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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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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 April 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 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.
a different context in which to explore vocabulary words
Vocabulary Friends, Enemies,
& Frenemies

a unique way to personify in one's writer's notebook

Possible Essential Questions for these strategies/learning tasks:

  • How can I create new and original contexts to help me discover deeper meaning in my new vocabulary words?
  • Can I develop an idea about abstraction nouns becoming "friend" or "enemies" in my writer's notebook during sacred writing time?
  • How is this task similar/different from other types of personification we've written for class?
  • Bonus EQ for Gifted Writers: Can I invent portmanteaus--like frenemies--for my own life and for my circle of friends to use, and can I use them as a writing prompt?

Three Notebook Challenges, an Overview: We'll start with a celebration of the portmanteau, doing a little research and encouraging a writer's notebook page inspired by both actual and original portmanteaus that can be shared.

We'll start by reviewing personification. My best suggestion is to teach them to personify vocabulary words by turning them into "people" with personalities and quirks and jobs. It's a good way to teach them to think deeper about vocabulary while learning the skills of writing one needs to use the tool of personification well. You'll also find my Serendipitous Personification Making Prompt below; those prompts easily inspire ten minutes of interesting and descriptive writing.

We'll make use of J. Ruth Gendler's mentor text (pictured at right!) to serve as a "stepping stone" between basic personification and personification that requires even deeper thinking. Students will compare their initial personification write-ups to those shared by Gendler, and they'll see there's room for improvement, which is a very valid use of a mentor text, in my opinion. Then, we'll explore the classroom appropriate passages from the text where Gendler shares how her personified characters interact with one another.

To promote the development of better personification skills, I'll ask, "If two abstract nouns (like two emotions) were friends, enemies, or frenemies, what would be the two abstract nouns be, and how would they behave towards each other?" I'll suggest they think about writing about this sort of idea during sacred writing time one day. I find if I actively and regularly encourage this kind of word or idea "play" from my students in their writer's notebooks, I have student notebook keepers who then become purveyors of those original ideas to their friends when they share their notebooks. As Einstein said, "Creativity is contagious. Pass it on."

This Lesson's Mentor Text Suggestions:

The Book of Qualities
by J. Ruth Gendler

A Writer's Notebook:
Unlocking the Writer Within You
by Ralph Fletcher


Step 1 -- Remind students that a writer's notebook is a fun place to experiment with personification.

Let's start with a quick review of Fletcher's big ideas from his mentor text about writer's notebooks: In the beginning, it can be difficult to inspire a student who has never maintained a notebook before; there is something about saying, "You can write about anything you want," well, it petrifies a small portion of my writers. I go out of my way, because of this, to provide a variety of modeled ideas that I invite my students to borrow and adapt. If you don't have innovative student models (like those I share at my many Pinterest Boards) to use as inspiration, then you can always fall back on Fletcher's wonderful book about writer's notebooks, which contains easy-to-read-and-follow strategies that--if used and adapted--will help students build their own notebook maintaining strategies.

Some of Fletcher's strategies for inspiring writer's notebook-worthy writing include: 1) Creating lists; 2) Taping down photos/flat artifacts and writing about them; 3) recording and writing about small conversations one overhears; 4) writing about favorite quotes/passages; 5) Noticing the world with a 'writer's eyes.' As we cover these ideas while establishing my daily notebook routine, we create an on-going chart of writer's notebook strategies that we can revisit when I bring the chart back out in public view. You can find more of Fletcher's great ideas/strategies here at his website.

In addition to sharing Ralph's excellent list of techniques to try in a writer's notebook, I begin sharing my own list of suggestions from my notebook, and then students ultimately begin suggesting unique ideas. Setting up a writer's notebook routine should be an effort that improves the student-centeredness of your classroom because it encourages original ideas and techniques, and once originality starts popping up in your classroom, it becomes a bit contagious.

And so--as soon as I've established my writer's notebook routine during the first two months of school (through Sacred Writing Time)-- I begin modeling some: 1) Using an oxymoron to inspire writing; 2) Creating a recipe metaphor; 3) Trying out unique poetry formats; and 4) Personifying ideas/words in interesting ways. Let's explore this last one a bit more with this lesson.

Because we do so much of it during my classroom vocabulary workshop routine, my students are quite familiar with personifying their vocabulary words, so should I throw out the following brainstorm prompt, my students immediately will come up with some unique ideas: "What's something interesting you could do with personification in your writer's notebook?" This past year, my students have been turning our word of the day from my word-of-the-day calendar (the word was oblique the other day) into either a Superhero or a Super-villain; when they have their words SUPER-personified, then they create the nemesis of that hero or villain. It's kind of a personification-meets-antonym writing idea, and my writers are liking it as a writing challenge. We've invented some pretty interesting hero/enemy combinations based on vocabulary words. The picture at right shows a recent entry of a personified superhero/Super-villain

If you maintain an on-going list of writer's notebook strategies on it for your students to refer to, teach some personification basics to your students, then add 'personify something interesting' as one of your classroom's notebook strategies list that they can refer to when stuck for an idea. Once they know it's an option, then you can start pushing them to more challenging personification attempts, like those found on this page.

Part 1 of this lesson exists to make sure all students have a basic understanding of personification and what can be done with it when doing practice writes, like those my students have learned to do during sacred writing time and with their vocabulary words, before moving on to more challenging tasks like those found in part 2. Here are some personification resources I freely offer from this website.

Introductory Personification Lessons and Learning Tasks you might Use:
Personifying Vocabulary in your Writer's Notebook

This links to my very first notebook lesson on personifying tier-2 and -3 vocabulary words. Click on image or title to freely access!

This is the entire 75-minute PPT lesson I created for my students.
Feel free to use the whole thing or just individual slides.

Mr. Harrison's Serendipitous Personification
Idea-Building Buttons!
Press the buttons until a personified idea leaps into your brain. Write about that idea for ten minutes.



Part 2 -- Personifying Emotions and other Abstract Nouns and Exploring their Relationships

The specific passage at left is one passage from this lesson's cited mentor text that I actually can't use in my middle school classroom (read it to see why), but there are many, many more well-written examples of personification in The Book of Qualities that I absolutely can use with my students. This is a book that lives in my classroom library, but not in the library my students can check out books from or freely peruse. I keep this book behind my desk. That's my fair warning to preview this mentor text before buying.

That said...If you want to inspire fun and thoughtful personification from your students, and you don't have a copy of J. Ruth Gendler's The Book of Qualities, then you're really missing out. Gendler takes such a unique approach to personification with her book of small, thoughtful passages that personify everything from Clarity to Criticism, and Joy to Jealousy. At home, I keep a copy of this book in our guest room and we've received many comments on it from our visitors.

At school, in all my reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary lessons--as many of you know--, I try to incorporate a mentor text that showcases a skill or an idea that I want the students to think about and consider incorporating in their own original writing for my class. I probably use 8-10 passages from Gendler's treasure with each of my classes every year because they're short enough to use in mini-lessons, and they are very well-written examples of poetry written into prose. My teaching friend, Jamie Stone, introduced this book to me years back, and I still thank Jamie for sharing it with me when I happen to see her.

At left is just one of the passages from The Book of Qualities. What Gendler has done is taken most of the emotions and 'states of being,' and she's explored them through personification in the form of prose. I suspect many passages are based on real people known to the author. I share this WORRY passage online on purpose because quite a few of the book's passages acknowledge the existence of sex and controlled substances in the world and all passages will definitely require careful preview before sharing with whatever grade(s) you think might benefit from the originality of the book and its passages.

One passage I definitely use is the one on Patience. I particularly like this final sentence from that particular passage: "You don't notice Patience right away in a crowd, but suddenly you see her all at once, and then she is so beautiful you wonder why you never saw her before." That's such an original way to think about the concept of patience, and my students learn from author Gendler that a) personification can be beautiful when skillfully composed, and that b) writing personification can be a true challenge to do really well.

I start with Gendler's classroom-appropriate passages about single abstractions being personified (like the patience passage I have quoted. I challenge my students to personify similarly in their notebooks during sacred writing time.

Later, I'll share some of Gendler's passages that personify not one, but two different abstract nouns, and these passages share how those emotions or states of being co-exist together, which is a great challenge for higher level thinking that focuses on personification. Are the two things you are personifying friends, enemies, or frenemies? Here is part of a passage from Gendler's book that shows how she has her personified images interact with each other:

"Anxiety is secretive. He does not trust anyone, not even his friends, Worry, Terror, Doubt, and Panic. He has a way of glomming onto your skin like smog, and then you feel unclean. He likes to visit me late at night when I am alone and exhausted."

A passage like this begs the question: When Anxiety goes out with his friends, what does that look like? What does this motley crew of characters do as friends? With Gendler's guidance, my students have little trouble writing their own notebook scenes about their emotions and states of being interacting with each other like people.

I have created and share below three examples from my own writer's notebook that I've been working on as part of my 2017 Writer's Resolution for the New Year Holiday. The first of my examples showcases two personified abstractions who are "friends," the next shows two personified abstractions that are "not friends," and the final example shows two "frenemies." I am showing these examples after spending a short lesson analyzing one of the relationship passages from Gendler's mentor text.

My Personified Friends: Timidity & Cowardice
My Personified Enemies: Amusement & Weariness
My Personified Frenemies:
Apprehension & Anguish

I found a fortune cookie fortune that I pasted to and that became part of this personification attempt. I quite like the Mr. Stick image I worked on for this page.

I did this page like a script between these two on a field trip to Disneyland. I was reminded of several field trips where we had the wrong students as partners as I wrote this.

Pushing their thinking: Before assigning a personified frenemeis page, I would assign a whole-class brainstorm of portmanteaus, and I would challenge them to decorate this page with their favorite portmanteaus from that brainstorm. Later, I would challenge them to revisit the page and invent their own portmanteaus.

If your students are inspired by any of the personification ideas on this page,
consider posting photos/scans of student/teacher notebooks here at our Blog/Ning.



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.

Our FIRST Product!
Beginner Prompts, Thoughtfully Presented:

-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --
365 Ideas for Writing/Discussing:

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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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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

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