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traits and mentor texts

Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison. I have been an educator since 1990, and a teacher-trainer and University adjunct professor since 1998. I specialize in teaching writing using differentiated instruction techniques. I also focus on critical thinking skills, especially during the pre-writing and revision stages of the writing process. I retired from the classroom in June of 2019, and I will continue to consult with schools, districts, and states who are more interested in developing quality writing plans, not buying from one-size-fits-all writing programs.

Beginning over the summer of 2019, I will be available once again to train teachers your school or district if you would like to hire a qualified and dynamic trainer. You can find general information about my workshops here.

If you would like to check my availability for a specific date or dates for the 2019-20 school year, please contact me at this e-mail address. My calendar is already fillling up with workshop engagements.


Write & WritingFix

       Because writing--when taught right--can be the most enjoyable part of your teaching day, we maintain this website to provide fresh ideas and lessons for teachers.

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Contact us through this e-mail address with questions/comments about this lesson: Corbett@CorbettHarrison.com

An Adaptable Lesson from the Harrisons' Classroom to Your Classroom:
How this free-to-use lesson came to be online: My wife, Dena, and I taught English, reading, and writing for 56 combined years before both retiring at the conclusion of the 2018-19 school year. We've had a lot of years to develop passion about certain teaching topics, and focusing on unique ways to teach writing has become a combined passion for both of us. After I earned my Master's Degree in Educational Technology way (way!) back in 1999, Dena and I decided to establish a website and begin freely posting our favorite lessons and resources that we created and successfully used during our time in the classroom.

We began this online task by--first--creating WritingFix in 1999, and there we began posting writing methodologies and techniques from our own classrooms. Two few years after WritingFix had been established, we teamed with the Northern Nevada Writing Project for several years, and through their popular inservice classes, we began adding the ideas of many Nevada teachers who enrolled in those classes for recertification credit. When the federal budget floundered in 2008, the NNWP was no longer able to sponsor WritingFix in any way shape or form, but Dena and I keep the site online through user donations and our own cash.

In 2008, we began creating this newer website with writing lessons that specifically focused on our favorite topics and techniques for writing instruction: 1) the six writing traits; 2) writing across the curriculum, 3) writing lessons that differentiate, 4) writer's notebooks, and 5) vocabulary instruction. This "Always Write" website has been growing--month by month--since the summer of 2008. Below, you will find a lesson we posted to inspire a unique type of writing.

Thanks for checking out this month's lesson, and if you have any questions about it, don't hesitate to contact us using this email address: corbett@corbettharrison.com

writing inspired by a mathematical structure ...
a great lesson to do near March 14 (3/14)

Pi-inspired Poems

students create a "Pi Day" and a "Pie Day" poem in their writer's notebooks, basing their ideas on their knowledge of Pi: 3.14159265...

I dedicate this lesson to some of the best math teachers I know--because they use/used writing a lot in their classrooms when assessing mathematical thinking: Ms. Young, Ms. Kareck, Mrs. Hanzlik, and my own favorite math teachers from school: Mr. Borilla, Mr. Terranova, and Mrs. Test (which was really her name).

Quick Overview: as a cross-curricular link to math class, students will compose "Pi Poems," which are poems guided by the actual numbers that make up Pi: 3.14159265... In my classroom, students compose two of these poems: one about Pi (for showing their mathematical knowledge), and one about pie (for having fun with writing within a structure). We begin working on these poems a few weeks before March 14, which is officially Pi Day. If you don't know why 3/14 is Pi Day, ask a math lover!

Essential Questions/Objectives/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • How else can unique numbers inspire a writer structure and create something unique--like a poem?
  • What depth of knowledge about Pi can you display in a short, structured poem?
  • What voice/joy for writing can you display in a poem about pie, using the same structure as the Pi Poem?

    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.9 -- Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
    -- Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to convey experiences and events.

Pi is interesting and important to understand.

Pie is delicious.

Both topics are deserving of a poem, so that's why I created this lesson!

If you can get your students to agree to the previous two statements, then you can easily inspire them to write "poems" structured by numbers that make up Pi. At our school, there are often many "Pi Day" celebrations going on in the various math classes, and using this assignment is my way of contributing to their curriculum on that day. I believe cross-curricular links are one of the most important things we--as teachers--can promote during our lessons.

I begin this lesson without mentioning Pi for a while. Instead, we discuss what kind of interesting pies might exist in the world but don't. Food usually motivates writers more than numbers, so I start with the food.

Derek Munson's Enemy Pie is the greatest book I've found to quickly share from to showcase what I mean by "interesting pies" that don't yet exist. The book Humble Pie, which is also an expression the students can research and discuss, is another abstract kind of pie we bring up when I bring out the mentor text shown at right.

We ask, "What other non-existent-pies-but-interesting-sounding flavors could go in front of the word pie?" Guilt Pie? Insubordination Pie? Compassion Pie? Independence Pie? Anarchy Pie? For part one of this challenge, students will have to write a poem about a unique flavor of pie that your creative brain "cooks up."

The first time they write their interesting pie poem, I let them "free verse" it. No format needed. They can try to rhyme if they want to. I encourage them to be really descriptive of what is in the pie they are serving.

Once they have a draft, we then introduce the format of a "Pi Poem" as I teach them. I know there are other formats out there for "Pi Poems," but the one I share on this page is the one I've had the best luck with.

To explain my pie poem--"Moon Pie"--from my notebook page below, I have placed the numbers of pi vertically in the following table. As you will see, the number in the current digit of pi is the number of words the student must put in that line of poetry. Remember, this first "Pie Poem" is supposed to be about a creative type of pie that doesn't really exist.

My classroom mentor texts that encourage discussions of Pi and pie:

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson

Humble Pie by Jennifer Donnelly

Sir Cumerference and the Dragon of Pi

by Cindy Neuschwander

Dessert is served.
Orbiting our tiny planet
Orbits our little yellow star.
Spheres encircling spheres encircling spheres encircling spheres: moon pies.
And you,
Moon, what encircles you, I wonder.
Are you the orbiting originator
Or does something
Orbit around you as well?

The handout: I allowed my students two different variations of "Pi Poems" to choose from. I prefer the version above--because the end product looks undoubtedly like a poem, but I do have a few students who want to try the other way. At right is the handout I provided to show both versions to my students and provide them the task I expected:

  1. One Pi-formatted poem about the number Pi or about circles or about things that last for eternity. The poem in my example below focuses on the circles in our solar system.
  2. One Pi-formatted poem about the students' favorite type of pie, or about a creative type of pie the student thinks up. I wrote my pie poem about Moon Pies, which are real, but I made them seem to be really made from the moon.

Drafting partners: I have my students work with partners on these poems, providing them with a fellow listening partner if they get stuck for a word or an idea. Most of my students tried both versions before the majority decided upon the second variation on the provided handout.

My partners are allowed to chat quietly about their poems as they compose, but they are not to write identical poems; instead, they are there to provide idea support.

Sharing partners: Once students all have a draft, we move to sharing partners. Sharing partners are there to double-check the adherence to the number pi, and they are there to suggest synonyms; once a Pi Poem is drafted, adding new words to it will only mess up the pi pattern that's expected with this poetry format.

Each student shares his/her pi poem draft with--at least--one sharing partner. I have the sharing partners sign their partners' drafts to prove to me they were good listeners and sharers when they worked with partners.

Students return to their drafts and spend 15-25 minutes doing final revisions and finishing touches.

Publishing: I wanted to decorate our math teacher's classroom with these poems, so I took an extra half-hour to have the students decorate their Pi Poems. We have been working on using NL-Representations that are a combination of pictures/symbols working together to convey a message. I strongly encouraged my students to decorate their poems with these types of NL-Reps.

I took a lot of photos this final year of teaching (2019), so below is my example from my notebook, you will find a variety of my students' published examples.

My Teacher Model for Instruction:
I made this page in my own notebook in 2012, I believe. It has both types of Pi/Pie Poems I assign...I've used it every year since...

Click here to see full-page version...Dr. Einstein is supposed to saying "I'm #1," not insulting you with the poorly drawn fingers I gave him!

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Student Models
Here are photographs of some of my final year's students' work:
Hey, I was actually out sick last week, and the finished poems are still sitting in my school office. I plan to post them this week--in time to show them by Wednesday or Thursday!  








Plan ahead!
March 14 is Always Pi Day,

and we have a Sacred Writing Time slide for that!

Open/Retweet our #PiDay Sacred Writing Time slide by clicking here or on the 3-14 slide above!

You can order all 366 Sacred Writing Time Slides by visiting our Teachers Pay Teachers store.

"Such a time saver! Thank you!"

MMMM--Teachers Pay Teachers purchaser

Do you appreciate our free lessons but don't want to purchase our for-sale products?

That's fair, but did you know there are two less direct ways you can financially support our site. We actually receive a small commission from Amazon for each person using the following referral links to try out one of their products. If you've been thinking about trying either of these out, kindly use these links so our site can pay the bills to stay online.

Try Amazon Prime for free, and we receive a small donation from Amazon that we use to stay online. Use this link please. Try Audible for free, and we receive a small donation from Amazon to stay online. Use this link please. You'll get two free books!

By the way, Dena and I are both Prime and Audible members, and we love everything about both services.

Socratic Seminars!

I created these "formula poems" with two purposes: 1) to build small group cooperation; and 2) to add a strong new word to our socratic seminars. The day or week before our next seminar, students group together to write one of these poems as a team.

Please try before you buy...

When you visit our Teachers Pay Teachers store-page for this product, select PREVIEW to download full, complimentary access to two of the eighteen Socratic Seminar poetry formats we created for this for-sale product. All proceeds from sales like this keep our Always Write website online and free-to-use.

Even if you don't purchase the entire set of poems from us, please use the two poems we share freely as a group-writing task in class one day.

"You put so much time into everything you do. These are great resources, thank you!"

--Teachers Pay Teachers purchaser

Tired of boring book reports?
We were too!

Dena created these twenty-five reflective tasks for her students who were responding to chapters in novels. Each week, her students completed one new activity, and after four or five weeks into a novel unit , the students each had a small portfolio of writing about their book.

Please try before you buy...

When you visit our Teachers Pay Teachers store-page for this product, select PREVIEW to download full, complimentary access to three of the twenty-five instead-of-book-reports writing response formats we created for this for-sale product. All proceeds from sales like this keep our Always Write website online and free-to-use.

Even if you don't purchase the entire set of twenty-five ideas from us, please use the three writing formats we share freely instead of summarizing a chapter one day in class.

"This is one of the best school supplies I've ever purchased! Thank you."


--Teachers Pay Teachers purchaser

Notebook Mentor Texts that Inspire Student Writers:
This resource page features one of the freely posted ideas we share with our fellow writing teachers. We hope this page's idea inspires the establishment of a writer's notebook routine in your classroom.

If you're a teacher who is just getting started with classroom writer's notebooks, welcome aboard. We fund this website--Always Write--by selling just a few of our products from our Teachers Pay Teachers store. Before buying, kindly take advantage of the free preview materials we share so you know if the resources will work with your grade level and teaching style before you purchase the entire product.

Our FIRST Product!
Beginner Prompts, Thoughtfully Presented:

-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --
-- Free Preview of August & September --

-- short video about SWT & Bingo Cards --

365 Ideas for Writing/Discussing:

-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --


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