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, I hire myself out to school districts around the country.

If you would like to check my availability for the summer of 2014, 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.

home | email  

A painter maintains 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 ideas in daily, serves as a metaphorical "painter's sketchbook" for future writing assignments.

Daily, I was forced to maintain a journal in high school English class. I hated that spiral notebook because keeping it seemed so pointless and messy to me. When, as a teacher years later, I discovered there were new schools of thought about requiring writer's notebooks instead of journals, how I wished that my high school teachers had known about this similar-yet-different learning tool.

Writer's Notebooks and Sacred Writing Time have become a foundational base for everything I do when I teach children both to develop writing based on their original thoughts and to critically think about the published writing of the authors I introduce them to. This resource page shares not only where my deep-rooted belief in this simple tool--a Writer's Notebook--came from but also shares some of my best techniques for inspiring creative and original thinking from my student writers between the covers of their notebooks.

"Just the Free Lessons Please"...Click here to go straight to the writer's notebook lessons!
Writer's Notebooks...Resources for my Students
To my dear 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 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 specific 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 and no need for me to prompt you.

I have to write in my notebook during summer months 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 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.

My writer's notebook is available for perusal. I have two 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: There is but one way to earn extra credit from me: do an exceptional job on something that I am already asking you to do because I've deemed it important...like maintain a writer's notebook. Do an extra good job on your writer's notebook writing, and then we can talk about extra credit . To honor the idea that writer's notebooks should be visual--though not necessarily artistic--I award a 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 usually award 3-4 of these a week. All you have to do is like an 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; 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.

Return to the Top of the Page

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 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.

Return to the Top of the Page

Writer's Notebook Resources for Visiting Educators
My personal history with journals and writer's notebooks: I began requiring journal writing 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.

Ralph Fletcher's A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer in You dropped into my lap at just the right moment in my teaching career; it was the "spirit" that filled me with the creativity to fill in all the gaps as I switched from journals to writer's notebooks. I admire this little book so much that my sixth graders are required to read it cover to cover, and by the time they leave me as eighth graders, they are experts at writing every day in a way that feels individually satisfying to them. Ralph's simple-to-follow handbook inspired me to create my first writer's notebook too. I now have half a dozen writer's notebooks--some are finished, some are just beginning.

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 writer's notebooks.



Follow These Boards at Pinterest for Student Samples Galore!
What Else is on this Page?

Mentor Texts that Influence my Use of Writer's Notebooks:
A humble request to fellow teachers using my site : If you appreciate the lessons I am posting here, kindly consider using the links I have provided below to purchase the mentor texts I am recommending; a very small percentage of each sale through these Amazon links helps me keep this website free and on-line for all to use. Thanks in advance in helping me out!


A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer in You by Ralph Fletcher


Amelia's Notebook
by Marissa Moss

Resources for Writer's Notebooks:

Please support our Website, if you can: Dena and I post so many ideas about teaching writing at our website. Why? We were given to as novice teachers, and we know it's our job to give back now that we have what might pass for "wisdom."

Every summer, we wisely set aside part of our vacation time to co-create special products that we can package and sell to help us pay what it costs us to stay online like this and keep the site advertising free. We have a variety of products we've made over the years. Our three writer's notebook products seem to be our most popular. Here is access to a free samples for each product.

Our Ten Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards

Each Bingo card comes with 24 unique prompts and a link to a whole-class lesson that will teach your students to take pride in their notebooks.

Freely access the August and September Bingo cards, which includes complimentary access to September's "center-square" lesson.

Visit our products page, if the free sample encourages you to purchase the set.

Our 319 Sacred Writing Time Slides

When my students enter, they look for my posted Sacred Writing Time Slide; if it's not posted, I hear about it. "Where's the slide?" they cry...even if they've never used the slides to inspire writing.

These 319 slides each contain four pieces of information that can be responded to through writing: a holiday, a trivia fact, a quote, and a vocabulary word (right from the S.A.T. practice lists). The information is presented in a way that often prompts students to write a reflection or response.

These slides took us a while to create (and we still find the occasional typo!), but they are the best tool ever for quick-starting some of my sluggish students who need a "kick start" to write.

In addition to responding to them for sacred writing time in their writer's notebooks, we use the information on the slides during class transitions: "As you find your new partner, be prepared to use the vocabulary word from today's slide correctly in a sentence...", for example.
Our Eight Restaurant-Themed Writing Menus

These eight workshop menus serve as a moderate level of support for my students who require support. during writer's workshop. The ultimate purpose of our daily sacred writing time is to spark an original idea that just might ignite into a paper that can be taken through the entire writing process during my classroom workshop time.

Many kids foster their own ideas for writing without my help; others need Bingo cards or the SWT prompts from my daily PowerPoint slides. These eight menus were designed to ignite writing in a writer's notebook, then suggest how that writing might be pursued in a longer paper that is written for the student's portfolio. They provide a medium-level of scaffolding for students new to exploring their own ideas for writing in class.

Our Bingo Cards, our SWT Slides, and these Workshop Menus were designed to be implemented together. One tool can certainly be used without the other two, but in our classroom every student is off and writing when we say "Go," and we both feel it's because our students have so much support in choosing worthwhile free-writes to pursue as longer paper ideas. We do sell the three products at a bundled rate for those of you new to our site.

Return to the Top of the Page

Lessons Specifically Designed to Improve our Writer's Notebooks

My rationale for these lessons I share: I truly admire author Ralph Fletcher, but he and I would most likely disagree over my use of bi-monthly writing lessons that I require my students to "publish" their finalized idea in their writer's notebook. Ralph sees the notebooks' pages as a place for pure, choice-based thinking and reflecting from the individual writer, and requiring assigned, objective-based pages takes away from the 100% ownership we want our students to feel about 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. I teach simple creative structures--like eighth-grader Kage's rhyming slogan,s 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. 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.
My Notebook Lesson of the Month
Two Past Notebook Lessons of the Month Inspired by Two Favorite Mentor Texts
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 a free monthly writing lesson!
We do change the lesson of the month every month. If you're interested in having each new month's lesson e-mailed to you, you need to become a member of our Ning, "The Writing Lesson of the Month." It's free, and it's an effective way to stay informed about all new lessons that are posted here at this website. Click here to create a membership account.
Three Notebook Lessons that Focus on Teaching a Specific Writing Skill
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
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 all? 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
Three Notebook Lessons that Focus in on Teaching a Love of Language
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

Return to the Top of the Page

My Own Writing Process Revealed: From Writer's Notebook to FInal Draft
I 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 years past. My students are always impressed to see how much the idea develops and changes as the piece moves from draft to draft.

A Persuasive Piece of Writing Inspired by a Single Cent and an Afternoon Visit to my Bank
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!

Return to the Top of the Page

An Expository Piece of Writing Inspired by a Raptor Perched on my Porch
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.

Return to the Top of the Page

A Narrative Piece of Writing Inspired by Animal Farm and a Scientific Process
My students--like yours--most likely prefer narrative writing over expository and persuasive writing. 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.

  • 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.

 

Return to the Top of the Page