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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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In Ralph Fletcher's A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You, the author suggests you write about things you fiercely wonder about. Some of my students translate the fiercely into meaning they should write about topics the list of their personal world wonderings. Others translate fierce wondering as more of an invitation to invent or create something highly imaginative, as in, "I wonder what clouds would say to each other if they accidentally bumped into each other in the sky..." Both ways work, but the latter example is what this lesson focuses on: wondering with a creative recklessness.

An Adaptable Lesson from the Harrisons' Classroom to Your Classroom:
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, and focusing on unique ways to teach writing has become a combined passion for both of us. 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 began this online task by--first--creating WritingFix in 1999, and there we began posting writing methodologies and techniques from our own classrooms. Two few years after WritingFix had been established, we teamed with the Northern Nevada Writing Project for several years, and through their popular inservice classes, we began adding the ideas of many Nevada teachers who enrolled in those classes for recertification credit. When the federal budget floundered in 2008, the NNWP was no longer able to sponsor WritingFix in any way shape or form, but Dena and I keep the site online through user donations and our own cash.

In 2008, we began creating this newer website with writing lessons that specifically focused on our favorite topics and techniques for writing instruction: 1) the six writing traits; 2) writing across the curriculum, 3) writing lessons that differentiate, 4) writer's notebooks, and 5) vocabulary instruction. This "Always Write" website has been growing--month by month--since the summer of 2008. Below, you will find a lesson we posted to inspire a unique type of writing.

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

teaching grammar and punctuation through short, imaginative poetry
Wondering Poems

students create 5- or 6-line (or more or less) poems inspired
by fierce wonderings, practicing conventional skills as they compose

Giving credit where credit is due: Amanda Bodenstein was an energetic and young teacher I met during our first ever Fall Invitational when I was serving as Co-director of the Northern Nevada Writing Project way back in 2003. Like me after my Invitational in 1996, Amanda was hooked on all things sponsored by the NNWP. Over the years, she participated in many of the NNWP's best after-school programs and opportunities, and it was at one off those opportunities that Amanda shared the What If...... book you see at right. I think this glow-in-the-dark lullaby book may be out of print, but if you like good-night stories (which usually have GREAT imagery to point out), this is one to look for from a used book vendor with a reasonable price. Thank you, Amanda, for sharing this book, which I think of every time I teach the "Fierce Wonderings" chapter from Fletcher's A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You.

Quick Overview: This assignment aims to have students create a formula-suggested 5- or 6-line poem. Throughout our career, Dena and I invented unique forms of poetry that were designed to not only teach imagery and the other poetic tools, but some of our poetic inventions also focused on teaching an element of grammar or punctuation. You know, those pesky conventions. Some students learn their punctuation and grammar best when they apply it to poetry.

We created this particular poetry form because we both had a lot of students in our final years of teaching asking, "How do you punctuate it if it's like dialogue, but it's just going on in one's head?" Grammarians would label this type off inquiry to be a question about direct internal dialogue. I began teaching my students to look for examples in the books they were reading, and although we found several ways authors did this task with the conventions of English, the most popular seemed to look like this:

Did the color of his necktie just change? the magician's assistant wondered. (OR...)

It's just an illusion. It's just an illusion. I repeated silently to myself as I left the room.

Because we practiced reading and writing narrated tales told by various points of view, the question emerged, "How should we punctuate it?" and we decided the two examples above would serve as our models or mentor text sentences. The "inner thought" would be in italics; the attached

Essential Questions/Objectives/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • How can I shape a "Wondering Poem" based on my knowledge of auxiliaries/helping verbs (aka modal verbs)?
  • Can I successfully use a contraction (with auxiliary + not) in a line of poetry?
  • Can I create a poem that uses internal rhymes (advanced EQ) within its stanzas?

    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.*.4.C -- Use modal auxiliaries (e.g., can, may, must) to convey various conditions with verbs.
    -- Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.6 -- Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills.

    Don't use CCSS where you teach? No worries. Every skill above is a valid skill to teach, no matter what objectives-based documents your district/state uses.

It's no accident all three mentor texts I share from when teaching this form of poetry share the same title. "What if?" is a question that demands an attentive brain start pondering possibilities. All three of my mentor texts here talk about "What if" in a variety of a contexts--from imaginative to scientific.

What If... by Regina J. Williams by Regina King is a lullaby nighttime story that is recklessly imaginative. It also glows in the dark, which is cool. Find an affordable used copy of this affordable book.

What If by Samantha Berger is more of a celebration of the human spirit and the power of using our brains and our imaginations. A great, positive message to have hovering around your classroom.

What If? by Randall Munroe focuses on bizarre hypothetical science-inspired questions. Each hypothesis is analyzed by a wonderfully scientific and serious voice, considering the silliness of the questions poised here. I use this mentor text to show my students what "Wondering Poems" might look like when planning for some writing across the curriculum.

The mentor texts--as always--are optional, but using them certainly improves the students' attitude about the writing task, and they demonstrate what good writing looks like.

My classroom mentor texts that encourage my students' "What If" imaginations...

What If... by Regina J. Williams

What If by Samantha Berger

What If?
by Randall Munroe

Introduce the "What If...?"Fierce Wondering idea a week before starting: If you're using Sacred Writing Time with your students, strongly suggest that they spend one of their SWT sessions making a fun list of thoughts that all start with the words "What if..." Ask them to see where their thinking goes? If you don't use SWT, you can certainly do this as a class activity. All of the suggested titles do this nicely, but you can also read from/discuss chapter two of Fletcher's A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You, which is called "Fierce Wonderings."

Allowing students to choose what they wonder about with conviction--be their thoughts based on truth or fancy--is an easy way to tap into students' written voices.

Teach "Helping Verbs": A week later, tell students you're going to teach them a new type of poetry that uses a lot of questions: The Wondering Poem. The Wondering Poem requires students have an understanding of how using helping verbs can change the meaning (even just slightly) of a verb. To help them do this, they will need this handout (pictured) , which provides writing challenges that students can try alone or with partners.

The thing that's important for ALL students to walk away with from this writing task is the auxiliaries: can, could, shall, should, will, would, may, might, and must. For your students who appreciate a bit more of a push, you can include requirements that have them using forms of to be, to have, or to do--the other three types of helping verbs. The misunderstanding that arises is the three verbs I just listed can be either helping verbs, or they can be the sentence's verb. You may have to make time to teach the difference. Or not. You decide if that's important at this point in their writing development.

They way I teach my students to begin to spot helping verbs is I say, "Start looking for words in front of action words that you could add the contraction n't (not) to, if you wanted to. That's one of the functions of the helping verb; it can combine itself with a not and become a contraction.

Teach the 5- or 6-line poetry format: I like to teach my students several writing formats that shouldn't take them more than ten minutes to complete. I do this for two reasons: 1) If students need an idea for Sacred Writing Time or their Writer's Notebooks, these ten-minute formats work perfectly. 2) I use the writing format repeatedly because I have embedded a skill or two into the format that I want my writers to practice over and over again so the skills not only stick but also start to develop. When you write and practice a skill just one time with your class, you mostly likely have very few students who will have actually mastered the skill; if, however, you teach them and review multiple times by re-using a small writing task (like the poem here), they begin to truly apply the skill in other types of writing they are doing.

Here is The Wondering Poetry format that goes with this lesson; line # 5 is optional, and deleting it will make this assignment a five-line poem. I always have students who want to go beyond the formula and have more than 6 lines too, and it's important they feel okay asking for permission for such things. Do your students feel comfortable asking to adapt formats you share with them?

Our Adaptable, 6-line Wondering Poetry Format:
  • What If Interrogative Question/Title?
  • Wondering statement in italics (using modal verb)? Followed by an I wonder/synonymous statement.
  • Wondering statement in italics (using modal verb)? Followed by an I wonder/synonymous statement.
  • Wondering statement in italics (using modal verb)? Followed by an I wonder/synonymous statement.
  • Wondering statement in italics (using modal verb)? Followed by an I wonder/synonymous statement.
  • An answer to the original question in the form of a sentence.

Two Examples of Wondering Poems:
Dena wrote this example inspired by Regina J. Williams' What If...

What if Lollipops Grew on Trees?
Would they always be covered with ants?
I wonder.
Could they be as delicious as they look in my mind? I think.
Might the forest be colored with pink swirls and bright yellows? I ask myself.
Shouldn’t we be planting more lollipops in every vacant lot? I want to shout.

The empty lots of our cities will burst with color and sugar.

Corbett wrote this example inspired by Randall Munroe's What If?

What if we all aimed our laser pointers at the same moon?
Would their light even be strong enough for the trip?
I'd ask myself first.
Will the beam stay tight, or spread out over its journey in space? I consider.
Could we really all hold steady enough aim to color it red? I doubt thoroughly.
Might the brightness of the sun just wash out our attempt with lasers? I suspect.

A laser pointer strong enough to not be absorbed by the sun's light...
...too dangerous for my students to own.

So this is the first new idea we've posted since retiring, and we don't have an immediate class to try it out on. For that reason, there are no student samples here. But maybe you could help? If you like this idea for a poetry format and end up with a sample we might post here, please email it to: corbett@corbettharrison.com. If we end up using your student's poem, we'll send you a complimentary product from our Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Adapting the poetry format for Writer's Notebooks and Sacred Writing Time: I stand strongly behind the idea that my students need to maintain a writer's notebook to work on their fluency and their originality. I'm forever trying to encourage my students to try writing formats we try in class during their promised ten minutes of Sacred Writing Time. We personify our vocabulary words for our bigger assignments; by my way of thinking, once they personify in that way for one of my assignments, they can start personifying anything they want in their notebooks.

I also stand strongly behind the idea that my use of my own teacher models of writing are what make my lessons strong. Not only can I better explain the task at hand to my students because I have already been through it when I wrote my own model, but I can also share the prior knowledge of my own writing experience or process. I expect my students to explain their own metacognition when I see they're hatching a new idea for writing, so I can certainly model that for them.

In my class, daily SWT (Sacred Writing Time) lasts ten to twelve minutes. A majority of my writers preferred writing something new every day (as opposed to writing a continuing novel during SWT each day), and a poetry format like the one presented for the Wondering Poems probably won't be accomplish-able the first time a student tries to write one in ten to twelve minutes. And that's okay. And you have to establish that kind of environment when students have their writer's notebooks out. A writer's notebook is a place for students to adapt and practice and try new things. Here's a new poetry format they can try during SWT, and it's adaptable, and they might just learn more about helping verbs when all is said and done.

That said, at right I present to you my first attempt at writing one of these poems in ten minutes. I was able to write a five-line version that I was happy with. Here is my poem--transcribed from my lousy handwriting found on the teacher model at right; mine was inspired by my hotel key card I kept after a recent workshop in Pomonoa, California.:

A Wondering Poem from my own notebook
by Mr. Harrison

What if classrooms had keycards, like hotel rooms do?
Might only students with completed homework be admitted? I think.
Should only those with their keycards with them be given passes to the toilet? I smile.
Will keycards be dead technology by the time the district can afford to buy them? I quip.
The classroom cards that might permit entrance would slow the system down even more.

Adapting the poetry format for Writer's Notebooks and Sacred Writing Time, part two: I openly encourage my students to create their own poetry formats once they have they "hang" of Sacred Writing Time. Sometimes, their original formats are adaptations based on formats I taught them; sometimes, they're completely original.

My students don't create these adaptations by accident. They see me model adaptations of my ideas and theirs, and that gives them the bravery to try it themselves. A writer's notebook, by my thinking, remains the best place to foster the bravery needed by students to have a truly student-centered classroom.

Here is an original adaptation of the "Wondering Poems" based exclusively on the nine "helping verbs" that are never verbs by themselves:

Someone once told me that the word MUST also had an auxiliary partner in the olden days: MOTE. I'm not sure if that's 100% true, but I decided to create this poetry format for the nine remaining auxiliary verbs. I suppose they could go in any order. As I often do, I set up a page for my poem a few days before I write it, and that's what you're seeing here.
I recently said on Twitter that I felt fortunate that about 80% of my teaching career was under the guidance of highly competent leadership and mentorship. The other 20% turned into kind of nightmare , so I wrote a poem where some of the lines are based on real things I saw bad leaders do, and others were based on things I never saw anyone do. Can you tell the difference?


Plan ahead!
Winter is a Great Time to Explore Wonderlands and Wonder Poems

and we have SWT slides that will inspire wonder.

November 28 is "Red Planet Day." Ever wonder about Mars? Ever wonder who invents these holidays?

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

"Such a time saver! Thank you!"

MMMM--Teachers Pay Teachers purchaser

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 purchaser

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 purchaser

Do you appreciate our free lessons but don't want to purchase our for-sale products?

That's fair, but did you know there are two less direct ways you can financially support our site. We actually receive a small commission 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.

A Notebook Mentor Text that Inspires Student Writers the Most:
An inspired STRUCTURE mentor text
Impersonating A Test's "Voice"
in a Math-Crazy World? Fun!

My Own Darn Math Curse
inspired by Jon Scieszka's
Math Curse

Want a writing task you can always rely on?
I teach my students to turn new words into "people" through writing.

Personifying Vocabulary Words
inspired by David Melling's
The ScallyWags

A Poetic Task / A Metaphorical Task
I got my money's worth from this mentor text! Tons of writing ideas!

Four Metaphor Poems
inspired by Mem Fox's
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge


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