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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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Here's one of our original writer's notebook lessons. To assist our students as they maintain writer's notebooks for the classroom, my wife (Dena Harrison) and I created monthly "Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards"; the first card is for August, the last for May. Each Bingo card comes with twenty-four ideas and suggestions for creating a unique notebook page that--once added to the notebook--might very well inspire future writing. Our students receive a new Bingo card on the first day of every month; if they create a "Bingo" by completing five ideas "in a row," they earn a special sticker for their notebook, and the same award is applied if they make a "four corners." I have students who choose not to use the Bingo card's suggestions at all (because they have their own ideas ready-to-go), I have others who do a few suggestions from the card but not enough to win a sticker, and I have students who are completely dependent on the card for notebook ideas. Eventually that dependency goes away and all students write about their own ideas, but we still do a monthly lesson in the notebook to show them creative ways they can write during notebook time.

The lesson on this page is one of those whole-class, writer's notebook lessons! If you own the set of Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards, you can access this lesson anytime from the center square of the October card.

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I'm teaching an online class for my local university that focuses on preparing curriculum based on different learning styles. I am also taking an online class about using technology tools as a means to establish teacher leadership. Click on the 15-minute video below to learn how I teach "recipe writes" so that multiple learning styles benefit from this processing tool.

A Teacher-Guided Lesson for Writer's Notebooks:
a writing task that's great for writer's notebooks:
"Life is a Cookbook" -- Two Recipe Metaphors
Summarizing Learning with Unusual Recipes

Overview of this Notebook Prompt/Lesson:

I am constantly seeking writing tasks that have a recognizable structure to them yet allow students to be creative--recklessly creative. This Unusual Recipe assignment has always been one of my favorites because it does both. Mind you, it's easy to create a pretty uninspired unusual recipe if you put lackluster effort or minimal creativity into it, but the more you teach your kids about metaphorical thinking, the better their future recipes turn out to be. I use the recipe write throughout the school year, but it's in the writer's notebook that we first "play with" the task.

This lesson introduces the concept of Unusual Recipes to my students by having them create one based on a personal experience. After taking the recipe through the writing process, students record and illustrate a clean, edited copy of this recipe in their notebooks. They save the adjacent page for a future recipe on a different topic.

A few days (or weeks) later, students are challenged to create a recipe that--rather than being about a personal experience--is about a topic from a non-fiction text they have studied. These content-inspired recipes are edited and copied onto an adjacent page of their notebooks, where they too are illustrated.

Once established, this notebook page can be easily referred to when you are using the Unusual Recipe task later. I find the unusual recipe format works really well as a content-inspired group project, and I have been toying with the idea of students creating critical recipes during persuasive writing units; a recipe for "How to Change the World" is an idea I have for a critical recipe.

My mentor text for this lesson:

Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco

Playing "Brainstorm Boggle" to Create a Recipe Verb-Bank

Before bringing out the mentor text, we first brainstorm "cooking verbs" as a sponge-like activity. I like to play Brainstorming Boggle with my students, which doesn't involve using the Boggle shaking board at all, if you're worried about not having one. It's called Boggle Brainstorming for one simple reason: in the real board game of Boggle, there's a rule that if you have the same word as another player, you both have to cross the off words, meaning no one gets a point for that word.

In classroom Brainstorming Boggle (a game I am pretty sure I invented), students must create a list of ten unique words that fit a category I throw out at them. After they brainstorm by themselves, they are put into a group of three or four. Each player can earn ten points provided a) the ten words they have written down are spelled correctly and b) the ten words they write down are unique to their group, meaning no one else can have written the same word down. Recently, I added this rule to Brainstorming Boggle: "If you and one other group member have the same word but only one of you has spelled it correctly, the person who spelled it correctly gets to keep his/her word, thus earning a point, while the mis-speller must cross off his/her word; if just one other person in the group has the same word and has also spelled it correctly, both must cross off the word." By the way, there is no dictionary use allowed during the brainstorming part of the game; spelling must be from memory.

For this Brainstorming Boggle round, the category is "Verbs you would find in a cookbook." On a note card or Post-it, students are only allowed to write down ten verbs, and the idea is to think about unusual words that perhaps your classmates won't think of. If you write down "bake" and "cook," you could very well have to cross those off because they are common enough to have been written down by someone else in your group. If you rack your brain and think up "steam" or "baste," you have a better chance of not crossing off those words and losing a point, since they are less common. You take a risk by writing down words like "flambé " or "barbeque," because someone may call you the spelling, and a dictionary's use is encouraged during the checking portion of the game. You'll always have a few students who write down nouns or adjectives instead of verbs, and only verbs earn points during this particular brainstorm; I find this to be a great opportunity for students to learn a little more about verbs as they think up words for their lists of ten.

After two or three minutes of quiet brainstorming, students compare their lists in small groups, cross off words that are duplicated, earn a point for each word that isn't crossed off. I give a notebook sticker to the winner(s). Then each group carefully copies their "non-crossed-off" words onto a piece of chart paper or somewhere on the whiteboard so that we end up with a visible collection of really thoughtful cooking verbs in various places around the room. Explain these verbs will be helpful for the writing task we're about to do.

A Practice Recipe & a Mentor Text about Thunder:

Show the students an actual recipe. I always print a basic one from the internet, like this one. Discuss the way the recipe is broken into two parts: 1) list of ingredients (with kitchen measurement words in front of them) and 2) instructions/directions on how to mix the list of ingredients (with kitchen verbs).

"In the future when I give an Unusual Recipe task, which I will do regularly," I explain to them, "I want you to write a recipe for something that wouldn't actually be in a cookbook, like a recipe for erosion, or a recipe for problem solving, or a recipe for the Gettysburg Address." Today, they'll be practicing the recipe format by writing a recipe for thunder.

Pass out this information/drafting sheet, which provides some simple-to-understand facts about thunder from a kids weather website I have cited. Working with a partner, they are to use the information they learn and transfer it into recipe format. When they list ingredients, I encourage them to put kitchen nouns in front of each ingredient: 1 teaspoon, 1 cup, 1 gallon, etc. I require the students to justify the amounts they decide upon; if they put a large amount of something into the recipe, they better be able to why the amount is larger than the other recipe amounts.

The goal of the handout on thunder is for students to practice create a short recipe; there aren't too many ingredients to deal with here. Once they have the ingredients listed, then comes the real writing task: writing the cooking instructions, which I tell the students to do on the backside of the handout. I always say, "There are some tier-3 vocabulary words related to thunder in the handout that perhaps didn't make their way to your ingredients--like cumulonimbus, spring, or summer. I challenge you to include some of those words--along with the cooking verbs from our class lists-- when you craft your cooking directions. For example, your recipe might say, 'In a cumulonimbus cloud bowl, mix the following ingredients .'"

Partners create a rough draft of the recipe instructions. The first time out with a creative writing challenge, I think it's important to have the support of a partner or a group. That's why our 18 Tier-2 Vocabulary Poems were designed to be written with a partner or group.

When all have a rough draft, I then bring out Patricia Polacco's Thunder Cake and ask how many have read it before. Although the story isn't about a recipe for thunder (they're actually making a real cake during a storm), it still contains great vocabulary words and imagery about an approaching thunderstorm. Such words and descriptions in a published often encourage revision, especially if students hear them after having completed a rough draft. A mentor text used in this way, I call a "Craft Mentor Text," and it's one of the unique mentor text strategies I share during my workshops for teachers.

As students listen to the story, I have them jot down storm-related words near their recipe's rough draft. As a revision strategy, I then challenge them to find a way to add several of Polacco's best words into their recipe rough drafts, if they believe that extra word choices will help their writing come across as more clever or accurate or detailed.

Partners share their revised recipes with other partnerships; then, they discuss other "weather elements" that might make interesting "unusual recipes," if we were to ever do this activity again.


A Personal Recipe based on an Emotion...for each Student's Writer's Notebook:

A day or two later, I tell students I want them to reserve a two-page spread in their writer's notebook that we will call "Life is a Cookbook." To complete this spread, they will create drafts for two recipes over the next week or two, and a neat copy of their final drafts will be carefully printed in the writer's notebook, where they will also provide an illustration for each recipe. I explain these recipes will serve as "exemplar pages" in their notebooks, and that means I hope the writing they do on them inspires future unique ways to write about things.

One recipe they record will be about them and an emotion they have felt in the past; the other will be based on a topic they are learning about in history, science, or math class. I make sure my teammates know about this Language Arts notebook project, so they can start dropping hints to their students (students that we luckily share), and those hints often sound like: "Maybe this could be the topic you write a recipe for in Mr. Harrison's class!"

To inspire the emotional recipe draft, I usually show students this handout of emotional faces, which I also use when I am teaching my writers to draw Mr. Stick, my classroom's "Margin Mascot." I start by challenging students to think of an emotion (the handout helps them to think of a variety of emotions) that they felt some time over the last summer, but I let them ultimately choose an emotional experience from any time or season. For my teacher example, I chose the emotion satisfaction, and I applied it to a summer activity I always engage in: gardening. With an emotion and a specific instance or activity chosen, I can create a recipe draft for that emotion. I can list "ingredients" in the form what I have and where I'm at, then I can create "instructions" based on what I am doing and how the emotion--in my case, satisfaction--can come about.

Students are to create their rough drafts individually, but I allow them to share their ideas out loud with each constantly during the drafting process. I also refer them regularly to my teacher model, which you can see below.

(Click here for a stand-alone version of this page that can be printed on legal-sized paper.)

Remember, the rough draft for these emotional recipes go on scratch paper. Only after students have checked their spellings and shared out loud in a group, asking for revision suggestions, are they allowed to carefully transfer the recipe into the writer's notebook on the left-hand side of the two-page spread.

A Listening Across the Curriculum Challenge...for the Second Recipe:

Once students have published and shared their decorated emotional recipe poems, give them a listen across the curriculum challenge: "Over the next week, I want you to listen for and learn about a topic (from science, social studies, or math) that you believe would make an interesting unusual recipe. In one week's time, I will give you time to draft, revise, and publish a second recipe on a topic of your choosing on the right-hand side of your 'Life is a Cookbook' pages."

I remind the students they are to be doing this every day over the next week, allowing them to share ideas they've had while learning in their other classes. I always have students who ask if they can create a recipe (for science, social studies, or math) that isn't based on anything they're currently learning in those classes. Usually, I tell them no; I really want them to show their drafts to their science, social studies, or math teachers before they create a final draft in my class.

Halfway through the week, I have students create a thin "kitchen verb" column (see my model) on the second page of their two-page spread; this reminds them of the task they're supposed to be working on, and it allows them to take the kitchen verbs they like best from our class lists (from the Boggle Brainstorm) and have them somewhere safe for future reference.

On a chosen day, students bring their rough drafts to class so that they can share them in small groups, asking for revision suggestions, then double check their spelling and punctuation. Carefully, they add their science, social studies, or math recipes to their notebooks, providing an illustration.

In my writer's workshop, most of my students' ideas for their independent writing begin in their writer's notebooks. If you have never established a writer's notebook requirement for your students, be sure to read over WritingFix's Writer's Notebook Resource Page, and if you can, get yourself a copy of Ralph Fletcher's A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You. This little advice guide from Ralph (pictured, at left) is a constantly-referred-to text in my classroom, especially in the first few months when we're setting up our notebooks. Unlike a journal, which contains daily thoughts and a writer's "ramblings," a writer's notebook is a place where students 'save and hone' quality ideas for future writing that occur to them. "If you're not willing to write further about that topic/idea during an upcoming writer's workshop," I am often heard to say, "then don't devote a page to it in your writer's notebook." I also am well-known for requiring my students to make their notebooks very visual, incorporating stickers, cut-outs, and/or original drawings inspired by my Mr. Stick character, which I introduce them to in the first week of school.

For my classroom, once my students learn that an unusual recipe is an acceptable addition to work on if they're adding ideas to their writer's notebook, then I can easily challenge the "stuck" students to think of new recipe ideas to add on their own. There have been years where I have students who have independently added a dozen more recipes to their notebooks after the two I required them to add. I have students who appreciate the safety of the format of the recipe, and I can easily challenge them to use their creativity more when they know their writing's organizational structure before they actually write.

My students who independently create unusual recipes seem to enjoy creating them for the following:

  • additional emotional recipes
  • advice recipes ("a recipe for being a true friend," etc.)
  • book summaries ("a recipe for chapter 10," for example)
  • holiday recipe ("a recipe for the best Halloween," etc.)
  • family recipes ("a recipe for my little brother," for example)
  • additional writing across the curriculum recipes

Student Samples:

The following two-page spreads from my students' notebooks are the exemplars I show when beginning this lesson:
8th-grader Alex G. created this top-notch example that I will show my future students for years to come:

(click image to see a larger version of this page so you can zoom in on the details)
7th-grader Julia also made a great example. Because of her use of Mr. Stick, she also was chosen as a "Mr. Stick Drawing of the Week" winner:

(click image to see a larger version of this page so you can zoom in on the details)
7th-grader Brooke also made a great example. Like Julia above, this science recipe also focused on the wetlands; they will be interesting to compare/contrast.

(click image to see a larger version of this page so you can zoom in on the details)
7th-grader Abby wrote two great recipes--kind of lightly in pencil. Click the image below to be able to zoom in and read her great words:

(click image to see a larger version of this page so you can zoom in on the details)

My students notebooks bubble with creativity! Check out these Pins:

I celebrate my students' creativity by posting their ideas to my classroom Pinterest Board. When you require a monthly creativity assignment (like this recipe) in their notebooks, you see them start taking unique chances with the creative ideas you've "forced" them to try, and you see other creative ideas pop up.
  • Chaz adapted the recipe-write in his notebook when his family bought a deer repellent whose #1 ingredient was dried blood. Click here to see.
  • Cheyenne showed her love of history by continuing to make "across the curriculum" recipes in her English notebook. Click here to see.
  • Notebook spelling is less important than housing good ideas. Here's Alisa's recipe she created about her cherished writer's notebook. Click here to see.
  • Tayler showed his love of science by continuing to make "across the curriculum" recipes in his English notebook all three years I had him. Click here to see.

Like Recipe Metaphors? Here are Additional Resources:

In two of Barry Lane's best books--Reviser's Toolbox and 51 Wacky We-Search Reports--the author cites the power of using the recipe format in class as a way of processing information, especially information learned about in content areas, like math, science, and social studies. I like how Barry's examples always do clever things with the names of the recipes; he likes to cite an alliterative food alongside the topic of study. In 51 Wacky We-Search Reports, for example, he shares his "Suffragette Souffle" recipe, which is about the women's liberation movement.

Such cleverness with recipe titles is contagious, I find. At right is a link to a You-Tube video Barry posted of a student--Marlene Martinez--reading the "Flapper Fondue" recipe she created as part of their unit of study of the 1920's. If you are accessing this page in your classroom, you might not be able to access the video, since it's on You-Tube, but you can certainly view it from your home computer.


An Invitation to Share Your Students' Notebook Recipes:

You will have students who create awesome notebook pages inspired by this activity--ones that should serve as models for future students who go through this writing activity. I hope you'll consider photographing and sharing any students' notebook page that really are inspirational. Tell your students you're going to choose the three best notebook pages and post them at WritingFix's Ning; this is a fabulous way to motivate your writers, and tell your students they could very easily have their notebook pages seen by the tens-of-thousands of teachers and writers who visit our free-to-access educational site annually.

The link below will take you to our posting page specifically set up for this lesson. And hey, I'd love to see teachers sharing their own models of this assignment too!

Click here to visit this lesson's Ning Posting Page
where you can join the ning and post photos of your students' notebook pages.

(If I end up posting your students' notebook pages also here at this page, I will happily send you a complimentary copy of one of our Teachers Pay Teachers Products!)