Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison, and I have been an educator since 1990, and a teacher-trainer 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 steps of the writing process. Every year, I challenge myself to improve my writing instruction even more, and this website is where I post my most successful new ideas.

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.

I have no available dates left in 2017.

In 2018, I may have availability between January 8-12, March 26- April 6, and June 11 - July 27, October 1-5.

If you would like to verify my availability for a specific date or dates in the windows offered above, please contact me at this e-mail address.

You can find general information about my workshops here.

Always
Write

 
       Because writing--when taught right--can be the most enjoyable part of your teaching day, I created this website.

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

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 Thanksgiving. I will be co-presenting with two of my personal teacher mentors and favorite authors: Gretchen Bernabei and Amie 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, here is a link to the materials for you to access: In November, there will be an active link here.

"All you can write you can see!" (--Woody Guthrie)
Camera Phone Pix

What stories do your phone's photos tell?
What stories do a trusted friend's phone photos tell?
Is a picture truly worth ten-thousand words?

Essential Questions/Overview/Mentor Text Suggestions:

Possible Essential Questions for the notebook strategy found on this page:

  • How do I literally paint a picture with words, so readers see the image I saw and described with my pen?
  • Can I capture the voice and mood of a scene in a photo from my phone when I write about it?
  • How can I create a photographic memory on my phone that deserves to become a celebrated moment of writing in my writer's notebook?

Personal Photo Prompts are a pretty easy way to get a student invested in a writer's notebook! It's true. Early on each semester, I ask the students to bring some photos of them or their families and friends that bring them joy or that contain a "secret story." They bring printed photos for this writer's notebook challenge; no originals! As soon as they paste a photo in their writer's notebook and surround it with writing, their attitude about the notebooks noticeably change. Suddenly, with a personal photo and some personal, the notebook truly feels like it's theirs.

I've developed a fun little template for students to use after they email/send photos from their phones (or a trusted friend's phone) to a computer they are working on. This page contains all the resources and ideas I went through as I developed this simple little idea into a resource page to help my students love their writer's notebooks even more.

And as always, because I believe so strongly in the importance of using mentor texts when teaching most any element of writing, I've included the titles I have on my bookshelves and explain how I incorporate them into my instruction. If you didn't realize it, if you end up purchasing anything at Amazon by entering the Amazon site through one of our links (like those under the pictures of the books at right), we end up receiving small donation--no matter what you end up buying besides or instead of the book.

Mentor Text Suggestions:

What's the Story?

by John Sheirer


Write What You See
by Hank Kellner

 

Step 1 -- Remind students that a writer's notebook can be a place to store "snapshots" worth writing about

In his student-friendly handbook, A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer within You, Ralph Fletcher suggests pasting artifacts, including photographs, into your notebook to remind you that you want to write about those images. I have done this many times in my own notebook, and here are some samples if you need to see or show your students what that looks like.

In both his Reviser's Toolbox and But How Do You Teach Writing?, Barry Lane suggests students learn to write using his lesson called "snapshots" of words. He develops the whole "paint a picture on your reader's mind' concept into a smart strategy that I've always used since first hearing him speak of it way back in the year 2000.

Because I use so many practices I've adapted from both Ralph Fletcher and Barry Lane, my students understand that snapshot has two meanings to us: 1) there's the physical form that can be taped/glued into a notebook; 2) there's the written form that tries to capture an image with words.

Have you ever tried this writing mini-lesson? It works in many contexts. Have your students try to describe an image with words on paper for five minutes; we used to use images from old National Geographics that I had laminated, but now I have the Internet at my disposal for photos, including ones I link to below. When all students have written a description for five minutes, have each share the "snapshot" writing with a partner or two. The partner next describes what he/she thinks the original image looked like (as in, "So, based on the words, I see in my mind...,"). The author finally reveals the photo that inspired the writing so they can compare the writing to the image. Remind them that it's "painting" with words, which is a poetic concept. My students discover that classmates who describe the photo more poetically usually create better descriptions with this task than students who try to be too literal when they describe their photos (as in, "So, right in the middle, there's a tree, and it's pretty big..."). I find the secret to making this learning task work is that you have to take time to model the process before setting students loose to work on it; in my classroom, we use the last ten minutes of the day before I use this task to model the process with a student I can trust to play along well if I chose them as my helper.

A trick for your students' writer's notebooks that encourage using photos as prompts: In my classroom, when we are setting up our writer's notebooks each Fall, we create a "pocket" that we tape onto the inside cover of our notebooks with packing tape. We use these envelopes, and the tops can be trimmed off low enough so the remnants of the envelope can be taped down with packing tape on three sides. You want the envelope to sit low enough when you tape it down so that items-helpful-for-writers can stick things out of it (sheets of stickers, photographs, ticket stubs, notes from friends, etc) but the items don't stick outside the actual notebook. In this pocket/envelope, I store my own stickers and postcards and photographs. Just showing them mine in my notebook encourages them to start thinking about photographs/images as potential writing prompts for their own writer's notebooks. You can't get much more personal with a personalized writing prompt than by adding a picture from one's own collection of photos to your notebook to write about. Writer's notebooks, remember, should be filled with their own personal ideas, and a photo is a sure way into that concept.

Click on the photo at right to see a bigger version of the pocket I made from an envelope and some packing tape.

Step 2 -- As a class, do a practice write with a shared photograph to compare students' writing techniques

This is a pretty simple writing technique to introduce whole-class if you haven't already strongly suggested to your students to include photographs in their notebooks. The photos will easily become personal writing prompts for the student.

A few years back, when I was still Director of our local branch of the National Writing Project and our organization was still able to fund writing teachers' good ideas by helping them develop these good ideas into projects that could be shared with other teachers. One of the projects we funded was hosting an annual photo contest that was housed at the WritingFix website. Students from anywhere in the world were encouraged to submit digital photos that they believed would inspire other students to want to write about the images they'd captured. It was a good project. Below, I share four popular, student-submitted photos from that contest we ran between 2009-2012.

Click images to see them full screen so your students can all write about them!

Photo: Gulls

Photo: Corner

Photo: Mud fight

Photo: Nest

Practicing the skill of writing what's in a photo is pretty easy. Post a photo up where every writer can see it. Then, allow five or ten minutes to compose a description, story, poem, advertisement script, etc. Share with partners. We laugh, sometimes we howl, and occasionally we ponder deeper ideas that ignite other deeper ideas; more importantly, we learn the skill of writing to a photo's inspiration if we ever find ourselves without a writing topic during Sacred Writing TIme.

After trying this, ask students to brainstorm ways to get their own photos taped or glued into their writer's notebooks without using original photos. Ask students if anyone has a personal photo they are convinced another student in class could write about; if so, challenge them to bring a copy of the photo in. Doing so begins a sharing process that will easily define your classroom's sense of "community." A great writing classroom is a definite "community" of students who attempt to inspire one another both consciously and purposefully.

Step 3 -- Introduce our Phone Camera Template to your students

Right up front, I am going to tell you the idea on this page isn't rocket science, and it's nothing new. Using personal or interesting photos as an inspiration for writing in one's writer's notebook or journal can't really be credited to a single person, but I am sure it certainly didn't originate with me. The two mentor texts I cite above are checked out often from my classroom library, but the idea for "photos as writing prompts" didn't begin with either of those authors either.

Still, I have a new variation on the big idea that I am sharing on this page.

At right, you see one of the pictures from above inserted into our iPhone frame. Suddenly, the photo feels different because it feels like a candid snapshot. And maybe that changes the story we had when we saw the photo.

What this new template I made does is try to tap into my 21st Century students' way of thinking about their own experiences. They take so photos with their phones, it's like they are insane people. I don't even understand where they store so many photos, but they somehow do. Unlike a traditional"take my photo!" experience (think 35mm cameras from days of yore!), phone photos are different. They aren't trying to be formal. They capture a moment. An emotion. A memory. A laugh. A terrible facial expression. A person in the background. All of these can make for a great writing prompt.

Can we make a frame that looks like there's a phone whose screen contains your photo? Yep, and we can print it and paste/glue/tape it into the writer's notebook so we can write right next to the image.

So here's what this resource page offers you:

  • This blank iPhone Snapshot template that allows you to create/print six iPhone snapshots for your writer's notebook. This is a Word Document.
  • Here's a sample iPhone Snapshot sheet I made with photos from Dena's phone. They can certainly be printed on paper, but Dena and I print things like this on Full Sheet Label Paper so we can simply peel and stick them into our notebooks after they're printed. This fancy method can certainly be replaced by typing paper and a glue stick or tape.
  • If you click on the image below, you will access my YouTube video demonstration on how to manipulate the template. If you enjoy the video, please share it with fellow teachers.


My YouTube Video on Using the Camera Phone Template
(We'll be adding videos to many of our lessons this next school year. Let us know what you think!)

Step 4 -- Demonstrating the Use of the Camera Phone Photo Template in a Writer's Notebook

Certainly these little frames for photos could be used in assignments beyond the writer's notebook. But for this resource page, I will share some ways that I have been using the tool.

Modeling the Camera Phone Photo Template in my own Notebook
As always, I begin these writer's notebook ideas with some examples from my own notebook. By going through the process of writing these things myself, I can not only explain the required thinking process much better to my students, but I can also showcase the ways I try to incorporate these unique formats into the "personality" that my notebook develops. Click images to enlarge them, or use the Pinterest links below the pictures to save them to your own classroom's Pinterest Board.

What's the story here , Mr. Harrison? Our middle dog, Tucker, loves to drive with me to Starbucks to fetch Dena a fancy coffee on the weekend. He dangles his head out the window and does what I can drive-by bunny hunting throughout the neighborhood. A few days back, he chased a bunny he'd seen after I'd parked at home, and he disappeared for a really long time. We were genuinely worried about his safety. I'd had this photo on my phone saved since he was a puppy; I thought it would be a good time to use the photo when telling this story.

Save this example at your classroom Pinterest board(s) by clicking here. You may need to be logged in to Pinterest to view and save the pin.

What's the story here , Mr. Harrison? My work partner, Melissa, announced she would retire this June. Melissa always speaks her mind, and one day this past Fall, she told our custodian (whom we both love) that he smelled really bad. He was horrified briefly, then laughed his head off. This turned into a year-long running joke between them and me. I decided to capture the story forever in my notebook, and I used two actual pictures from my cell phone of them for this purpose. I gave the page the illusion the two were texting each other.

Save this example at your classroom Pinterest board(s) by clicking here. You may need to be logged in to Pinterest to view and save the pin.

What's the story here , Mr. Harrison? My work partner, Melissa, announced she would retire this June. Melissa always speaks her mind, and one day this past Fall, she told our custodian (whom we both love) that he smelled really bad. He was horrified briefly, then laughed his head off. This turned into a year-long running joke between them and me. I decided to capture the story forever in my notebook, and I used two actual pictures from my cell phone of them for this purpose. I gave the page the illusion the two were texting each other.

Save this example at your classroom Pinterest board(s) by clicking here. You may need to be logged in to Pinterest to view and save the pin.

If you have a student who is inspired by human nature haikus after I shared this page, I would love to see a photograph of a student's page who's not one of my own. I often reward teachers who send me samples free items from our Teachers Pay Teachers site. You can email me a photo/scan of students' work to corbett@corbettharrison.com


 



from Corbett & Dena Harrison to you...
Twelve Unique Notebook/Journal Ideas
TBA in September
TBA in October
TBA in November
TBA in December
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:


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Our MOST-POPULAR Product!
365 Ideas for Writing/Discussing:

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For Writers Needing a Guided Challenge:

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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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Books that Guide our Teaching of Literacy:

Notebook Connections
by Aimee Buckner

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