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

Big news from the Harrison household: Dena said farewell to her classroom of 26 years in August of 2018, and Corbett will be joining her in retirement from his school district of the past thirty 30 years in June of 2019. The Harrisons are thrilled about this life change because it will allow them to work from home on this website and its resources. Starting in mid-June of 2019, Corbett will also be available to visit and conduct personalized 1- or 2-day workshops for your school, district, or regional educational center. E-mail Corbett for details or with questions.

In the meantime, Corbett will continue to post these monthly free ideas, all based on techniques I am currently using with my 30th and final group of students. These final postings before retirement may be a bit shorter than usual as I have promised my sixth graders this final semester with me would be their best yet, and that's keeping me busy. I am also--in what little spare time I have--still working on my book on NOTEBOOK STRATEGIES that I'm having incredible success with during this final year.

Thanks for checking out this month's lesson (originally posted in February of 2019), and if you have any questions about it, don't hesitate to contact me: corbett@corbettharrison.com

the lesson we'll do as our second task in our creative writing class...
Designing Themed Food Menus

pushing unique descriptions further with my writers by having them design a themed-menu with interestingly described options

This is the second lesson I give my students in my 18-week creative writing elective class. When it comes to writing, I find students write easily to two topics: their own creature comforts and food.

The first lesson I used with my final 2019 Creative Writing classes (the lesson we posted last month) focused on creature comforts of bus seats: First-Class Bus Seats

This month's follow-up lesson focuses on describing food. The lesson also requires students to choose and develop a theme--another skill of idea development.

Dena and I hope you enjoy this lesson. We are looking forward to seeing what writing it produces from our students here in my final semester of teaching for my district.

Essential Questions/Objectives/Mentor Text Suggestions:

  • How do written details help my reader visualize the look, smell, taste, or texture (imagery) of the food items I am creating for my menu? How can I use descriptions that are unique and memorable to my reader?
  • A menu--especially one at a themed restaurant that's designed to be fun and enjoyable--would have a unique voice that describes each dish in a way that begs the reader to order it. How do I achieve and maintain this voice for all seven of my menu's required write-ups?

    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.*.3b -- Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
    -- Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

    Maintain consistency in style and tone.

Introducing the writing idea through mentor texts and a complimentary menu from "Always Write." Food is an easy "sell" to a bunch of reluctant creative writers in the first week of an elective class, like the one I teach at my middle school. They search for topics, and food is still a safe way to begin. We complete 18 weeks of creative writing exercises in my elective, and this is the second assignment I'm having them complete this semester.

I set the mood for the assignment a week before we start it by asking students if they have ever been to a restaurant that boasted a "theme," or an idea behind the restaurant that influences the food and the decor. I explain that I don't mean a type of food--like Chinese or Mexican or Italian. When I was a kid, we once stopped at a roadside Noah's Ark-themed restaurant on a road-trip. When I was an adult, I went to a horror movie-themed restaurant in New York City. The Hard Rock Cafe and the Rainforest Cafe are both restaurants whose decor is built around their themes.

Some restaurants focus their themes on the foods they prepare as well as the decor of the restaurant.

For this assignment, students will create a menu for a themed restaurant they dream up, and they will design six menu items for the restaurant that build upon the restaurant's theme.

As soon as I introduce the idea, I begin sharing from and display mentor texts to set the mood for my students to want to become creative writing restaurateurs. I simply say, "Think outside the box as you design your own restaurant, and here are two books that might push your thinking outside the box."

I start with Frank and Ernest and If an Armadillo Went to a Restaurant because they describe unordinary restaurants and restaurateurs. That usually pushes my students towards creative thinking about this. I also have the more non-fiction-y picture book I Have a Restaurant, which shares a lot of interesting real facts about running a restaurant, and I include it to put a little more real-world relevance behind the writing task at hand.

Of course, if you've ever been to an actual themed restaurant yourself, sharing your experience out loud with your students is probably the best place to launch students' brainstorming process. I've been to Murder Mystery dinners, and students love to hear about the horror movie-themed restaurant we found in New York. Most of my students have been to a Hard Rock Cafe in some location somewhere, so I simply say, "You'll be designing something like Hard Rock, only original, but the items on your menu need to sell the idea of rock-and-roll too--not just the wall decor.

To show my students a different creative option, and to demonstrate what these menus can look like if written AND designed with care, I also hand out our website's free "Italian Menu of Writing Ideas," which is one of 8 menus my wife, our friend, and I designed one summer. They seem to be restaurants, but what the students choose from the menu are writing tasks and challenges.

The handout at right (Our Italian Menu of Writing Ideas) serves two purposes in this assignment:

  • It serves as a model for what one of these menus can look like if designed well visually as well as with creative words and ideas.
  • The menu is also a future tool that students can use if they ever get stuck coming up with a task or topic for writing class. At the beginning, my students need tools like these; eventually, they learn to rely on their own topical ideas instead of my resources like these menus, our Sacred Writing Time slides, and our Writer's Notebook Bingo series.

After several days of talking about "unusual restaurants" and creative uses of menus, my students are ready to begin designing an original themed menu for an original themed restaurant they create in their own brains.

Expectation from each student: The menu each student creates will contain seven short pieces of writing that make up the whole assignment. I will assess the students' writing mostly on its use of memorable and descriptive details. Of course, the overall creative theme will be part of the students' assessment as well.

  • First, the creative menu will have a title and an introduction that welcomes us to the restaurant the student has imagined in his/her mind;
  • Second and third, the student will name and describe two appetizers that would be appropriate on this themed menu;
  • Fourth and fifth, the student will name and describe two entrees that would be appropriate to include on this themed menu;
  • Sixth and seventh, the student will name and describe two desserts that would be appropriate to include on this themed menu.
  • Of course, your students' final product may look different than mine. Adapt this lesson! Don't memorize it like a script! That's how they convince you that writing programs work and sell them to schools!

Picture books that set the mood for thinking about unusual restaurants...

Frank and Ernest
by Alexandra Day

If an Armadillo Went to a Restaurant
by Ellen Fischer

I Have a Restaurant
by Ryan Afromsky

A menu of writing topics we created--all based on an Italian Theme

Download this menu for free
from our Teachers Pay Teachers store

Starting by comparing two models: Dena and I both decided to make a version of this over our Winter Break in 2018. Dena's example focused on a Zombie theme, and her creative twist was that hers is a restaurant run by zombies for zombies. For my example, decided to see if I could link my creative writing to a non-fiction topic: the Gunfight at the OK Corral. In short, these are two PURPOSELY different examples for the students to analyze before beginning their own menus.

Two Teacher-made Models for Student Analysis

Analysis of teacher models: I have my students answer several sets of questions as they compare the two menus from above to each other:

  • Structurally, what similarities do you see in both menus? Can you think of any creative ways you might approach the required organization?
  • Which menu's words speak to you with more "personality" or voice? The zombie menu or the OK Corral menu?
  • Which menu items (from either menu) use the best word choice? The most unique or memorable descriptions?

Students Brainstorm UNIQUE Ideas for Themed Restaurants: In pairs, small groups, or as a whole class, we brainstorm 24 other ideas for potential "themed restaurants" based on the two examples my students compare from above. Here is a visual challenge for your students: Can you come up with a restaurant idea that starts with the other 24 letters of the alphabet?

B I OK Corral Cafe U
Think of a restaurant theme/name for the other 24 letters?
Zombie Bistro

Here is an off-site link for 'Restaurant Synonyms' that might prove helpful during the students' brainstorm of potential restaurant ideas.

Preparing to Draft: At right, find the drafting sheet my students will have the option to use when creating their menu's seven separate written entries: introduction, two appetizers, two entrees, and two desserts. I am hoping my students--who will be bring their writer's notebooks to class for the first time as we are beginning this lesson--will feel just as comfortable using their own notebook for this writing as they are using the more-scaffolded handout I have prepared for them. I ask them to study the structured handout and ask them to return it if they think they can achieve the same requirements on their own on a blank page in their own notebooks. If so, celebrate! They will be on their way to becoming writers who don't need you to hand them topics or graphic organizers in order to achieve creativity. Isn't that what a lifelong learner would be able to do?

My students draft at different speeds. That's something we discover and celebrate, rather than tell the slower writers to hurry up. You'll want to have options (or the next week's assignment) ready to make sure those who write a bit faster than the others don't get the idea that a writing class is boring because you're always waiting for everyone else to finish. Always have something fun to do for those students, or always have the ability to have them forward-think on the next assignment.

Since my own class is still so early in the semester, I am requiring a written draft before I allow them to type a draft on the laptops. Ultimately, if they can prove they draft efficiently on the computer, I will allow them to draft there, but early on, I want them to try it the old-fashioned way: by hand. With this assignment, the students begin formatting their menus instead of focusing on the menu's creative words--if they are allowed to compose on the computer with this one. I want them to ultimately format, but this first draft needs to be all about choosing great words that add description and voice to the menu.

In my own Creative Writing elective class, we will be focusing on creating a menu that allows us to practice the skills of IDEA DEVELOPMENT.

In the next few months (as in March or April of 2019), I will also be using this lesson with my 6th graders who are learning to paraphrase research so they do not plagiarize. I will be having them research a self-chosen (teach-approved!) research topic from history (like my Gunfight at the OK Corral menu) that would allow them to translate their research into a creative menu. Please visit this lesson again in a few months to see what kind of non-fiction-inspired menus this very lesson inspired.

Student Samples of Themed Restaurant Menus -- Creative Writing
My 7th- and 8th-grade creative writers choose a theme and develope a menu of food dedicated to their themes:

Macy created this seafood-themed restaurant and worked on her descriptive language for food.

Jaydn created this middle school-themed restaurant and worked on his descriptive language for food.

Student Samples of Themed Restaurant Menus -- Expository Research
My 6th-grade English students researched an original "Wonder of the World" to develop and design their menu themes:

Selina researched and created this menu dedicated to honoring the Statue of Zeus at Olympia.

Kayden researched and created this menu dedicated to honoring the Lighthouse of Alexandria.



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