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 our 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 by adapting it, let us know, and we will consider continuing to post ideas like this one.

Happy September 2017, which is when this writer's notebook challenge was originally written up! 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.

creating a newsworthy voice for your journal or writer's notebook
Sensational News

creating two types of sensational news in one's writer's notebook

Essential Questions/Overview/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • What 'voice" qualities do I see used in a legitimate newspaper article? What 'voice' qualities do I see employed in a sensationalized news story?
  • How can I ensure that I answer who, what, when, where, and why in the first sentence of my sensational news story without making a run-on sentence?
  • How would I design an inspiring headline for a fictional news story I can write in my notebook during sacred writing time?
  • How would I design a literature-inspired fictional headline to for a fictional news story that is inspired by something fictional we are reading as a class?
  • How would I design an inspiring headline for a non-fiction article I've read and can write about in my interactive reading notebook?

Why SENSATIONAL news? Sensational is a word we could classify as a homograph; the word has multiple meanings, and it's fun to create single sentences that use two forms of the same homograph. I'm working on a new notebook challenge write-up for October called Homograph Comics, and you can click on and enjoy one of my first examples by clicking on the thumbnail at right; the word sensational is used two ways in the same sentence. That's what a homograph comic is.

As you can see with my homograph comic, I explore two meanings of sensational in the same sentence that serves as my comic's caption:

  • (adj) causing personal excitement -- as in makes me feel sensational.
  • (adj) presenting information in a way to provoke interest, sometime at the expense of accuracy -- as in sensational headlines

A writer's notebook can be a fun place to write down amusing headlines from non-existent newspapers in order to explore what we call "a newspaper's voice."

By the way, my homograph comic mentions Bat Boy, and I didn't want to cite too many mentor texts at the same lesson, but I have to recommend this book, which is about Bat Boy from the Weekly World News. My wife's students adore this book, and their notebooks contain a surprising number of original stories about Bat Boy.

What's "A Newspaper's Voice"? "If you want to teach them to have voice, then let them imitate other writers' voices and eventually their own voices will emerge." My dear friend and kindergarten-teaching colleague, Karen McGee once said that me me when we were co-teaching a university methodology class one summer. I think it's important for students to "try on" the voice of newspaper articles.

There are two types of newspaper voices we play with in my classroom: legitimate journalism voice and the voice of sensationalized news stories. They, of course, find the sensationalized voice much more enjoyable. Below, I share multiple ways I model using both types of voice in my own notebook for the purpose of inspiring students to follow my lead.

Video Support for this lesson: Over the summer of 2017, I hired a former student to spend two days teaching me video editing skills so that I could start adding some video support here at these lessons. I'm not all that good at it yet, but I become a bit better with each practice. "Better with each practice" should be the motto of any classroom with writer's notebooks and Sacred Writing Time.

Click here or on the video thumbnail at left to view my short video on four easy-to-teach techniques that help students find a journalist's voice in their notebook writing from time to time.

Mentor texts celebrating newspapers:

Fairytale News
by Colin and Jacqui Hawkins

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!
by Jon Scieszka

Mentor texts with events that can be "reported on" by students:

by David Wiesner

Sector 7
by David Wiesner

First, start with some mentor texts that share newspaper VOICE: Publishing a newspaper article in your writer's notebook for Fairytale Land is a fun and engaging idea to young writers. Both Fairytale News by Colin and Jacqui Hawkins and--more famously--Jon Scieszka's The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! provide nice examples of what voice in could look like in two differently presented newspaper articles, as both books feature newspaper clippings and articles. Scieszka's telling certainly relies more on point-of-view and, therefore, presents an extremely different voice than we expect from the tale being told. These books both present a very fun and very imitate-able writing idea to challenge your students with during sacred writing time. Here are two more specific Ideas for this, but I would encourage you to let your students brainstorm their own ideas rather than use mine:

  • Report Jack B. Nimble's news story after he's burned down his own home accidentally.
  • Report on Snow White from the Evil Queen's point-of-view in a news story

The two fairytale books always inspire a small group in every one of my classes to put a newspaper's perspective on characters from fairytale land...and Disney movie-land.

Second, try using real (maybe real old?) newspaper clippings as a mentor texts...two ideas: It's important to require both the reading and a grade-level appropriate analysis of a real newspaper clipping/article at some point in teaching this notebook lesson, I believe. The newspaper clippings in the aforementioned fairytale mentor texts are not true newspaper clippings, and students need to see what a real-world, non-fiction short article looks like. Here's what I look for when I choose a current article to share with them as my "real newspaper article" mentor texts:

  • Find an article on something interesting and current, but try to find a short article--five to eight newspaper-sized paragraphs. You're going to ask them to analyze, and they are more willing to do that when the reading task is a short one so that it can be re-read in a short time. Analysis really can't happen when students are reading a text for first-time comprehension.
  • Find an article that has the journalistic style of answering these five questions in the first sentence of the article: Who? Where? When? What? Why? Sometimes How? can be a question that is also answered in the first paragraph. Make students imitate this style when summarizing news, or when summarizing something they are reporting on with a newspaper's voice.
  • I like to find an article that features a quote from a witness or a relevant party. We ask, "How does a quote improve or detract from the rest of the story's voice?" Most decide that adding a quote (or two) is a good thing.

Here are two suggestions I use that feature real newspaper articles in my teaching. I use these to encourage the use of a newspaper's voice in a writer's notebook:

Suggestion 1: Use the classic "Out Out" Poetry Lesson to teach first sentences of news stories If you want to link your notebook lesson/challenge to a poem from literature, below is a newspaper clipping I pasted from the 1910 Littleton Courier newspaper that -- according to multiple Internet sources -- was the actual incident that inspired Robert Frost's "Out, Out" poem:

Raymond Tracy Fitzgerald, one of the twin sons of Michael G. And Margaret Fitzgerald of Bethlehem, died at his home Thursday afternoon, March 24, as a result of an accident by which one of his hands was badly hurt in a sawing machine. The young man was assisting in sawing up some wood in his own dooryard with a sawing machine and accidentally hit the loose pulley, causing the saw to descend upon his hand, cutting and lacerating it badly. Raymond was taken into the house and a physician was immediately summoned, but he died very suddenly from the effects of the shock, which produced heart failure. 

It's quite easy to explain the whole who/when/where/what/why as your first sentence concept of "journalistic voice" when you have the real life example above to analyze and then try to imitate with a different news story. And to then have some time to discuss a poem worthy of analysis is just a plus that you might not be able to pass up on here. Perhaps your students might be inspired to write an original poem inspired by a current event or a past news story, like Frost reportedly did with his famous poem that also quotes Shakespeare's power-hungry Macbeth.

Suggestion 2: Analyze an educational news story that uses quotes and shares details I believe it's important to also share a fairly short article about a student-friendly topic that uses quotes and short anecdotes after its all-important first sentence that tells all the big stuff. I project this article (found at this link) about students talking to an astronaut a week after they were supposed to but got let down by a technical glitch. With each paragraph in this article, you can ask, "So what was the purpose of this paragraph in advancing this as a news story?"

Your students most likely don't read the newspaper, and they certainly don't analyze it without prompting. Be sure to familiarize them with the features of this type of writing before expecting them to succeed at putting a newspaper's voice into their notebooks. My students learn how to:

  • Write an initial who/when/where/what/why sentence that sounds like a newspaper.
  • Use short paragraphs for descriptions that try to be objective, not too flowery in descriptions.
  • Use short paragraphs for quote from by-standers or those with opinions that matter.
  • Write a first paragraph that contains the most important of the facts, or "facts" when we're trying to be tabloid sensational. And write a final paragraph that contains the least important of the facts that are worth reporting on. Each successive paragraph can be about something a little less critical or crucial.

This picture article serves as a competent mentor text for all four of these bullets, and in my classroom, it fits wonderfully on my Smartboard when I use this link so I don't have to waste paper running the article off unnecessarily.

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For Another Creative Idea, try applying newspaper voice to "report" on the story from a wordless mentor text...or apply the idea to literature or non-fiction: David Wiesner's wordless picture books are worthy of sensational news headlines. And by that, I mean both meanings of sensational. Take his wonderful book Tuesday. Without words, we follow some pretty strange happenings with the frogs one night. As a poet, I could say of this book's plot, "If that really happened, that would be a news story that would make me feel sensational. I mean how cool is the idea of having flying frogs?" As a scientist, I could say of this book's plot, "If the author is really trying to make me believe this, he is passing on sensational news. I mean how unlikely is the idea of having flying frogs?" Wiesner's book could easily inspire both types of sensational news stories, and both types of stories would make great additions to one's writer's notebook. They would certainly be evidence that students are using different types of voice as they continue to find their own.

The other book by Wiesner I own (I am sure many of his other books would work fine for this purpose too) and use for sensational news inspiration is Sector 7. Here, wordlessly, we follow a boy who learns where they make clouds, and his new ideas for the cloud makers cause some sensational reactions. This book's a bit more challenging to turn into a newspaper article, so I save it for my students who would find making an article for Tuesday too easy. Always be ready to differentiate, I say.

Below, we share three pages from our notebooks where we have created a sensational news story inspired not only by wordless picture books but also by literature and non-fiction we've read. Knowing how to mimic a newspaper is proving to be a useful skill when finding ways to make my notebook pages feel unique to each other.

News from Picture Books:
Inspired by Tuesday
News from Literature:
Inspired by Huckleberry Finn
News from Truth:
Inspired by a real life husband's stupidity
Here's a frog-themed notebook page sensationalizing a scene from the book!
Here's a sensational newspaper article inspired by a scene from literature:
Here's the sensational news story I wrote after sitting on my new sunglasses:

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If You Truly Try to Be a Trifle Different, then I dare you to encourage tabloid news ideas in your nuttier students' notebook. Dena has a book in her classroom library that screams "Love me! I'm a tabloid!" Her kids browsed their way through two copies before she had to start hiding the third behind her desk for special check out only. The book is a celebration of the Weekly World News' Bat Boy character. Every classroom that celebrates all unique types of writing should really have a copy of the tome, Going Mutant: The Bat Boy Exposed. It's a fine collection of everything ever reported about the Bat Boy.

In past years, Dena' students have used Bat Boy as a character in their own notebooks to create sensationalized news stories or narratives about sightings of the little bat-dude. Sometimes writing should just be about having fun, and there aren't any kids not having fun when they write using The Weekly World News' Bat Boy as an inspiration. This year, Dena is going to encourage more originality by having them create their own Bat Boy-like characters.

I've decided to embrace Bat Boy in my own notebook that I've been purposefully creating for my November 2017 NCTE Presentation. I'm going to use him not only as a meme for the second half of my notebook, but I have a bolder purpose for using him as a character. Here it is:

I have a good friend who ended up with an unfortunate administrator this year. I'm not sure what's wrong at the district level so that people get hired to be principals who don't treat teachers as professionals from the very get-go, but they do get employed. It happens. I can vouch for it through my friend who is--so far--having a pretty bad year. No one wants to do extra work for a person who speaks condescendingly to him or her. And so when I use Bat Boy in a sensational news story in my notebook this year, I am actually--through allegory and perhaps a little metaphor--recounting something that actually happened to my friend, according solely to my friend. Like Aesop who belittled his slave masters through the use of fables and animorphism, I shall use BatBoy as a symbol of the trodden teachers at one of our schools with a terrible administrator this year. Please enjoy my current BatBoy collection:

BatBoy's Heteronym Comic
an idea from October's Lesson in 2017
BatBoy Makes it to Sensational News Headlines:
each of these news stories contains an allegory of sorts...
BatBoy as an allegory started with this heteronym comic in my notebook.
Here's a sensational newspaper article based on an actual occurrence:
Here's a sensational newspaper article based on an actual occurrence:
Coming Soon!
Another BatBoy Allegory!


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And For my Last Idea, I Share my Best Idea, which is using family photos to inspire slightly real or totally fake sensational news stories in the notebook: When I first started working on this lesson and notebook resource page, its focus wasn't going to be what it became: sensational news. Instead, it started out as an idea to answer this question: "What would I write about if I pasted copies of old family news clippings in my notebook?"

I come from a family of savers, not hoarders. In truth, I have some pretty cool things saved, including these two news articles I came across in an old envelope that was among my grandmother's things when she passed.

I had a great time writing about these clippings, as is evidenced below, but I also realized that not everyone is as lucky as me to have at their disposal such family treasures, like newspaper clippings. I decided to keep looking for my big idea, which I wanted to have something to do with writing using a newspaper's voice.

I was then reminded of something my older brother Andy had done at some point during our childhood. As a gift, he'd received a wonderful new black and white camera back in the early 1970's (I'm betting it took size 110 film), and on a day when he visited our cousins who lived across town, he took the camera along. He returned home with a bunch of poorly shot images, like the one at right, which he decided to use as photographs in a fake newspaper he wanted to write. For a week, he worked on that single issue of his fake newspaper, clacking away on our Mom's old Royal Typewriter. The final product contained typed, fictional news inspired by the terrible black and white photos he was determined to do something with. The picture at right, which features my cousins Lisa and Mike, was transformed into a clever little piece about a paperboy who'd been robbed by a baby and his older sister. Andy had apparently studied the format of real newspapers because he did his best to imitate the writing style of a real newspaper. That was part of the fun. On the surface, Andy's fake newspaper look like a reputable product, but it was really a bunch of silly stories about nonsense. At our ages, we loved reading and re-reading that fake newspaper's nonsense. My brother, as always, had been a clever genius for his day.

I dug through some old photos I keep in a basket upstairs in the office. We receive random photos from friends or family who visit, or we find them when they fall out of something they were apparently attached to. I found two photos that made me think back to my older brother's fake newspaper. One had a baby in it--my nephew--and the baby was holding balloons, and I thought, "If my brother was writing a fake newspaper with this picture, that baby would be flying somewhere with those helium devices!" I pasted the picture on a notebook page and typed up a fake headline "Balloon Bouquet Baby Lands in Bruce Banner's Backyard." I liked the alliteration. Alliteration is a fun, differentiated challenge for students trying out sensational news writing.

Next, I decided I wanted one of Dena's old pictures to be on the opposite page because I felt she should become a piece of sensational news in this notebook experiment I was developing. I found a picture of Dena and a friend from middle school dressed up as twins; for some reason, when these two thought twins, they decided to dress in matching hospital scrubs, have matching gauze in their pockets, and then spray their hair red and blue. Kind of a weird combination of twin-making factors, in my opinion. As before, I typed up a fake headline I could tape at the top of my notebook page I was "reserving" for my sensational news story that would be called: "Young Punk Medical Students Save a Life in Cafeteria."

Below on the right side, you can see my initial pages that I set up. I "reserved" these pages for ideas I wanted to write by attaching the artifacts. I came back twice in the next month and composed the stories during my ten minutes of sacred writing time in class one day alongside my students.

Notebook News:
Writing inspired by family news clips
Silly & Sensational Notebook News:
Fake & tabloid-worthy news inspired by a family or personal photo:
I made copies of old news clips from our family scrapbook and wrote about them.
I started by reserving two pages in my notebook by taping down old family photos and sensational headlines that I crafted. Later, I wrote silly and sensational news!

This one's about my dad when he was 14.

This one is about Mom's wedding day.

First, I found two family pictures and typed sensational headlines for them.

How did I do writing fictional sensational news stories based on family photos?


I'd like to give a shout-out to my older brother, Andy, who probably doesn't remember creating the fake newspaper that inspired the ideas on this page.



from Corbett & Dena Harrison to you...
Twelve Unique Notebook/Journal Ideas
Your best notebook keepers are always imagining unique ways to present their ideas. Can you encourage unique notebook approaches inspired by my attempts to be different in my notebook?

This resource page features one of our freely posted ideas we share with 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.

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

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-- 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

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