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
Write

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

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A painter keeps a sketchbook--a place to pencil-sketch persons and objects that might eventually be included in a painting. A writer's notebook, which all my students record original ideas in daily, serves as a our "painter's sketchbook" for our future writer's workshop pieces.

True story...tenth grade made me hate journal writing. Daily, I was forced to maintain a journal in my sophomore English class. I learned to despise that spiral notebook because keeping it seemed so very pointless and very messy to me. See, it wasn't my journal; it was more my teacher's than mine. On certain days of the week, our teacher would give us a literature-specific writing prompt, and we quietly wrote for 10-20 minutes, pretending we cared about the teacher's prompt about what we were reading. After writing, I don't remember ever talking--as a class or in small groups--about what we had written to those prompts; instead, we were "blessed" to hear a lecture about what our long-winded instructor would have written as his response to his own prompt (though he never did actually write--he took role and graded papers while we wrote quietly in our journals). Basically he assigned us a specific prompt, quietly had us write to that prompt while he took care of class business, then--without asking for our input--told us what his thinking based on the prompt he'd provided was. His "journal program" was busy work. Like many traditional teachers, his idea of writing and literature instruction was lecture-driven, not student centered.

We read Julius Caesar that year (still one of my favorite plays of all time by the way!), and even back than I found it to be a wonderful, character-driven drama; I mostly loved the character of Cassius, and I re-read his dialogue carefully, trying to understand his rhetorical strategies as he convinced Brutus to kill his friend--Caesar--for the good of the government. As we got deeper into the play, I wanted to write about Cassius and Brutus during those 10-20 minutes we were given for our journals, but I couldn't; instead, I was forced to write to our teacher's prompts, which looked something like --"Do you believe in prophecy? Why or why not? If so, what convinced you? If not, what would change your mind?" See, my tenth grade teacher wanted us to focus in on the famous quotes from the play, like "Beware the Ides of March," which explains the type of journal prompts he was giving us. My teacher wanted us to write quietly, then he wanted to share all of his own personal stories about why he kind of believed in prophecy. I had no problem discussing his area of interest from the play--prophecy--, but years later I can't help but think that we could have had some much richer whole-class, socratic seminars--or heck, even just informal discussions--if we had a choice to a) respond to the teacher's prompt, or to b) explore a different literature-based idea that we could bring to the table based on what we were finding interesting in the literature. How hard would giving us a choice have been for him? What always struck me as the most interesting thing about that teacher's Julius Caesar unit was that everyone in my class was assigned the exact same essay topic as our summative assessment to the unit; it was something like, "How do the dreams of men and the idea of prophecy shape our thinking about the future?" I wrote a lackluster essay, I'm sure, because I didn't care about that topic; now, had he allowed me to write about Cassius and his persuasive skills, I would have given him a killer essay. I truly would have.

When I became a teacher many years later, I did what a of new teachers do; I emulated the bad practices of my own past teachers...even the practices that I hated as a student. For five or six years, especially when we were reading literature, I forced my kids to write in journals using my prompts, not allowing them to discover their own prompts. In 1996, I began working on my Master's Degree, and that was the year I enrolled in a Summer Teaching Institute sponsored by the greatest organization for improving teaching practices: the National Writing Project. My local chapter--the Northern Nevada Writing Project--had me research and create a 90-minute presentation that I was required to deliver to fellow professionals for the purpose of trying to help them see why they might change a current classroom practice. I researched better ways to maintain a classroom "journal program, and I happily discovered there were new schools of thought about using writer's notebooks instead of journals. How I wished that my tenth grade teacher had known about this similar-yet-different learning tool.

Whether I am teaching response to literature or specific writing skills that we will incorporate into a paper during a future writer's workshop day, Writer's Notebooks and Sacred Writing Time have become a foundational base for everything I do when I teach Common Core-friendly skills. My students (who, like me back in the tenth grade, used to drop their "journals" straight into the trash can as soon as the semester officially ended) now treasure their writer's notebooks. I keep a plastic crate wherein my students can store their writer's notebook between classes over night, but most want to take them home so they can either continue working on a writing idea they started in class, or they just don't feel comfortable having their cherished notebook out of their sight. I often present professional development sessions on writer's notebooks throughout my district and state, and should I ask my students if I can borrow their notebooks to share at my teacher workshops, well, you should hear them make me swear that nothing will happen to their notebooks while they are in my personal care. Does every child on my roster love their notebooks to this degree? No, of course not, because that will never happen, but 90% of my students think the time we spend working in their writer's notebooks is one of the best parts of their school day. Kindly check out the Pinterest Boards I link to below if you want to see the energy my students put in to their writer's notebooks for me.

Welcome to this page: This particular resource page at my website freely shares not only where my deep-rooted belief in this simple tool--a Writer's Notebook--came from, but it also shares some of my best techniques and lessons for inspiring creative and original thinking from my student writers between the covers of their writer's notebooks.

On this Writer's Notebook Resource Page:
Communication with Parents & Students
my web-letter explaining writer's notebooks & SWT
Daily Writing Prompts
from my collection of 500+ writing prompts
Free Lessons! Free Lessons! Free Lessons!
designed specifically for writer's notebooks
Mentor Texts & Products for Writer's Notebooks
these are the books and tools that changed my classroom!
New September is Notebook Month
because you need to start your notebook program early!
The Great Teacher Models with their Own Writing
I share how 10 minutes of SWT can become a portfolio paper!
Like this Page's Offerings? You might also appreciate:
Mr. Stick Resources
he is our writer's notebooks' "margin mascot"
Sacred Writing Time Resources
some students tell me SWT is the best 10 minutes of their school day
The Lesson of the Month Archive
many, many of my lessons are writer's notebook dependent
Pinterest Board #1: Celebrate Mr. Stick
I have a weekly notebook contest...these are the winners!
Pinterest Board #2: Bingo Card Inspiration
the "center square lesson" from our Bingo Cards spark great writing!
Pinterest Board #3: Pages from my Notebook
I care about my notebook; my kids see that and care about theirs!
Summer Writer's Notebooks?
my students maintain them over the summer too...
Mentor Text-inspired Lessons
learning how to use them to inspire your student writers
 

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Writer's Notebooks...Information for my Students & their Parents
To my amazing students and their wonderful parents,

All students will maintain a writer's notebook for my class. Every day, we will write in it. Whether it's a composition book, a spiral notebook, or something leather-bound and fancier, when students enter my class, the first tool that finds their desktops is their writer's notebooks. I have baskets where students can safely store them after class, or they can choose to keep them with them, which many of my students do. The worst thing that can happen in my classroom is to lose one's writer's notebook, because that's where all of our thinking and pre-writing is stored, and to lose those thoughts and ideas will mean that student cannot truly participate when we work on our writing during our class workshops on writing. Our notebooks hold all our best potential writing topics.

Right from the start each school year, we will establish an important routine in my Language Arts class. The first ten minutes of class every day begins with what we call Sacred Writing Time--or SWT. It's sacred because it's guaranteed--even if there's a substitute teacher in my room--and it's sacred because it's quiet and we take it very seriously. My biggest belief about teaching students to be better writers is that you all have to write every day, and SWT is our opportunity to develop that daily practice. Ten minutes may not sound like much time at all, but that becomes almost an hour of new writing per week students are adding to their routine for me. How often do musicians and sports players practice before playing for real in a concert or game? Certainly more often then we practice in writing class, and I am trying to change that fact. I want my students well-practiced when they sit down to write a real paper, which we'll do three or four times a semester.

What they write about during those ten minutes of SWT is completely up to my students. I have found when my students write about self-selected topics that they actually care about, they tend to practice better writing strategies and try to put their better skills to work for them. Even though the idea of quietly writing for ten uninterrupted minutes may feel foreign to them for a while, most of my students quickly learn to strategize for this: some starting lists of future topics, some beginning a "novel" they want to work on, and some writing about something they already know a little about but in a new and unique way. My students must come with interesting ideas to, or they won't maximize the writer's notebook's benefits.

When you know you have ten minutes of required writing in your near future, when you know you have a teacher who values all attempts at unique use of language skills and vocabulary words...well, when you know that is a regular routine in your academic life, you start to move through the world with not just an observer's eyes but a writer's eyes. Writer's don't just observe the world; they, also, bother to write their observations down. Whether you intend to be a paid writer in the future or not, while in my class, you will write every day. Like the examples that decorate this webpage, your notebook pages need to be sources of pride, so I ask you to consider your penmanship, language and vocabulary skills. Your writer's notebook needs to become a personal source of pride to you; otherwise, you're not taking advantage of the learning opportunity I am giving you by being a teacher who rarely tells you what you should write about.

Make the absolute most of the ten minutes I give you every day to simply write.

If you struggle with ideas to write about for your daily ten minutes from me, I have help I can offer you in the form on three documents. These are:

Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards
ask me for a copy!
SWT PowerPoint Slides
they're posted in class always!
Writer's Workshop "Menus"
ask me for a copy!
Everyone needs a writing topic idea from time to time, me included. When a student walks in to my class each day, my Sacred Writing Time slide of day will be posted on the SmartBoard; it alone contains four ideas, any of which could responded to in your notebook. If you prefer having a physical handout of topic ideas that you can keep in the pocket of your writer's notebook, then ask me for a Bingo Card or a Writer's Workshop Menu; these have general topic suggestions and some favorite prompts that I've collected in my 25 years of teaching. I sell all three of these products to visiting teachers here at this website; these three items are used in classrooms all over the world, so not having a topic from time to time is apparently a worldwide issue for students.

Ideally, you should come to my class every day with your own idea for writer's notebook time, but sometimes your brain needs a spark to ignite a page of good ideas. There is no shame in occasionally needing help to get your pencils moving. The three tools I provide in class work! Trust me! Use them if you need them

You want me to write in my notebook during summer too? Over our summer break, I will expect you to find ten minutes here and there at ten different times, recording ten interesting thoughts that have occurred to you in your time away from school. These ten entries will be either 1) the final ten pages of your current school year's writer's notebook or 2) the first ten pages of the writer's notebook you will use during our next school year together. I ask for ten. I ask for you to make the ten thoughtful memories of a summer that completely belongs to you.

I host a Pinterest Board called Summer Writer's Notebook Entries, so you can see and read examples from students, examining how thoughtful and detailed I am expecting these to be. I also have a page here at the website that goes into further detail about your summer expectations from mean ol' Mr. Harrison. And just so you know, I add--at least--ten pages to my writer's notebook every summer right alongside you.

My writer's notebook is available for perusal. I have three current writer's notebooks in which I write, and I sometimes write in a book called Listography: Your Life in Lists that my wife gave me. I try really hard to write--at least--ten minutes every day in one of my current notebooks during one of my current class periods. I think it's important for students see their teachers write in notebooks too.

I also keep a very special writer's notebook that I have been working on since 2004; it has about 16 pages left in it, and I keep them for special ideas I have yet to have. I know actual writer's notebook writing has to be sloppy because it's just rough-draft thinking on paper, if even that, so my regular writer's notebook is mostly sloppy, stream-of-consciousness kind of writing. When I have an idea for a new writing lesson, I create a very special page in my very special writer's notebook; this new page is designed to help me teach some aspect of the lesson in a notebook-friendly way. I pull out my special box of colored pencils, and my fine-tipped Sharpies. I practice my Mr. Stick drawings before deciding on a final visual that will accompany my writing. I spend a long time on every page of that special notebook. If you've proven yourself trustworthy, I might let you carefully look through this notebook too...if you ask. A lot of the pages from this special notebook are photographed and featured at the notebook lessons you can find lower on this page. Someday, I hope to publish a physical book of my favorite notebook lessons that all will come with pages from my special notebook; I think teachers would buy something like this from me, assuming the lessons are good enough.

Writer's Notebook Extra Credit Option: Extra credit, to me, doesn't mean I give you an extra task to do; oh no, to me extra credit means you put extra effort into something I am making you do already. That's the only way to earn extra credit from me: do an exceptional job on something that I am already asking you to do, like keep a really great writer's notebook. Take your notebook home, and do an extra thoughtful job on a page in your writer's notebook that you started in class, and then we can talk about extra credit. To honor the idea that writer's notebooks should be visual--though not necessarily artistic--I photograph and give out my weekly "Mr. Stick of the Week" award to amazing student notebook pages that make use of Mr. Stick as the visual of choice. If you find yourself writing during SWT about something you really like, save room to decorate the idea, find extra (as in extra credit) time to make the page visually interesting, then self-nominate it by marking the page with a Post-it and leaving it in my light blue crate before Friday. Depending on my mood and the quality of the submissions, I have been known to award 3-4 of these a week. All you have to do is like a writing idea enough to make it visually interesting, then submit something that shows me you have confidence in winning. Show off something you're writing = potential extra credit.

At left is a "Mr. Stick of the Week" award winner by one of your fellow students; the writer took great care to 1) show good writing skills and 2) present the writing with a thoughtful visual that makes use of Mr. Stick somehow. You can see your fellow students' extra credit-winning pages at my Pinterest Board called Mr. Stick: A Writer's Notebooks "Margin Mascot" Visit that page and look at the details and the thoughtfulness of the writing. When I see extra effort truly given, I often give extra credit. Are you up for earning some? If so, take my advice and earn it early in the semester; it becomes more competitive as the semester progresses, I have found.

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My Oldest On-line Resource: The Daily Writing Prompt Generator:
I suspect I am a prompt-o-phile. Over my years--twenty-five of them being in the education field--I have collected favorite writing prompts that seem to spark writing in other people, and I have a pretty impressive collection going here. This random prompt collection was the very first interactive writing prompt I put on-line when I started doing that kind of work back in 2001. Writers really liked the fact that there was a button they could press.

If you know me, you know that I am a true believer that writers must be responsible for coming up with their own prompts, not depend on buttons like the one below; however, based on the continued popularity of this online prompt collection of mine, I understand that everyone must appreciate a writing prompt from time to time. If one of these inspires writing from you, then I am glad I still have this original prompt still online and functioning.

Need a writer's notebook writing prompt today?

Instructions: Click the button until you discover a writing prompt that sparks an idea in your brain. Write freely for ten or fifteen minutes, not worrying about writing conventions (spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc.) or if the sentences are perfectly formed. Just put some good ideas down in your notebook that you can build upon and improve later. If you have time, I always suggest you go back and add a visual (like Mr. Stick) to help you remember what you wrote down.



 

A Tip: If you accidentally click past a prompt you wished you hadn't, use your right-click button on the white screen above, select undo, and you can go backwards through the prompts you've already seen

Suggest a prompt? If you have a favorite prompt you use with students, feel free to send it to me at corbett@corbettharrison.com. If I end up adding your prompt to this prompt generator, I will send you a complimentary copy of my writing prompts in a thirty-page Word document.

Purchase these prompts as a Word Document? Tired of clicking? I offer a 30-page version of these prompts for sale at My Products page.

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Free Lessons Specifically Designed to Improve Students' Writer's Notebooks
My rationale for these lessons I share: I so truly admire the words and ideas of author Ralph Fletcher, but I am confident he and I would most likely disagree over my use--twice a month on average--of a writing lesson wherein I require my students to "publish" a finalized idea directly in their writer's notebook. In Ralph's awesome, student-friendly handbook--A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer in You (all my sixth graders read it cover to cover and yours, if possible, should too!)-- Ralph stresses that a true notebooks' pages should only be inspired by choice-based thinking and reflecting from each individual writer. The fact that I require an assigned, objective-based page each month takes away from the 100% ownership we want our students to feel about their writer's notebooks. I see Ralph's point, but I've ultimately decided on a compromise that requires one page out of every ten or twelve to be one that I assign; I think that's a fair amount of control for me to maintain without interfering with my students' sense of ownership.

Why do I create lessons specifically for notebooks? I have a five reasons:

  1. Visual appeal. I want my students to have occasional pages in their notebooks that visually match the quality of one of our notebook mentor texts: Amelia's Notebook by Marissa Moss. A visual notebook is more likely to be shared with peers and celebrated. A visual notebook is more likely to revisited by the student who wrote and decorated the words, and it can be "mined" for paper ideas for upcoming writer's workshops. A visual notebook is more likely to be kept after my time with these students is over. I have some students who have very few visuals in their notebooks at all, and my assigned pages become a short, visual oasis in the Sahara-sized thoughts they are writing into their notebooks. When you're flipping back through a notebook, you're naturally inclined to stop and study harder the pages with visuals. Don't believe me? Try it. Pick up one of your kid's notebooks and flip until you feel like stopping; if your eyes are included in this process, you'll most likely stop on a page with visuals and writing. Visual pages = motivation to stop and re-read something written that might be worth re-reading.
  2. Word-and-image layout practice. We are a project-based school. Three times a year, our students come back in the evening and present interdisciplinary, team-built projects to community judges. We call these "roundtables." When you present to judges, you must come with interesting materials you've created to share; you don't just stand there and talk, nor do you read every word off of a Powerpoint. Writer's notebooks (or "interactive notebooks," which is what my team's science, math, and history teachers call theirs) are a perfect place to practice creating something visual and something written that come together. In a perfect student notebook, visuals and words blend and support each other, and students should start to build thinking skills that teach them the basics of "layout." My assigned notebooks require students to consider and plan a layout as part of the final product requirement.
  3. A unique venue for teaching trait skills. I teach writing skills. My lessons' objectives are less likely to be product-based (like "write a comparison/contrast essay") and more likely to be skill-based (like "practice your sentence fluency skills in your writing using your knowledge off prepositions and conjunctions"). Many of my notebook lessons are skill-based, and having those skills highlighted on a page that is in close proximity of their free-writing, well, I think the skills increase in their likelihood of rubbing off and sneaking their way into my students' writing, especially when I make them share and re-read the assigned pages every opportunity I can.
  4. Different written structures that go beyond block paragraphs. I teach simple creative structures--like eighth-grader Kage's rhyming slogans, pictured at right. I don't want my students' notebooks to become little more than lists or little more than block paragraph after block paragraph. If you teach your students small, creative structures, then remind them often that they might use those structures in their writer's notebooks, believe it or not, many of them actually do. Many of my notebook lessons focus on giving my students a new, imitate-able structure. Once established, my students may come back to those structures at any time, applying their use to different topics or pieces of content. Having them established in the writer's notebook increases the likelihood that students will use them again. Case in point, I taught my sixth graders two years back how to write a creative recipe that recounted an event from history; now they're eighth graders and we're halfway through this school year, and quite a few of them have written a recipe in their notebooks without being required to.
  5. Language can be uniquely "toyed" with in a notebook. I teach a love of language. My best notebook lessons showcase that love by having students play some sort of word game, and students create a page that we ultimately decorate. With all the standards and expectations they throw at us, I worry about how we can still find time to justify teaching trivial-but-delightful things like palindromes or spoonerisms. I can absolutely justify it through these lessons; much of my notebook instruction teaches a trivial love of language, but at the same time the lesson is backed up by 3-4 of the previously-listed items in this rationale.
Let your Favorite Mentor Texts Inspire What Will Become your Favorite Writer's Notebook Lessons...Here are some of mine:
Learn more about my unique classification of mentor texts at my Mentor Text Homepage
inspired by
Old Black Fly
Access the lesson:
Personal Treasure Tour
This mentor text is
by Jim Aylesworth

inspired by
A Chocolate Moose for Dinner
Access the lesson:
Four Homophone Comics
This mentor text is
by Fred Gwynne
inspired by
When Pigasso Met Mootissee
Access the lesson:
Artistic Neighbors...
This mentor text is
by Nina Laden
Sign-up for our free writing lesson! I publish them once a month, and I involve my students in the process.

At one point, I thought I might like to write a book about teaching someday. With all the papers I end up grading, however, I've kind of changed that ambition; instead, once a month--and I make my students VERY away of this requirement I place upon myself--I publish an online lesson. I do it to practice my writing skills; I try to insert as much voice and detail into my lessons, and people appreciate that, I think. At our Writing Lesson of the Month Ning, we have close to 30,000 followers now, and I want those teachers to like the way I share my lessons with them. I want them to both obtain a good lesson and simultaneously appreciate my writing style. And...I want my kids to see that I am a writer who works on deadlines--just as I expect them to do.

If you sign up for the Ning (which is free), you'll receive an email once from my that directs you to a brand new writing lesson or to a lesson I have recently revised and resurrected. You can sign up for this free monthly service (which forces me to write regularly) using this link, and you can access all my past month lessons at this website's LotM Archive Page.

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Let your Favorite Writer's Notebook Lessons Teach Students a Writing Skill
I have more skill-based writing lessons featured at my Favorite Lessons Page
I love how this lesson creates an interactive page for others to try and solve. Build an environment safe for sharing. Skill: This lesson teaches students to "show" using a short, well-crafted noun phrase.
My writer's notebook lesson:
Showing Riddles

Thanks to Pinterest, this has become an often-visited lesson at my site. It's good, but it's been a few years since I've had time to teach it well. Skill: This lesson teaches students to extend on solid ideas once they've established an interesting metaphor.
My writer's notebook lesson:
Establishing & Extending Metaphors
One thing I do that makes me feel like I am a better-than-competent writing teacher is I mix my grammar instruction into my creative writing instruction, which my kids like. Skill: Punctuate accurately for a variety of conjunction types.
My writer's notebook lesson:
Fixing Dickens' Comma Splices

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Three Notebook Lessons that Focus in on Teaching a Creative Use of a Fixed Structure
This is actually the "center-square lesson" from our October Bingo Card. Structure Created: Two-part recipe metaphors about interesting things not created in the kitchen.

My writer's notebook lesson:
"Life is a Cookbook"- Recipe Writes
I have a lot of students this year who like making their own alphabet lists on just about everything. Was this the lesson that started it? Structure Created: ABC lists on unique topics.

My writer's notebook lesson:
My Own Superhero ABCs

It surprises my students to learn I was really good at math in school, but I went after Language Arts in my studies instead. Structure Created: A poem inspired by the digits of pi.

My writer's notebook lesson:
Pi & Pie Poems
Sign-up for our free writing lesson! I publish them once a month, and I involve my students in the process.

At one point, I thought I might like to write a book about teaching someday. With all the papers I end up grading, however, I've kind of changed that ambition; instead, once a month--and I make my students VERY away of this requirement I place upon myself--I publish an online lesson. I do it to practice my writing skills; I try to insert as much voice and detail into my lessons, and people appreciate that, I think. At our Writing Lesson of the Month Ning, we have close to 30,000 followers now, and I want those teachers to like the way I share my lessons with them. I want them to both obtain a good lesson and simultaneously appreciate my writing style. And...I want my kids to see that I am a writer who works on deadlines--just as I expect them to do.

If you sign up for the Ning (which is free), you'll receive an email once from my that directs you to a brand new writing lesson or to a lesson I have recently revised and resurrected. You can sign up for this free monthly service (which forces me to write regularly) using this link, and you can access all my past month lessons at this website's LotM Archive Page.

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Three Notebook Lessons that Focus in on Teaching a Love of Language & Word Games
I always wanted to develop an entire study of dialogue punctuation using nothing but Tom Swift puns. Some day...perhaps. Language Game: Create and punctuate four Tom Swift dialogue puns.

My writer's notebook lesson:
Tom Swift Dialogue Puns
We all took electric typing when I was in high school, and we all learned to type "The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog." Language Game: Create two pangrams, which are sentences with all 26 letters in them.

My writer's notebook lesson:
Two Pangrams

You can't truly love language without loving all the cool collective nouns that exist. A murder of crows? Language Game: Celebrate two real collective nouns while "fibbing" about two fake ones that you invent.

My writer's notebook lesson:
Collective Noun Riddles

 

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Three Must-Have Mentor Texts for Teachers Beginning a Writer's Notebook Program...my Recommendations

My writer's notebook program would be so different if I had never come across these books. Thank your mentors always, fellow teachers. I am thankful for these three books every day I hear the Sacred Writing Time timer go off, and it is immediately followed by students begging, "Can we have just a few more minutes to write?" These are the books that shaped me as teacher.


Amelia's Notebook
by Marissa Moss
I have a class set of this little gem of a handbook, written by Fletcher particularly for student readers, and my sixth graders read it cover to cover. The last time I checked on Amazon, a paperback version is less than $4.00, so a class set is pretty affordable. Fletcher provides specific ideas for notebook pages and general thinking strategies for young writers. The other writing "handbook" books by Ralph are just as great! I'm no artist, but I believe that a good writer's notebook should be visual. I invented Mr. Stick as my technique to add visuals next to my writing, but Mr. Stick doesn't work for everyone. Amelia's style of decorating her notebook visually is very inspirational to my students. Marissa Moss is a genius, and I own every book in the whole Amelia series. I've watched the fictional Amelia grow up by reading her notebooks This is such a well-written book that goes out of its way to be teacher-friendly. Ralph Fletcher's book on writer's notebooks talks specifically to student writers in a student-friendly way; this book does the same, but it talks to teachers in a voice that, I believe, all teachers will appreciate. It's insightful, it's full of strategies, and it comes from someone who figured out how to use notebooks well with her own students. Thank you, Aimee.

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Three Products We Created and Use with our own Student Writers to Guide them to Love their own Writer's Notebooks
90% of what we offer at our little "Always Right" website is completely free, but then there's that other 10%. Each summer, Dena and I package something we've been developing for our own classroom into something other teachers could immediately use and that would save them time. In addition to those two perks, the products we sell are designed to keep the fun in writing, all the while maintaining a level of rigor that the authors of the Common Core Standards intended. Three of our best-selling products are specifically designed for writer's notebooks. They are below.

our very first writer's notebook product
Ten Months of Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards
interesting facts, words, quotes and prompts
366 Sacred Writing Time Slides
differentiated tools for more advanced writers
Writer's Workshop Choice Menus

Click on the Bingo Card to read about ordering the set.

Click on the August 15 slide to read about ordering the set.

Click on the Italian Menu to read about ordering the set.
Twenty-four engaging prompts for August through May (240 total), and ten center-square lessons designed to teach your students a unique format for writing about anything. I tell students they aren't allowed to make more than one Bingo per month to help them choose carefully from each card's choices, but ultimately they should not need the prompts this tool provides. The bingo cards are editable if you have Microsoft Word.

Try the two months of free samples out with your kids to see if they respond to them. Enjoy this free preview of the bingo cards:

Boy, do I hear about it if my students walk in to class, and the SWT slide for the day is not being displayed on my SmartBoard. Even if they don't write about any of the topics, they enjoy reading them and talking to each other about them. The four pieces of information displayed (daily holiday, trivial fact, quotation, and vocabulary word) start great discussions when I mix up groups or have them change partners. The slides are all editable if you have PowerPoint.
  • August 15 - September 15 SWT Slides (Try them out with your students to see if they work, to see if they inspire ideas for writing from students who need an idea. Our kids love these slides, if not for writing prompts but for discussion purposes.)
When teachers differentiate, I find they spend most of their time building a lot of scaffolding for their struggling students, the ones who need that extra support. But what about extra materials and engaging ideas for your exceptionally bright kiddos? Dena, our friend Jenny Hoy, and I had our exceptional group of kids in mind when we created this third piece of support to put in place. There are eight "menus," all with a different nationality as its theme.
  • Italian "Menu" of Writing Choices (This is but one of the eight menus we designed, and it can be introduced any time in the school year, not just at the beginning.)

 

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September is National Writer's Notebook Month!
It isn't really. Not yet. In the spirit of the crazy and real holidays found on our daily Sacred Writing Slides, I am determined to have the month of September named this; I am in the process of investigating how one declares such a thing and has it taken seriously.

Why September? Because it is the month I teach my students how to take their notebooks' purpose seriously. We actually start christening our new notebooks in August; we practice being able to keep an idea for writing going for ten straight minutes of writing. In September, I start teaching them how to find their own creative voice and style using their writer's notebooks.

September's Writer's Notebook Task
Enter our "Writer's Notebook Metaphor" Contest
I have always loved the "center-square lesson" on our September Writer's Notebook Bingo Card. It started out as "Alpha-Genres," but now I have three variations of the lesson so that I can bring this lesson out every September for my 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, most of whom are students that move up with me. They say, "Didn't we do this last year?" which is followed by the realization of, "Oh, this time we're doing it differently."

The Mentor Text I Use:

Written Anything Good Lately?
by Susan Allen and Jane Lindaman
The Lesson Link:

Alpha Genres
a.k.a. "26 Things I Might Write This Year"
The lesson link above takes you to my original lesson, which is called "Alpha Genres," and it is the lesson I use with my sixth graders. It's very adaptable to--I believe--grades three and up.

My seventh graders have a different final product called "Alpha Expository Topics," and here is a student sample. We also call this one "26 Topics I Might Research This Year."

The eighth graders have a different final product called "Alpha Tones," and here is a student sample. We also call this one "26 Voices I might Try this year in my Writing."

"The best part of your bingo cards' center square lessons, Corbett, is once the kids make them, I see them start to use the same format for their own topics during sacred writing time. I have one student who now has ten original alpha-lists. I'm not even kidding."

--Cecilia W., 5th grade teacher, Tennessee

Writer's Notebook lessons can teach the students new writing formats

Invite your kids to keep making new alpha-lists during sacred writing after teaching this lesson in September. You'll be amazed at what topics they make alpha-lists for. Here is an original alpha-list I made after we studied abstract versus contract nouns.


I like to host weekly contests for students who want to earn extra credit by putting some extra effort into their regular assignments and expectations. I change the contests every few years so that I keep myself interested in what the kids are doing. One of my now-retired contests was the "Metaphor of the Week Contest," and in September I always challenged my students to make their submitted metaphors about their writer's notebooks.


Eighth grader Adrienne won one of my weekly awards with her metaphor.

Seventh grader Tayler won one of my weekly awards with his metaphor.

Here is sixth grader Kimberly's winning metaphor. Before these metaphors make it to my class whiteboard, they have to put it on a writer's notebook page like this one.
September 2014:

Dena and I really want to sponsor a Writer's Notebook Metaphor Contest for the students of all teachers who use this website! We hope this will become an annual thing! Rules:

  1. Metaphors must be written in a writer's notebook and decorated; the use of Mr. Stick is optional.
  2. Photographs or scans of the notebook pages must be e-mailed to us by Friday, September 26th: corbett@corbettharrison.com
  3. Limit of three entries per teacher please.

Winning Teachers/Students:

  1. I will post the winning metaphors here so that thousands and thousands of our teacher followers can show them to their own students as an inspiration; also, I will use the four winning metaphors to create a "Four Metaphor Poem," which will become the Lesson of the Month in November or December, giving dual credit to the student writers who helped contribute.
  2. Teachers, you may choose ANY of the products from our Products Page and you will receive a complimentary copy of any product.

 

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My Own Writing Process Revealed: From Writer's Notebook to FInal Draft
I teach writing--not always well. I also write--again, not always well. I share what I've penned with my students, and I share what I've written at all steps of my own writing process, asking for their input. To be perfectly blunt, it's my willingness to make sure I have a teacher model of so many writing assignments that makes me a stand-out teacher in realm known as Language Arts. I'm so not the world's greatest writing teacher, and I am so not a very good writer myself, and I so completely understand how difficult it is for other teachers to commit to the extra time teacher modeling adds to our prep work. Here's my simple truth: I wouldn't continue to do it if I didn't thoroughly believe it's what makes my kids genuinely energetic about my writing lessons, and when kids are energetic, they give you their best effort and their best work.

As the great Carolyn Tomlinson said about another huge, time-consuming-but-vastly-important topic for education--differentiating instruction--"It's okay to start small. Just start."

You know how I'd start, if I was just starting out again? This is not an advertisement for my own stuff, but maybe it is. I'd buy my own Sacred Writing Time materials (the Bingo Cards, the SWT slides, and/or the restaurant-themed choiced menus), and as soon as I had made sure every single class was taking those ten minutes of daily Sacred Writing Time seriously, I'd write during those ten minutes too! I know there are teachers reading this right now who've purchased those materials from me, and who--instead of using those ten quiet minutes to establish their own writer's notebooks--they take care of class business and email while the students are being so quiet and their little student pencils are dancing. If that's you and you don't have a writer's notebook started yet, then stop doing that! My products provide you that ten minutes, and if you still don't have a notebook started, then you bought the materials for the wrong reason. Go start a darn notebook and share your crazy ideas with your kids once you realize how much fun it is to keep one, how much fun it is to ramble some days, how much fun it is to let your thoughts become decoration on what was once a blank notebook page.

It's my mission, folks. I want more teachers to model writing. I share some of my best teacher models in this space below. If these don't convince you to write alongside your students in a notebook, maybe you're hopeless, or maybe I'm in idiotic idealist. I'll let you decide on your own.

The Story of my First Real, Authentic, Honest-toGoodness, Choice-Based Writer's Notebook
I still own it. I cherish that little composition book. If it was ever lost, I would genuinely weep with sadness.
I began requiring journal writing way back in 1991--my first year of teaching. I had taken a methods class at my university that stressed the importance of having students keep journals to record daily responses to topics. I said, "Why not?" and every student from day one maintained a spiral-bound "journal" for me. Most students tossed their journals in the trash on the last day of class in June; they could have cared less about the responses they'd scribbled in there, and I knew it, yet I continued to use this daily practice for those first five or so years of teaching. To be perfectly honest, journal-writing was ten or fifteen minutes of daily "busy work" that allowed me to take care of attendance and set up the classroom's lesson for the day while the kids were quiet. It was boring, and I was asking them to maintain a classroom tool that I would have thought was pointless to maintain as well.

In 1998, thanks to my high school journalism students' hard work, I was awarded with a month-long, summer fellowship from C-SPAN in Washington, D.C., and the first thing the kind folks at C-SPAN asked me to do upon arrival was to keep a daily journal that documented my experience there. Since graduating college seven years earlier, I had not kept my own journal; I was asking my students to keep theirs going, but I was not doing it alongside them, nor had I ever shown them any of my journals from college. Maintaining that C-SPAN daily journal was an eye-opening experience for me. I really went the extra mile as I kept it too; I illustrated my daily entries (with the "Mr. Stick" character that I had recently begun using in class), and I added lots of visuals with glue and tape. You can click on the image at left to be able to zoom in on the first page of my "Mr. Stick Goes to Washington" journal I kept that summer. It's quite fun to look back through a journal that you care about when you're done keeping it. So many years later, I have probably re-read each day's entry from that summer experience over a hundred times, and I am always floored by all the really good thinking I was doing back then. When I returned to my classroom in August of 1998, I showed and shared entries from my summer journal every day during that first month of school. My kids were fascinated by it; for the first time, they actually wanted to keep journals too, and they wanted theirs to be just as visual as mine. Because I could now explain my own thinking process based on each page I shared, they seemed much more willing to put deeper thought into their journals. I was floored at the difference in my students' attitudes about their journals all that school year. Only a few threw theirs away that June; several years later, after honing my teaching skills just a bit more, I would guess that none of my students felt their journals were worth so little that they considered dropping them in the trash.

Over the next dozen years that followed that trip to D.C., I slowly improved my ability to inspire my students with the daily writing expectations. Besides changing the tool's name (we switched from calling them journals to writer's notebooks at some point in my own learning, but I can no longer pinpoint exactly when that happened), we also changed the "spirit" behind my expectation in having them keep their own notebooks. I no longer wanted the "Dear Diary"-like writing I was receiving, I no longer wanted the writing to read like a play-by-play account of their lives' events since their previous journal entry, and I no longer wanted to provide them with prompts that they didn't care much about; instead, I wanted them to have the freedom to take an important idea and go somewhere interesting with it in their own way. They would always have my permission to be as linear and logical as they'd like during their writing, but they also had my permission to be as recklessly creative when the spirit moved them.

The overwhelming majority of my students now respect their writer's notebooks enough to hold on to them tightly. Will they keep them forever? I doubt it, but they report to me years later that they still have them. That is definitely cool, in my opinion. I wish I'd kept my journals from middle school.

More importantly, since switching from journals to writer's notebooks, my teaching skills have improved. When you design a lesson with a writer's notebook element strategically placed to assist with pre-writing, you create a better lesson. I know for a fact that I don't ever include enough time for pre-writing, and my lessons that I've created since switching do such a better job at laying a foundation for ideas to grow and or writing skills to blossom. I used to rush through pre-writing; now, it's a purposely slow process that allows for me to strategically teach other writing skills while our ideas are still taking shape.

The big idea here is that students should write every day in some resource that keeps their writing all together. Call it a journal, or tweak the philosophy and make it a true writer's notebook. Our writer's notebooks give us the energy and the creative freedom to care about writing process. The energy my kids give to their writing, well, it simply amazes me. And it amazes them. "We have good ideas sometimes," one of my seventh graders said the other day after a great lesson on prepositions. I agreed and asked, "Who wants to write about one of these ideas for the next ten minutes so we don't forget what we were just thinking?" Over 90% of my students raise their hand, most of them irritated that I've interrupted the flow of the writing they had already begun adding to their notebooks before I asked the question.

I have to be doing something right. I'm convinced it's our dedication to our writer's notebooks.

I now teach my students that great final drafts begin in well-maintained and thoughtful writer's notebooks; the process of taking a great idea from a writer's notebook entry to a revised and edited final draft is exactly what I try to model for my students. When time permits, I very much enjoy writing right alongside my students; when time doesn't permit, I recycle papers I had written in previous years, and I am thankful that I thought to save all my steps of the process. Here are three papers I can recycle because I took the time to save all my steps of the writing process. I share mine here, hoping teachers are inspired by my lead to begin doing the same with their own favorite writing assignments. We maintain a positive writing environment in my classroom because--quite frankly--I participate too.

Every year, I take several more pieces of personal writing through the writing process, and I save my steps for future use. I expect my students to see how writing changes as it moves from a writer's notebook to a rough draft, and how writing changes when it's truly revised by the writer based on feedback.

Below, I share three papers that I wrote alongside my students in recent years. My students are always impressed to see how much the idea develops and changes as the piece moves from draft to draft. That, my teaching friends, is the purpose of a writer's notebook.

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How a 10-minute Notebook Entry about a Shiny Penny Inspired a Persuasive Piece of Writing for my Writing Portfolio
Inspired by Amelia in the Amelia's Notebook series, I found that it's fun to tape artifacts in your writer's notebook. I love that I still own this penny.
I often begin class with a true story. I amused my students one Wednesday in September with the true tale of how my bank actually made me stand in line for twenty minutes to withdraw a single penny. At my bank, I have occasionally heard other customers "explode" with anger over little things and threaten to do their banking elsewhere. As I stood in line, I debated whether I should explode when I finally arrived at the front of the line, or if I should make a funny story out of the experience. I chose to go with the funny option, and the page I created in my notebook is below on the left.

On the right-hand side, you can access the process the paper went through as I took it through writer's workshop. I made my writing process very visible to my students.

  • Pre-writing #1: First I told the story out-loud to my students, explaining that before I write anything, I like to talk it out as a story. This is a technique I learned from Mr. Borilla, my fourth and fifth grade teacher.
  • Pre-writing #2: Next, I shared with them a free-verse poem (pictured at left) I had written in my writer's notebook about the incident. My penny has been taped to the page!
  • Rough draft: I next let the piece of writing take shape as a hand-written draft. I purposely made sure the paper was very different than the idea originally in my writer's notebook. I wanted my students to understand that notebooks just hold good ideas; those good ideas may go very different directions when drafting begins.
  • Second draft: After some self- and peer-feedback on my hand-written rough draft, (using these feedback rating cards) revisions were made and the draft is typed.
  • Highlighted second draft: As part of the peer-feedback portion of the writer's workshop, students highlighted each other's drafts using the attached rubric and then discussed whether or not the highlights indicated if the student still had some areas of work to complete.
  • My final draft: Based on the goals I set from the highlighted draft and after doing some additional editing, the writing is finalized.
  • Evaluation rubric & teacher scoring sheet: I'm not sure I earned a perfect 30 on this paper! Hey students of mine, what score would you have given my final draft? Use the rubric and hand me a scoring sheet, and I'll give you a sticker for your writer's notebook!

 

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An Expository Piece of Writing Inspired by a Little Raptor Perched on my Porch
I often try for a "Top Ten List" during Sacred Writing Time, but I run out of room! Sometimes a "Top Eight List" workds too!

As part of our Writer's Workshop, I allow my students to choose their own topics, even for their expository requirement. I vehemently encourage them to discover a topic they don't know much about but would like to learn; I'd much rather have a small amount of research than have them write a report on something they already know tons about. With the process you see below, I was modeling how you find an interesting (but not overwhelming) topic that can be researched based on personal interest.

  • Pre-writing, part 1: Again, I started my writing process for this next piece as an oral story I told my classes. I let them know I was searching for an expository topic to do some research on, and that I'd had this experience with a bird dive-bombing my wife and I before dusk. Here's a loose transcription of the oral story they heard.
  • Pre-writing, part 2: I coincidentally needed to teach my students to highlight and summarize non-fiction articles for a project they had coming up in science class, so I found them an article on-line to practice highlighting with a partner while learning about the kestrel, giving me opportunities to talk more about my own expository topic, reminding them they needed to be finding one too!
  • Pre-writing, part 3: I created the pictured writer's notebook page (at left) to show them. I was able to snap a picture of my porch kestrel (which made him pretty mad at me!), and then I created a "rating system" to classify some of the facts I remembered and thought I might use in my own essay.
  • Rough draft: I hand-wrote the following rough draft to share, and I purposely used some pretty weak verbs throughout my draft as well as predictable organization.
  • Typed Second Draft: I purposely improved my verbs as I typed and revised and tried to lose some of the formulaic-sounding language from my rough draft.
  • Rubric: I used this rubric to not only come up with a personal revision plan but also to score my final draft (as well as my students' final drafts).
  • Final Draft: Complete with my "Works Cited" list.

 

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A Narrative Piece of Writing Inspired by Animal Farm and Some Basic Astronomy Facts I didn't even havee to Research
After creating this notebook page and the allegory it inspired, my sixth graders annually create science-inspired allegories. It's a great assignment. It started with this notebook entry
My students--like yours--most likely prefer narrative writing over the expository and persuasive genres. Sometimes I like to throw them a true challenge with narrative writing, and in fall of 2011, I based my challenge on our study of a recently-studied George Orwell novel with my sixth graders. Two years later, those former sixth graders still loved brainstorming ideas for allegories.

  • Pre-writing, part 1: I had a really smart group of sixth graders in 2011. As we read Animal Farm in November, they showed great interest in the word allegory. Past years' sixth graders were satisfied simply labeling Orwell's novel a big, fat fable, but this year, the kids wanted to talk about writing their own allegories after I introduced that term to them. We'd already brainstormed other historical events (besides that Bolshevik Revolution) that would make interesting allegories, but I wanted to challenge them to think about scientific processes that might inspire interesting allegorical narratives. I had them personify the three rock types as a pre-write for a possible narrative I was considering challenging them with. Here is a particularly fun pre-write from one of those sixth graders.
  • Pre-writing, part 2: After playfully personifying "rock people" in our writer's notebooks, I wanted to show my students how I would brainstorm for an allegory based on a scientific process. Here is the notebook page I created to inspire my own "scientific allegory" based on how a solar eclipse occurs.
  • Rough draft: I actually showed my sixth graders this draft before I showed them the notebook page (pictured at left) that inspired it because I wanted them to see if they could figure out what I was allegorically representing with just my words, not the pictures. The easily could. They were inspired to write scientific allegories too.
  • Final draft: I felt pretty good about my rough draft, so the next and final draft didn't change dramatically. I think that happens some times when you really put a lot of work into your first draft and your pre-write.