Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison, and I have been an educator and a teacher-trainer since 1991. I specialize in teaching writing using differentiated instruction. I also focus on critical thinking techniques, especially during the pre-writing and revision steps of the writing process.

I serve Northern Nevada for nine months of the year (August-May), and during summers and during our two-weeek breaks during the school year, I hire myself out to school districts and professional organizations around the country.

Summer of 2014 is all booked. If you would like to check my availability for the summer of 2015, please contact me at my e-mail address.

 

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

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I use mentor texts in just about every writing lesson these days. They allow me to teach ideas, structures, and authentic writing skills to my kids.

A mentor text is a published piece of writing a teacher uses during a writing lesson to either a) teach a writing skill or to b) motivate the students to want to write something creatively similar. I first heard the term in 2006 at a conference, and my immediate thought was, "Why, I've been using those in my lessons for years. How nice to know they have been given an official name!" I think a big part of recycling ideas in education is reinventing old ideas by disguising them with cool new names...like mentor texts. Those of you who've been teaching more than a dozen years know what I mean by "reinventing old ideas" in education, I bet. I've been teaching long enough to see some ideas come and go by the wayside three full cycles now, not just twice. I'm genuinely trying not to be cynical about it anymore.

When I encountered that term mentor text at in summer of 2006, I decided not to let my cynicism overshadow the opportunity. I figured if they'd bothered to name an old, nameless idea, they must have some fresh ideas about using them that they've recently discovered. I listened intently at each conference session, then processed the information by reflecting on my own classroom practices. What I found was that I had three distinctly different ways I was using mentor texts to design my lessons on writing, so I classified them into three groups. I did this to see if I could figure out which category of the three I used more frequently, and I used that information to help me decide on what technique I wanted to work on with my next set of lessons. I chose to design some new lessons inspired by the mentor text technique I discovered I used the least. I set it as a professional development goal with my evaluator, and I've been working on it ever since.

Besides being a well-liked 6th-8th grade teacher (though I've taught writing to 3rd-12th grades), I too am a presenter. I don't like traveling away from my wife and my dogs, so even though I have presented at the national conferences, I have chosen to not do that the past few years. We have a lot of local organizations that put on district-wide conferences here for teacher re-certification credit, and I'm a regular speaker at those local events. I turned my "classification of mentor texts" into a session, and it was met with a very positive response.

What you are finding on this page is the work I did around mentor texts as a presenter from 2006 until the present. I have posted my handouts and links to the very lessons I would have my participants analyze (and write to!) for how the mentor text is incorporated. I give all this mentor text stuff away for free, but I hope if you like it and make use of anything on this resource page, you'll at least check out my additional work on Writer's Notebooks and Vocabulary. Writer's Notebooks and Vocabulary Collecting are two projects I began working on after this page on Mentor Texts took shape, and they continue to be a backbone for all my weekly routines that teach reading and writing skills.

About copyright: If you find something useful here, I hope you'll share it with others. If you have success sharing it, I hope you'll take the time to let me know about it. I genuinely appreciate the kind words I receive from teachers and trainers who've borrowed from this page. If you keep my page citations on all my handouts on this page, you have my permission to make as many hard copies of any mentor text resource for your own students or training sessions.

Classified Mentor Texts: My Three Categories
We all have those favorite books (or poems or short stories) we absolutely love to read out loud to our students. When I start discussing mentor texts at my teacher workshops, I always like to ask my participants, "What are your best read-alouds? What author's words do you bring to life?" Teachers love to share the story titles that captivate their students the most. I usually have to pry teachers away from that discussion question with a metaphorical crow-bar so we can proceed with the training, and this always reminds me of some true facts. True Fact #1: Teachers like to talk about their favorite books to read. True Fact #2: Students like to be asked to write stories, poems, and responses based on something the teacher loves to read; they'd much rather do that than find inspiration in something the teacher doesn't enjoy sharing: like a five-paragraph essay, just to throw an example into the ring.

I have two things I read aloud the best. I guarantee you will not find anyone--yes, this is a challenge!--who reads the first chapter of Animal Farm out loud better than I do; I have the best 'Old Major voice' (plus, I wear a pig snout that day!), and when I sing the song Old Major teaches the animals, I actually achieve vibrato! My second read aloud came to light thanks to an inservice class my wife and I co-taught for many years. I had written this pretty good writing lesson based on chapter four of Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, which I read aloud to the class participants. On the drive home from class one night, she said, "I don't know what it is about that chapter, but when you read it out loud, it's like you become the author's voice." I don't argue when my wife compliments me, but it's amazing how--even after you've shared something aloud dozens of times--if you love the words and the way the author put them down, you can still make it come alive for others.

Now I must stress something here: a good read-aloud text for listening and a mentor text for writing are not necessarily the same thing. They might be, but there's no guarantee that just because your kids enjoy hearing the story read aloud that it will make a strong mentor text for writing. From experience, I have to warn teachers of this early on. Too many times I have seen my workshop participants really struggle to build a writing lesson from a story that makes a better read aloud than it does a text for teaching/inspiring writing.

A mentor text should ultimately be discussed by students for one of two purposes: 1) to showcase a writing skill found in the text that you want students to practice in their own writing; 2) to motivate students to write something different-yet-similar that was inspired by the mentor text's idea or structure.

In 2006, when I made the decision to learn even more about mentor texts and how they affected my writing instruction, I spread out 15-20 of my very favorite mentor texts from my very best writing lessons on the carpet in front of my bookshelf. In Language Arts, I require my students do "sorts" all the time with words and sentences and quotes, and so I was immediately inspired to attempt to sort my mentor texts interestingly. I sorted them first by genre. I sorted them next by reading level. Neither of these sorts did much to challenge my thinking. However, when I asked myself, "How are you specifically using these mentor texts to teach writing?" something really interesting happened. I made a discovery that became very meaningful to me. The sort I ended up doing showed me that I had three distinctly different ways I was using mentor texts to inspire student writing. I was using some of my texts as idea mentor texts, some as structure mentor texts, and others as craft mentor texts. You can read about these three different categories I created by viewing my PowerPoint slideshow, which you can access by clicking here or on the picture of my opening slide, which is at right. In my PowerPoint slides, I define each category, and I share a purposefully diverse selection of mentor texts that I have personally used while teaching writing to 3rd-12th grade writers. I try to explain how it's the writing task I have students complete after being exposed to the mentor text that determines in which category I place the mentor text. This is a pretty important concept to understand before you can start sharpening your own use of mentor texts, and so it warrants discussion. I usually place a pile of possible mentor texts at each table in the training room, and my participants like to sort them once they watch the Powerpoint. They discover that the same mentor texts can be used to teach a variety of things.

I find a lot of my teacher workshop participants expect the incorporation of mentor texts into writing instruction to be easy, but it isn't. Just because you have a well-written or engaging text to discuss before students begin writing does not guarantee you have a better writing lesson. Allow me to explain this with an example mentor text that I know many already teachers know about: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg.

Now, I'm being serious here...if ever there was a perfect idea mentor text, it's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. An idea mentor text--and I say this assuming you've already watched my explanatory PowerPoint slideshow from above--is one whose purpose is to push students to brainstorm and pursue an original idea inspired by an author's original idea. What Van Allsburg creates so beautifully with this picture book is an imaginary story that there are these dozen or so "lost stories" that were created by this fictional illustrator/writer named Harris Burdick; all that currently remains of each story is a single (and beautiful!) captioned illustration and a story title. The book's twelve illustrations, captions, and story titles, when shown to student writers, genuinely excite them to want to create what they believe one of the lost stories must have been. See how this author--Van Allsburg--had this original idea that launches original ideas from student writers? That's an idea mentor text, and as I said, this one is pretty much perfect. By design, it is an idea mentor text; my other mentor texts are usually inspired by accidental ideas that occur to us.

Genuine excitement from writers is a good thing, and mentor texts often provide this type of excitement. But my "Seven Elements of a Differentiated Writing Lesson" Workshop isn't simply about exciting students to write, it's about exciting them and then providing them with high-quality instruction so that writing their Harris Burdick-inspired tales teach them some genuine skills that writers know about and practice and perfect as they go through a writer's workshop inspired by the story they are writing. Over the years, I have seen some pretty mediocre (as well as some dreadful) pieces of writing inspired by The Mysteries of Harris Burdick; it takes a great mentor text and a great writing lesson to help students excel past mediocrity. Ideas alone do not create good pieces of writing; ideas and good instruction have a much better chance.

I'll conclude this section on this resource page by reiterating what I said a few paragraphs back. Good writing instruction is never easy; it involves many purposeful elements (seven of them, according to my most popular workshop) coming together as the writing process unfolds, and use of mentor texts is but one of those elements. If what I've said on this page intrigues you, I invite you to purchase the entire set of materials from my "7 Elements of a Differentiated Writing Lesson" Workshop and begin categorizing your mentor texts for writing. Or--better yet--have your school or district's professional development coordinator contact me about coming and presenting the idea to your staff in the future.

I also invite you to send me the names of favorite mentor texts you use in your classroom that fall into one of my three categories of mentor texts: idea, structure, or craft: corbett@corbettharrison.com.

Mentor Text Recommendations: One Idea, One Structure, and One Craft
The mentor text at left is a great mentor text, but it's not a very unique recommendation on my part. I hope I'm not the first teacher who has shown you The Important Book as a tool for writing instruction. Step #1: Read the book; Step #2: Have students impersonate the obvious structure of the book while writing about other things you've learned (or are learning) about recently.

I strive to be unique in my students' eyes. I want my kiddos to remember unique things about me, like how I am probably the only teacher they had who actually showed them pages from his own writer's notebook, or how I am probably the only teacher who taught them to sing (loudly!) Emily Dickinson poems aloud to the theme song from "Gilligan's Island."

I mentioned Van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick above as a superb idea mentor text, which it is. That book was first recommended to me by a college professor, and I used it (albeit pretty badly) my very first of teaching based on the recommendation. Over the years, I became better at using it as a mentor text, so I am always grateful for that professor who first made me aware of this amazing book to use to enhance my writing instruction. Because that book has been around for so long, I know that well-over 75% of the teachers using this webpage have already heard of it. I know it's not the most unique idea mentor text I could share.

I also assume that Margaret Wise Brown's The Important Book is not the most unique title I could share as a structure mentor text. I certainly hope 95% of you already own this little gem and are using it as a structure mentor text. Same thing with me trying to recommend any passage from John Steinbeck as a unique craft mentor text, right?

So here is what I am attempting to do with the following three book recommendations: I am attempting to share with you the most unique mentor text title I've thought of for all three types of mentor texts. I suspect the books-as-mentor-texts I am about to recommend are known, but that few have thought about how to incorporate them as an inspiration for writing. I share this with you in hopes that you'll share it with others. If you want to share a unique mentor text idea with me...you may: corbett@corbettharrison.com.

My Unique Idea Mentor Text:

Homer Price

by Robert McCloskey
My Unique Structure Mentor Text:

Caves

by Stephen Kramer
My Unique Craft Mentor Text:

All the Places to Love

by Patricia MacLachlan
So I expect most of you have likely heard of this classic chapter book, but I'm now throwing it to you as a unique idea mentor text. Enjoy that famous donut chapter by reading it again. McCloskey read-alouds beg for audience participation, and this is no exception.

Then, a few days later, use it to inspire the following unique writing idea from your students: invent and write about an automated machine that you wish existed to make your life easier. If they like the machines they "invent," they can go further, and tell the tale of their original machine going haywire, as it does in the mentor text.

Click here to access this lesson at WritingFix.
Don't make the mistake a lot of teacher I work with do by thinking structure mentor texts have to be as obvious as Margaret Wise Brown's The Important Book. Structure can and should, in fact, be so subtle you almost miss it sometimes. Good writing has structure, but it doesn't sound formulaic.

That's the case with Stephen Kramer's introductory two pages to his non-fiction picture book, Caves. Kramer begins with a paragraph that shares things you would never find in a cave; then he describes what you would see in a limestone cavern. Borrow this two-part, subtle structure to describe any setting: your bedroom, your classroom, your refrigerator. Your students can/will produce some interesting writing by focusing on what isn't there before they focus on what is. Trust me.

Click here to access this lesson
at WritingFix.
Some authors have the ability to write what sounds like poetry even though they're writing prose; it's a craft skill. Jane Yolen does it. Angela Johnson does too. MacLachlan is a master at it, as evidenced in this beautiful book. What I love about MacLachlan is that students notice crafty things she does that they can impersonate. In this text, have them note how often she begins sentences with prepositions, and have them discover her "sets of three." They're there. When they write about a special to love, have them impersonate these craft tricks. It works!

Click here to access this lesson at WritingFix.

 

Mentor Text Recommendations: One Idea, One Structure, and One Craft
Like what I have to share about "Mentor Texts" on this page?
Wish you had the ability to attend one of my face-to-face workshops?

I love presenting to groups of teachers about mentor texts. It is such an amazingly fun topic, upon which one can set so many personal and professional goals.

And yet...alas, I can only present so many times in any given year and still teach full-time Language Arts. There is, however, an alternative solution: I invite you to consider purchasing any of the PowerPoints and Workshop materials I sell at my Products Page here at Always Write. When I create slideshows and a booklets for all my teacher trainings, I try to do something unique: I go out of my way to design both in such a way that any teacher could independently read through the slides at their own pace, perform the activities in the booklets, and learn independently from my materials. I know face-to-face is much more effective, but this is an alternative for those of you who are interested in some self-paced learning.

Which of my Products focus on Mentor Texts? Between 2006-2008, I designed one of my most ambitious two-day workshops ever; I wanted to combine all the best techniques I'd learned about authentic writing instruction with the best things I'd learned about differentiated instruction. The result of this synthesis of best practices became my "7 Elements of a Differentiated Writing Lesson" Workshop. Over two days, we examine seven different elements that--when applied well and with a differentiated philosophy--could strengthen any writing lesson to work with a wider variety of students and learners. Mentor texts are one of the seven elements we explore with great detail during that workshop.

If you'd like to acquire my PowerPoints on all seven elements as well as the booklet used by participants during that two-day workshop, please know that they are available. Click here for details.

The Four Mentor Texts that Inspired My Four Most Popular Inservice Classes
My work with the Northern Nevada Writing Project, which began for me in 1996, has inspired me to create and teach somewhere between forty and fifty in-service classes and teacher workshops over the years. Some of these classes I designed with fellow NNWP colleagues; my wife--Dena--remains my favorite collaborator when designing a new class. Other workshops I designed on my own.

I often base any new inservice workshops on a brand new professional book for teachers that I've recently discovered. Below, I share the four mentor texts that I have used when designing some of my most successful and popular inservice classes for teachers and administrators.

When our economy has been good for education in the past, the NNWP has been generous enough to purchase copies of these books for all class participants. Over my many years of designing and delivering teacher workshops, I feel confident in saying that I have put well-over two or three hundred copies of each title below in the hands of my fellow Nevada educators. I'm proud of that fact; these four titles are books that I believe have the power to transform non-writing teachers into writing teachers, or to at least begin a colleague's journey down that path.

If you have copies of these texts available to you, start mining them for great new ideas to bring to your classroom.

Four Books That Inspired Professional Development
Reviser's Toolbox by Barry Lane

I don't know the year it happened, but I remember so well the room where it took place and the person I was sitting next to. My Writing Project--the NNWP--brought author Barry Lane in for a Saturday workshop. We all received copies of the book pictured above, and we all enjoyed Barry's presentation that whole Saturday. It was the first time I'd met Barry, who is now a good friend of our family.

My Teaching Revision & Editing in-service: Because so many teachers I work with find revision terribly hard to teach well, I created a new teacher workshop back in the 2008-2009 school year that focused on authentic techniques for two distinct steps of the writing process: revision and editing. Each participant received a copy of the wonderful resource pictured above.

You can access many of this workshop's resources by visiting the Revision Homepage at the WritingFix website.

Why We Must Run With Scissors by Gretchen Bernabei

I love the spirit of this book of lesson ideas: teach and write persuasively with a good sense of humor. I was lucky to have several teachers from my past who were simply fun teachers with fun ideas for lessons. The lessons in the book pictured above remind me of those fun teachers.

My Persuasive Writing Across the Curriculum in-service: I created this inservice during the 2009-10 school year that focused on teaching persuasive voice in all curricular areas. Participants not only received a copy of the book pictured above, but they also designed R.A.F.T. writing prompts and other persuasive formats that helped students think deeply about classroom content.

I now offer this course as a Writing Across the Curriculum professional development experience for 4-12th grade teachers struggling with Common Core State Standards' W.A.C. requirements. Visit the Persuasive Writing Homepage at WritingFix for some of the class's resources.

The 9 Rights of Every Writer by Vicki Spandel

Many summers ago, I spent an incredible three days attending a 6-trait workshop put on by Vicki Spandel in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At the time, mere words could not describe the powerful philosophical discussions about writing we experienced at the guidance of this incredible thinker and author.

It was a philosophy-changing experience for me as a writing teacher. Several years later, Vicki published an amazing book--The 9 Rights of Every Writer--which so perfectly captured some of those epiphany-causing discussions that I had experienced in New Mexico during that summer.

Since then, whenever I have been asked to facilitate a "book study"-styled class for a group of teachers, this is the first text I recommend. Dozens of groups have since analyzed this book's thought-provoking messages with me. Each discussion, I walk away with something totally new too!

Vicki Spandel is truly a wise teacher and author.

51 Wacky We-Search Reports by Barry Lane

I am so lucky to work on a team of educators who all use this little gem of a book. There are 51 fun ideas inside that help students write about non-fiction topics in their own words. My science colleague, my math colleague, and my history colleague all have their favorites from this collection.

My Writing Across the Curriculum in-service: Back in 2006, I created a brand new inservice as part of my Writing Across the Curriculum Coordinator duties for the Northern Nevada Writing Project. Participants were thrilled to receive not only the book pictured above, but they also received copies of the NNWP's Going Deep with Compare & Contrast Thinking Guide.

This class ran regularly between 2006 and 2011, but I have now retired it as an inservice. Schools may still request the content if they are willing to commit to three professional development days at their sites. Check out the Wacky We-Search Homepage at WritingFix, where many of the workshop's resources are featured.

 

 

On This Page:
Mentor Texts about Using
Mentor Texts:

If you appreciate the lessons I am posting here at my website, kindly consider using the links below to purchase any mentor texts I am recommending on this page; a very small percentage of each sale from Amazon helps me keep this website free and on-line for all to use. Thanks in advance in helping me out!

 


Mentor Author, Mentor Texts
by Ralph Fletcher

Yes, clearly, I remain a Ralph Fletcher fan! When I saw this book was coming out, I can safely say I was one of the first to place my order. It's a wonderful read with wonderful lesson ideas!


Nonfiction Mentor Texts
by Lynne Dorfman & Rose Capelli

My boss (thanks to Common Core State Standards) is forever asking, "What are you having them read that's non-fiction?" This collection of ideas is truly a blessing to have!


My Mentor Text of the Year Program
At present, I am still permitted to choose my own professional development direction as part of my annual evaluation. I always focus on areas of writing I know I can still become better with, and I always choose a published mentor text that helps me achieve my goal. Since 2008, I have been selecting a main mentor text every year that inspires me to newly design or revise several writing lessons during my school year.

I select my mentor texts carefully, and though they are based on my current needs for improving writing, I invite other teachers to join me in exploring them. Eventually, I begin posting lessons based on them as part of our Writing Lesson of the Month Ning.

My Mentor Text of the Year
2013-14 School Year


The Story of My Thinking
by Gretchen Bernabei

My Mentor Text of the Year
2012-13 School Year


The Boy Who Loved Words
by Roni Schotter

My Mentor Text of the Year
2011-12 School Year


Show; Don't Tell: Secrets of Writing
by Josephine Nobisso

My Mentor Text of the Year
2010-11 School Year


A Writer's Notebook
by Ralph Fletcher

My Mentor Text of the Year
2009-10 School Year


How to Write Your Life Story
by Ralph Fletcher

My Mentor Text of the Year
2008-09 School Year


Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street
by Roni Schotter

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