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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 well--can be the most enjoyable part of your teaching day, we created this website to provide fun, adaptable ideas for teachers.

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During my final semester of teaching in the classroom (2018-2019), I created an hour-long, daily course that reviewed and taught new research skills. Because I was the teacher, we also focused the types of writing that can follow the use of research skills. For this class I created, my students were required to create an Interactive NoteBook (INB) page about their topics before they were ever allowed to write anything formal in the form of an essay or report. An INB is a page wherein students record and reflect upon (in their own words) the research they've completed, and they design a learning game on their INB page to share with other students with whom they share. The students' INB pages turns them into "temporary teachers" when I pair/group them to share on designated sharing days. INBs really increased my classroom's student-centeredness; when you see students learning their information well enough to teach their peers, you know you're doing something right.

What inspired me to create the INB as a learning tool was that--even when my students were researching self-chosen topics--many of them simply skimmed; they didn't read carefully, and as a result they sometimes put misinformation on their own research notes. They hadn't read wrong in most cases; they had simply not read thoroughly or carefully enough to be able to write an accurate summary or conclusion, which is a huge part of the writing process when writing expository/informative and persuasive/argumentative papers.

This page's idea--which is SO VERY ADAPTABLE--helped me when I was asking some of my students to read their research with more care. I hope it inspires an idea in your classroom.

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. In retirement, we are posting a lesson/resource every month so that we keep in touch with out favorite group out there: hard working teachers.

Above all else, remember our lessons are meant to be adapted to work for you and your students. I write them up based on how they worked in my classroom, but my classroom is NOT the same your classroom. Read. Adapt. Make the lesson idea your own.

researching and writing while researching...
Fact v. Opinion v. Spurious Fact
Your students can easily prepare an interactive notebook page (INB) that teaches others as they learn from and write about non-fiction topics that are assigned or self-chosen

I dedicate this write-up to author Michael Rex, whom I met at the NCTE Conference in Baltimore in 2019. His new mentor text on robots (at right) reminded me that I had not put my own version of facts vs. opinion sorting lesson at this website. Until now...

Quick Overview: Teach/Review the difference between facts and opinions, and make some practice interactive notebook sorting charts that distinguish between the two. Then add a third category: spurious facts, or facts that sound but aren't true in some way. A lot of Internet rumors start out as spurious facts. Having a second category in the "fact department" gives students a different type of writing to try and accomplish: twisting a truth with a detail or idea so that students can share their facts & opinions, and students can discuss the difference between the true facts and the spurious facts, explaining why they are spurious.

This thinking/writing task can be focused for researched topics (Genetically modified food: fact or opinion?) or personal topics (my locker: fact or opinion?).

Essential Questions/Objectives/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • What is the difference between a fact and an opinion?
  • What writing skills do I have/need to create a sorting game on facts and opinions for my fellow students to understand and play?
  • (For advanced writers) What writing skills help create spurious facts? How is being spurious different from downright not telling the truth?

    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.*1.C -- Use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.*9 -- Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.3.D
    -- With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.

I've been asked when I share this technique, "Aren't you teaching students 'to lie' or to make 'fake news'?" [when I have them to transform facts into spurious facts]. I find we live in a world where facts are often presented to us by the media in very spurious ways, using a variety of spurious techniques. In general, I am an exceptionally honest fellow, and I've come to hate the term 'fake news,' but I've come to believe that if you ask students to discover the techniques used by our advertisers and our politicians, they're better able to spot potential spuriousness when they are out reading and writing in the read world.

Honest is KEY in my student-centered classroom; spurious writing is a creative technique used in certain class assignments only. We don't create an entire culture of spurious behavior with this assignment, but if you're worried, keep it simple: just do facts and opinions.

My favorite classroom mentor texts that encourage fact versus opinion sorting...

Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots
by Michael Rex


Mr. Fact & Miss Opinion
by Melissa Polyakov

Teaching this lesson: Remember, my two simple philosophies about becoming/being a good writing teacher:

  1. I do the task. We as a class then do. Partners and/or groups then do. Individuals then do. Individuals compare work to each other and any rubrics or checklists.
  2. Every classroom idea--like the ones found on this page--should be adapted by the borrowing teacher in some way; through adapting, we become teachers who can truly differentiate for ALL students learners.

That said, I'm keeping this lesson write-up fairly simple this month because it could be adapted in so many ways, it seems to me. I'm going to provide some examples I made from my one notebooks (one from my writer's notebook, one from my interactive non-fiction notebook, and I leave it to you to decide what happens in your class as necessary practice after you share the "I do" portion of the two items listed above.

I also encourage you to create your own examples as a teacher; the examples I create and share really help me make connections with my students.

For a Interactive Nonfiction Notebooks (INNs): During my final years of classroom teaching before retiring, I spent a great deal of time developing writing-about-research techniques for my students to employ while preparing for expository/informative and persuasive/argumentative papers or projects. One of those techniques is one I plan to include to a book I'm currently drafting: Interactive Nonfiction Notebooks.

An INN is a student-created tool, wherein they store information they've learned by writing it in their own words. Sometimes, we work as a class to add the same information to all of our notebooks, but sometimes, they choose an independent topic for research, or they independently choose a sub-topic when I choose the big topic, like Greek philosophers, for example.

I teach in a student-centered environment; that's been my goal just about all my career. The Interactive element of these INN assignments is the part of the learning task that helps me create an environment where students are doing more talking about educational topics than I am. For the interactive element I require on each independently-chosen topic page, students design a game/quiz/puzzle to go along with the research/info they present. On INN sharing days, students move from partner to partner, sharing--first--some memorized facts they've prepared about their topic, and--second--asking the listener to play the game/quiz/puzzle that has been designed. Each partner shares. Each partner discusses their process in research AND designing their pages. By the time an INN share day ends, students have discussed different facts and "played" the interactive elements of half a dozen fellow students who were working on a similar or the same type of topic.

What I learned as I slowly changed my teaching style to focus more on having an INN as the students' end product was that students wanted to see my example. If I said, "Design a board game to play that teaches what you learned," many looked at me confusedly until I showed them one I had designed in my own INN. I believe SLTRONGLY in teacher modeling as part of the learning process, and if you tell them they can't copy your idea before you show them your example, they won't. That's been my experience, and yet I always have teachers who don't want to show models ahead of time for fear of copying.

WIth the example below, which presents nine facts about the Aurora Borealis, I created a yarn/paper clip interactive experience for the person who gets to be my partner for 8 minutes on INN sharing day. I tell my partner--for about two minutes--big facts about my topic that I have memorized; I just have a conversation about the Aurora Borealis. Then, I ask my partner to play my game. 3 of my facts are true, 3 are spurious, and 3 are more opinions than facts. My partner whom I've shared with moves the appropriate paper clips as we move through the facts. When it's a spurious fact, I explain what I did to make it spurious.

A Model Based on my Research from my INN (Interactive Nonfiction Notebook)

My example below is a final draft. In our INNs, we create rough drafts on scratch paper, then design layouts that are worth sharing. Below is what happened in my INN after I worked out how my page would look and sound on scratch paper.

When I sit down with a partner, this is the final draft of my INN page I bring to present/share. With this example, the facts I researched (and tweaked, in some cases) are on the left, and my interactive "game" is on the right. What you are NOT seeing here are the rough drafts students must create before they can putting their info (typed or hand-written) onto a page like the one below in their INNs.

____________________________________________________________

Students share a two-minute "speech" they've memorized about their topic, then they ask their partner(s) to play the interactive game/quiz they've created for them. Here is my sample showing a student whose made three guesses.

How might you adapt this idea for a topic your students research?

Let's show our teaching wisdom at this point and say together, "Students couldn't do this if they didn't know the difference between fact and opinion, and if they didn't know they difference between fact and spurious fact."

You're right. Such things must be taught. Here are my suggestions:

  • Fact versus opinion? George Washington was the first president versus George Washington lived during America's most exciting war. If you don't have a lesson on the simple concept of fact versus opinion, please use the mentor texts cited above with this lesson, or look a lesson up on the Internet. Use this Google link and you'll find dozens ideas already posted--most of them free. Why reinvent the wheel, am I right?
  • Fact versus spurious fact? Remember, you're NOT teaching students to lie; you're teaching them to toy with facts to test their classmates' ability to remember something they've attempted to teach each other. I love the word spurious because it refers to a fact that "sounds like it could be true but isn't." Plenty of fantasy and science fiction writers will tell you being spurious is an important skill to their craft. Plenty of advertisers, politicians, and criminals know spuriousness might be part of their required skill set too. You too were probably spurious the last time you created a true/false quiz.

    What I find is that my students have fun tweaking the truth that they find in research as they attempt to hide some spurious facts among their actual facts and opinions. They see themselves much more as "game creators" than "liars," so please don't mistake my intentions in having them write down false facts. I almost always want my students to enjoy the writing I have them create, and when I see them enjoying themselves as they do when they are making spurious facts from facts, I know I've got them engaged in the learning--albeit in a unique way.

    My students started out trying simple spurious techniques, like tweaking an actual date just slightly or they changed other facts that revolved around number-based facts. With practice, they began altering more word-based details they'd found and slyly changed for the interactive "game" they were preparing in the backs of their minds as they did their research. When they were at their best, they were creating spurious facts that involved other interesting facts they'd found but were twisted into fact that was truly spurious. I would havee flunked some of their true/false tests, if you must know the truth.

    Anyway, take thirty or forty minutes and teach them to be spurious before putting this out there as an assignment. I might suggest when a student discovers a "new" technique to be spurious, celebrate that idea by writing it on chart paper that can be store and easily and brought out again if you are doing another task that requires some spurious thinking. List of strategies, like this one, are good things to have around, and they're better things to have students as you assist you in creating something that is challenging for them..

For a Writer's Notebook: As I said before, I spend a lot of time solidly teaching them this lesson's writing format--Fact, Opinion, Spurious Fact--because I used it often and in a variety of research/writing lessons. I also encourage its use (or an adaptation of its use) in my students' writer's notebooks, which were the notebooks were kept for our English/Language Arts class.

A writer's notebook is a place where students can have "recess" time with their writing. They can explore ideas. They can try techniques I've challenged them with on topics they'd prefer. They can just be silly as long as their pencil is moving and they are creating words, not drawing. Some appreciate 100% creative license during their SWT, but others appreciate the occasional idea or writing format I throw their way. After I've taught them the Fact v. Opinion v. Spurious Fact format for their Interactive Non-fiction Notebooks, I invite them to try the same format in their writer's notebooks/journals that we use during English/Language Arts time.

To inspire students to play with the Fact v. Opinion v. Spurious fact format in students' writer's notebooks, I show them how I've used it in my own writer's notebook to talk about things that I was interested in on the day I was writing. You may certainly borrow my notebook images to help you teach this format, but you'll have more fun teaching it if you have your own personal example to share.

Three Models from my own Writer's Notebook based on Fact-Opinion-Spurious Fact

The first three years I encouraged this writing format in my students notebooks, I created a different example. So I am pleased to share those three samples to show you how the idea can be adapted.

Here I wrote about a topic I know well enough that I did zero research: West Highland Terriers, my pet of choice.

The day after I taught them the format for their INNs, I created this page during ten minutes of SWT and showed it to them. I dared them to try something similar but different with my 2016-17 example.

I took on a more argumentative topic during my second year of introducing this format to the writer's notebook: Real versus artificial Christmas Trees.

This was the page I ended up creating during year #2--2017-18.

For year three (my final year of teaching!), I made my page for my notebook more "game" like. As a partner reads my facts during sharing, they have to guess whether it's fact, opinion, or spurious.

This list was about something my kids asked about: my own K-12 years.

 

 

Forgot to start Sacred Writing Time this Fall?
January SWT Slides

are available for you to freely try with your students!

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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.

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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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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.

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--Teachers Pay Teachers purchaser


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Can you explain what thunder is?
But could you do it as though it were a written recipe?

Life is a Cookbook
inspired by Patricia Polacco's Thunder Cake

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.

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Enrich your Students' Vocabulary!
Will your Students will Take a Shine to "Word Art"?

Word Art
inspired by Jim Tobin's
The Very Inappropriate Word

 

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