. He finds it unpleasant. A beer milkshake is a "Taste Oxymoron," so I created this page that gives me ideas for using oxymorons to design new foods that would serve as "Taste Oxymorons"


Part 2

Let's work towards giving a nightmare to something not human: If you own our full set of Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards, you've probably recognized that some prompts on the Bingo cards make a unique new appearance each month. "Same prompt/different topic" might be a good way to explain what I mean. One of these recurring prompts on the Bingo Cards, for example, is called "Weird Nightmares," and the challenge is to describe the nightmare something non-human might have. The topic can keep changing; one month, we can write about certain's animal's nightmares while, in another month, we might describe the nightmares that our favorite pieces of technology might have. For ten minutes of sacred writing time, this is a pretty much perfect prompt for someone who is promptless and can think outside the box in the smallest way.

If a student doesn't "get" the concept of weird nightmares, show them the page at right from your library's copy of Doreen Cronin's Diary of a Worm. Very briefly on this spread from the book, we see a worm's nightmare after eating too much garbage. I explain, "This is a very short nightmare because it comes from a kids' book, but I think a person who was trying out writing skills for fun could imagine a much more detailed and scarier dream than this, and they could write about that nightmare for ten minutes."

It's easy to envision nightmares for animals, especially if you're the owner of a mammal that actually dreams. "What do you imagine your pet is seeing in those nightmares? Can you tell it with a humorous twist?"

But then challenge them to take the idea to a much more out-of-the-box thinking experience. Say, "This pencil in your hand, what does it have nightmares about? What haunts the dreams of the rainforests we've studied? What's the scariest dream the kiddie slide in the park has?"

At left, find my notebook page I made about my current vehicle's nightmares. If you click on the image you can see my entry in a much larger format.

More coming...This page is currently undergoing construction.


Part 3

Creating a Utopian/Nightmare Page: The third form this writer's notebook idea took was inspiring a notebook page that shares both a non-human's nightmare as well as its idea of a day in paradise or utopia. I am calling this type of page "Utopian Nightmares," and I'm telling my students that they're fun because you get to apply two opposite ways of thinking to the same non-human item.

For my first example, I created the page at left about my dog, Tucker. It took me 15 minutes of sacred writing time to create.

For my second example, I created the page at right about my remote control.

I have now shown these to my students with this challenge: "What would your utopian nightmare page be about?" I am actively seeking student samples (from my own students and from other teachers who use these lessons) of thoughtful "utopian nightmare" pages.

If nothing else, your students will never need to look up the word utopia again after creating one or two of these as notebook entries.

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