Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison, and I have been an educator since 1990, and a teacher-trainer 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 steps of the writing process. Every year, I challenge myself to improve my writing instruction even more, and this website is where I post my most successful new ideas.

I have been on hiatus from doing out-of-state teacher trainings recently for two reasons: 1) I'm writng a book on teaching writing, and 2) I'm preparing to retire from the classroom at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

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

If you would like to verify my availability for a specific date or dates starting in June of 2019, please contact me at this e-mail address.



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

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One of my most-requested half-day workshops when I visit other states is the writer's notebook/journal presentation. When I display my students' voice-filled samples (check out my Pinterest boards to see what I mean!) with other teachers, the idea of a writer's notebook routine seems both feasible and important. On this page, I share a new type of writer's notebook resource we're developing for the Always Write website. If you use it, let us know, and we will consider continuing to post ideas like this one.

Happy November 2017, which is when this writer's notebook challenge was originally written up and posted! I discovered in January of this year that I would be co-presenting at the 2017 NCTE Conference, being held in St. Louis the week before Thanksgiving. I will be co-presenting with two of my personal teacher mentors and favorite authors: Gretchen Bernabei and Aimee Buckner. Our presentation will focus on teaching voice through a journal/writer's notebook expectation. Because we use sacred writing time in my classroom, and because that routine is being used in so many fellow teachers' classrooms these days, I will be speaking about the importance of establishing a routine for this practice and the rationale you should share with administrators, fellow teachers, parents, and students. If you missed the presentation In November 2017, here is a link to the materials for you to access and use: Journals and Writer's Notebooks: a resource for writers.

inviting anything that went "on vacation" to stay in touch!
Edge (of the page) Postcards

Practice Voice Skills and/or Critical Thinking Skills by Composing
Postcards and Taping them to your Notebook's Edges

Essential Questions/Overview/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • What besides punctuation that we use in this class might go "on vacation" and need to send us post-cards to our writer's notebooks? (This one is based on Robin Pulver's mentor text at right)
  • On days when I feel a personal part of me is missing (my sense of humor, my ability to rationalize, my short-term memory , my pep, etc.), what can I write to myself from that missing item on a postcard? Could I then write about the same topic during sacred writing time?
  • When I look back at a previous writer's notebook entry, what writing skills (voice, details, logic, etc.) might have been "on vacation" on the day I wrote that, and what would I write to myself in the form of a postcard from that missing skill(s)?
  • How else might I find a use for a postcard in my writer's notebook?

Overview: This is a pretty simple idea (the most effective often are), and I like how taping a written-upon postcard (to the edge of a notebook page) is something a student can do to a fresh, new notebook page, or it is something that can be added later to a page that already has some writing on it. With my introduction of this idea, I'm really encouraging my writers to write themselves postcards that kindly critiques their own writing from the past in the form of a postcard from something that was "on vacation" the day they wrote something in their ten minutes of sacred writing time.

Remember, a student's notebook that has been written in every day will show growth of that student as a writer. I've not yet had a student who didn't see some type of growth in his/her own writing fluency or skills when comparing sacred writing time from the beginning of the year to the end of the year in one's own notebook. It just happens. My students seem to enjoy periodically going back through their notebooks and looking at the older writing they now feel smart enough to critique a little. As you will see below, a postcard can serve as a short but valuable piece of proof of critical thinking.

Mentor Texts: I have two mentor texts that I use to generate excitement about using notebook postcards in an interesting way, and they are pictured at right. I also have a beautiful book of 30 illustrated postcards based on American literature that goes on display in my chalk-tray when we start talking postcards; it's pictured just below at right, and if you can get a reasonably-priced used copy for your classroom, you should.

  • Punctuation Takes a Vacation is a book I've used for years as a writing prompt for sacred writing time: Imagine a world--today only--where punctuation has gone on vacation. What happens? In the middle of the book, the separate pieces of punctuation who have left the classroom where students have wished for them to go "on vacation," start sending the class postcards. The postcards are clever; they're actually riddles, of sorts, and this can inspire a student writer to try out a postcard.
  • Postcards from Camp is a book that certainly encourages hand-drawn postcards from your students who feel they have the ability to do that. It's also a nice epistolary story (meaning it's a narrative told using something other than typical prose paragraphs), and that idea can be replicated by students to create something exciting in their own notebooks. My boys really like the idea of postcards after I share a few exchanges from this book, then put it on display in the ol' chalk tray so they can look over the rest after class one day.
  • Classic American Children's Illustrators -- 30 Postcards is one of those books I grabbed at a garage sale many moons ago, and it's falling apart because the students take it off the library shelf a lot because it's beautiful. When I begin encouraging postcard use, and I put this battered book on display, it gives students a nice model of what a postcard looks like as well as a reminder that we can use postcards during sacred writing time.

Free Resource: I created these four different postcards for my students who are interested in adding them to their notebooks, and I share them freely with you below:

Ready-to-Use Writer's Notebook Postcards

These are designed to be printed, trimmed to size, folded together (with maybe some glue stick to hold it together), written on, then taped to the edge of a notebook page so it can be flipped from one side to the other without becoming dis-attached from the notebook.

Encouraging Notebook Postcards
through mentor texts and postcards:
Punctuation Takes a Vacation

by Robin Pulver

Postcards from Camp
by Simms Taback

Postcards make great class decor!
Classic American Children's Illustrations

Video Support for this Lesson:


Idea #1: Using Notebook Postcards to set-up a page for Sacred Writing Time

I had some Postcards printed and trimmed and ready to be used when I introduced the idea of setting up a page over two days of sacred writing time. Suggested I:

  • On day #1, write a page in your notebook about an abstract or concrete noun that you miss. Ask "What's gone missing in my life?"
  • On day #2, write an imaginary notebook postcard (four free samples above!) that comes from the abstract or concrete noun you miss and wrote about on a previous day. Capture the noun's voice on the postcard, then thoroughly tape in down in the margins of the same page.

Then I showed them my example, wherein I wrote a page on day #1 about how I am losing my tolerance for anyone who is dishonest with me. Here is that page: link

On day #2, my "tolerance for liars" addressed and wrote a postcard to me, telling me where it had been, gave me some advice. Here is that postcard: link. I then taped the postcard in the margin. I taped both sides of the same edge of the postcard down on the page so that the postcard could be flipped and remain attached, allowing both the writing on the page and on the postcard to be visible with a gentle flip of the postcard. Here is the page with the postcard flipped open; here is the page with the postcard flipped closed. As you can see from the last image there, I designed my own postcard for this page, which was fun unto itself.

For my second example of this first idea, I knew the Orionids (a meteor shower every October) was coming, and I doubted my ability to get up late and go watch for streaks of light across the sky. I'm teaching a full load for my district these days, I have two online classes going on, and I keep this website going, so I don't care at all if people make fun of me for falling asleep early...a lot...this semester. I created an original Postcard with the Orionids pictured on the cover in anticipation of my not being able to roust myself this October. I was right. The next day, I wrote about it on the next blank page in my notebook. Later, I completed the postcard and attached it to the edge of the notebook. Once again, if you tape one edge of the postcard down well, once on its front side and once on its backside, it should stay attached as a move-able element that's a part of the page.

Here is my model of this idea below:

My "Edge Postcard" Experience with the Orionids Meteor Shower in 2017
Click image to see the postcard I wrote to myself from the critical Orionids. Here's my notebook page about the Orionids with my Postcard attached with tape. Here is the page when the postcard is folded back in place.


Idea #2: Using Notebook Postcards to address one's own writing on an earlier page of Sacred Writing in a notebook

After my students learn to truly value their notebooks, they personalize them, and that often means they become more visual: artifacts from life, photos of friends turned into memes, language comics with Mr. Stick, iPhone Snapshots. The ambitious ones take their notebooks home and start adding the visuals there. Once the others see this is happening, they want to become more visual too, but you need to firmly establish that we only write during sacred writing time. We don't draw. If you want to add an illustration later, draw a 3" x 4" box in the corner of your page before you start writing during sacred writing time.

My students' notebooks usually start off containing a lot more writing, a lot less visual. As time passes, that slowly changes, but I have found a trend I think worth noting: when the page has a visual on it, it's more likely to be visited by the writer if I give him/her an opportunity to look back through one's own notebooks for original ideas to develop further. Part of my Edge PostCards idea allows students to put a visual on one of their notebook's two-page spreads that had no visual before. By doing so, I believe, I increase the student's likelihood of re-visiting a notebook page for additional ideas.

The process, as I demonstrate it:

  1. Invite your writers to take a look back at their own writing on a notebook page that might benefit from a visual in the form of a postcard. Look at specifically for things you did well with words but also things you might do better as a writer.
  2. Ask yourself, "What was missing from me the day I wrote this? A good idea? My sense of humor? A need to use good handwriting or spelling skills?"
  3. Next ask, "If that item was missing, might it/he/she send me a postcard, acknowledging the fact that it/he/she was on vacation the day when I wrote this in my writer's notebook?"
  4. If my students think they can be clever with this process, I allow them to send their own past notebook pages a postcard as long as they attempt to make a real statement about something they noticed that was missing in their own writing.
  5. Below, I model my own process:
My "Edge Postcard" model based on the long, warm Autumn we're having...
I started by writing a page in my notebook where--sounding quite like the curmudgeon I have become--I was complaining about the heat. After I re-read what I had written, I scoffed at my myself because I used to tolerate 110-degree summers all the time as a kid in central California.

So I wrote this postcard to myself from my old ability to tolerate the heat.

And I taped it down to the edge of the page where I had whined.


My "Edge Postcard" model where I had to censor myself with my own postcard

I took a sick day to spend the day teaching writing in a friend's classroom; I love fifth graders, and sometimes I just need a day with them, and I don't have any of my own this year. These kiddos were on year-round schedule, which meant they were leaving for a month off right before Halloween. I have a popular Thanksgiving and Rhetoric lesson that I've always wanted to adapt for Halloween, so it was a perfect opportunity for all of us.

On a day between presenting the lesson and author's chair for the same lesson, I sat down to write my model so that I too could share. I came up with my three arguments as to why I--as a pumpkin--should not be carved and wasted, using the rhetorical triangle. I suppose I was in a dark mood the day I finalized my piece because--after sharing my pathos argument with my wife--I was informed it was probably too dark to share with fifth graders.

I decided to write a postcard to myself from my missing "sense of good taste," which I did, and I made sure it was taped onto my notebook page in such a way that it covered up the pathos argument I was worried about. When I came in for author's chair, I told them I felt the pathos argument was too gory and that was why it was covered. They beeeeegggggggeeeeeeddddd me to share my pathos argument after my explanation of my postcard's presence, but I didn't give in; it read my logos argument instead.

So I wrote this postcard to myself as my means of scolding my own writing sample for being too dark.

It was fun to scold myself. I should do this more often!

And I taped the postcard (with a witch's foot on the other side) so that it covered my one argument I was worried about. It can be flipped open so the pathos argument can be read, but I'm choosing to keep it mysterious and not show it here.


Idea #3: Using Notebook Postcards among friends, so they can add them to each other's notebooks

I worry about introducing this idea because I can see it being abused by students who want to simply write short, perhaps trite notes to one another on my special postcards. In color or black and white, these aren't easy to make, so using them requires special circumstance. Here are my first two special circumstance explained below, and as others occur to me as I work with my notebook keepers, they will be added here. I'm sure my students will come up with plenty of new ideas for this type of postcard exchange.

  • Special Circumstance for putting a postcard in a friend's notebook #1: If you read a story or chapter in a friend's notebook and notice something missing from the part you read, send the story a postcard from the missing item's voice/perspective.
  • Special Circumstance for putting a postcard in a friend's notebook #2: If you and a friend both agree to write during sacred writing time while purposely leaving something completely out of what you write (the word 'the,' a sense of optimism, adjectives, common sense or logic, etc.), then you may write each other postcards the next day from the item that was missing to the page it was missing from. Students' postcards can be interchanged.
  • Special Circumstance for putting a postcard in a friend's notebook #3: I haven't formulated another option yet here to use with my students, but I imagine they will help me create new ideas for this bigger idea. This is where I will post new ideas as they happen.

I have just introduced this third idea to my students, so I will post samples from students who allow me to share their good ideas as they come in.

If your students like the idea of using edge postcards to inspire writing on a notebook page, I would love to see you post a picture/scan of their writing at this posting link: Better still, if your students invent a new way to uniquely inspire writing in their writer's notebooks, we want to hear about it: corbett@corbettharrison.com


from Corbett & Dena Harrison to you...
Twelve Unique Notebook/Journal Ideas
A writer's notebook keeper is a person who is always seeking unique ways to present his/her ideas. Can you invent your own unique notebook approaches inspired by my twelve examples?

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 --
For Writers Needing a Guided Challenge:

-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --

Did you miss this freely posted lesson?

RheTURKical Triangle -- Lesson Link

Never miss another FREE lesson! Join our Lesson of the Month email group here.

-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --

Mentor texts to inspire Vocabulary Collectors:

The Boy Who Loved Words
by Roni Schotter

Boris Ate a Thesaurus
by Neil Steven Klayman

Did you miss this freely posted lesson?

Primary Source Picture Books -- Lesson Link

Never miss another FREE lesson! Join our Lesson of the Month email group here.


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