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.

The Northern Nevada district I serve has a "balanced calendar" that has me teaching from early August to early June, and during my 7 weeks of summer and during my two annual two-week breaks, I independently contract to present workshops to school districts and professional organizations around the country.

I have no available dates left in 2017.

In 2018, I may have availability between January 8-12, March 26- April 6, and June 11 - July 27, October 1-5.

If you would like to verify my availability for a specific date or dates in the windows offered above, please contact me at this e-mail address.

You can find general information about my workshops here.

Always
Write

 
       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

One of my most-requested 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 March 2017, which is when I wrote this writer's notebook challenge up for publication! I discovered in January 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 Amie 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, here is a link to the materials for you to access: In November, there will be an active link here.
promoting word choice skills and an interest in new vocabulary words
Develop An Ear for Oxymoron

a "found oxymoron" can inspire notebook writing, but so too can designing a purposeful opposite-- like nightmarish utopia--and applying it to interesting people, places, and things

Possible Essential Questions for these strategies/learning tasks:
  • How can an oxymoron inspire interesting writing from me? What does my brain do when I am analyzing an oxymoron?
  • Can I create my own original oxymorons to inspire a short piece of writing?
  • What perspective skills (voice) can I practice while explaining someone/thing's nightmare?
  • What perspective skills (voice) can I practice while explaining someone/something's idea of utopia?

This lesson has three parts to it, but any of the parts could be taught separately and solo. I've had pretty good success challenging my students to think "oxymoronically" as they explore ideas for topics and when strengthening writing during revision; part one of this lesson, as a result, focuses on ways I've challenged my students with oxymorons. Parts two and three build on each other; the first half of the lesson based on one of many humorous ideas found in Diary of a Worm, while the second half of the lesson takes the idea to an opposite place after exploring the powerful writing style of Patricia Machlachlan's All the Places to Love.

Oxymorons: (part one of the lesson below) My students especially appreciate using good oxymorons they create as title-inspiration for their poems or their short stories or written vignettes. I think when you're basing writing on a title, you can create a word bank that helps you create that title. Below, you will find my interactive tool to help students create an original oxymoron.

Utopian/Nightmares: (parts two and three of the lesson below) My students smile and brainstorm like crazy after I pose this question, "If inanimate objects or animals had nightmares, what would they dream about?" There is a brief-but-inspiring description of the worm's nightmare (caused by eating junk food!) in Doreen Cronin's book. All of them have no trouble describing an unusual nightmare for an animal or an inanimate object for ten minutes during sacred writing time.

For part two of Utopian/Nightmares, we up the challenge so it almost seems oxymoronic! After sharing the wonderful language of Patricia Machlachlan's beautiful portrait of being home on a farm, with all of the family members' favorite (or perhaps perfectly utopian) places being described, students will be challenged with a new type of page: the utopian nightmare, wherein an animal or an inanimate object describes BOTH its nightmare and its idea of paradise.

Mentor Text Suggestions:

Who Ordered the Jumbo Shrimp?
by Jon Agee

(for a great example of "nightmare")

Diary of a Worm
by Doreen Cronin

(for a great example of "utopia")

All the Places to Love
by Patricia MacLachlan

 

Part 1 -- Challenges for Beginning Notebook Keepers that Involve Oxymorons

Let's start with an oxymoron challenge: Before I purchased the WritingFix domain name, I used to have a lot of "coffee can" writing prompts in my classroom. In each coffee can were words or phrases. If students selected words or phrases randomly from certain coffee cans, they often ended up with an idea for a writing prompt.

One of my coffee cans was labeled "Positive Adjectives," and it contained words on small pieces of paper like cheerful, generous and excited. One of my coffee cans was labeled "Nouns with Negative Connotations," and it contained words like crime, slum and disease. My students liked the idea of randomly drawing a noun phrase--like generous slum-- and then they liked figuring out how to use this original oxymoron in a sentence or as a title for a piece of writing.

Long before WritingFix became the treasure trove of lessons and resources it is today, it was a website where I was turning my coffee can prompts into interactive, button-pressing machines like this one:

Mr. Harrison's Serendipitous Oxymoron Maker:
(link to this interactive prompt directly using this address at your own website: http://corbettharrison.com/free_lessons/UtopianNightmare.htm#serendipity)
Positive - Negative Oxymoron Maker:

 


              


Negative - Positive Oxymoron Maker:

 


              

Do any of your serendipitous oxymorons inspire a tile for a piece of writing?
Could you hide an oxymoron in a poem for a fellow student to then look for?

After having students toy around with both button-pressing games above, teachers can challenge students to create their own version of this "game" by creating a few word banks in their writer's notebooks. They can begin brainstorming their own lists of positive and negative adjectives and nouns. That page/word bank can become a page the student revisits later when in search of a topic or a good piece of language to try to use in something they are writing. I am a strong proponent that writer's notebooks should be sparsely populated (every tenth page, perhaps) with word banks like the one I am suggesting here.

Notebook Oxymoron Idea 1
Notebook Oxymoron Idea 2
Notebook Oxymoron Idea 3
Word Bank: Oxymoron Title Page
Writing about Real Oxymorons
Design Ads for Oxymoronic Foods

First, I divided my notebook page into two halves, and then I spent several days revisiting the list (10-15 minutes total time) to create a list of positive adjectives and nouns that have negative connotations. This page serves as an idea or descriptive phrase generator for future ideas I am writing about in my writer's notebook. I think every three weeks or so, it's okay to have students create a word bank in their notebooks

My students, I've found, like to look for oxymorons in the real world if I challenge them to bring some to class to share. I've had students create entire sacred writing time stories based on jumbo shrimp and military intelligence.

Above you see a page from my notebook where I decided to apply an oxymoron I created--fragrant garbage--to an actual product I found at the supermarket.

In Cannery Row (which was my dad's favorite Steinbeck), Doc starts thinking about what a beer milkshake might taste like. He can't get it out of his head until he tries one and is disgusted by it.

New foods can be designed by combining two contradictory tastes. I challenge my students to create advertisements for food that is inspired by oxymoronic thinking. Here's my example.

 

Parts 2 and 3 -- Nightmares and Utopias for the same person, place or thing.

Let's first work towards giving a nightmare to something not human: If you own our full set of Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards, you've no doubt recognized that some of the prompts on the monthly cards make a unique new appearance each month. "Same prompt/different topic" might be a good way to explain what I mean. One of these recurring prompts on the Bingo Cards, for example, is called "Weird Nightmares," and the challenge is to assume everything dreams and describe the nightmare something non-human might have. The topic can keep changing; one month, we can write about certain's animal's nightmares while, in another month, we might describe the nightmares that our favorite pieces of technology might have. For ten minutes of sacred writing time, this is a pretty solid prompt for someone who is prompt-less and can think outside the box in the smallest way.

If a student doesn't "get" the concept of weird nightmares, show them the page at right from your classroom library's copy of Doreen Cronin's Diary of a Worm. Very briefly on this spread from the book, we see a worm's nightmare after eating too much garbage the night before. I explain, "This is a very short nightmare because it comes from a kids' book, but I think a person who was trying out writing skills for fun could imagine a much more detailed and scarier dream than this, and they could write about that nightmare for ten minutes."

It's easy to envision nightmares for animals, especially if you're the owner of a mammal that actually dreams. "What do you imagine your pet is seeing in those nightmares? Can you convey its perspective and its feelings about the nightmare with a humorous twist?"

But then challenge them to take the idea to a much more out-of-the-box thinking experience. Say, "This pencil in your hand, what does it have nightmares about? What haunts the dreams of the rainforests studied last month? What's the scariest dream the kiddie slide in the public park has?"

Notebook Nightmare 1
Notebook Nightmare 2
Notebook Nightmare 3
A Mr. Stick Nightmare from my Notebook
My 10-minute 'Pencil's Nightmare'
Oxymoronic Advertisements

First, I divided my notebook page into two halves, and then I spent several days revisiting the list (10-15 minutes total time) to create a list of positive adjectives and nouns that have negative connotations. This page serves as an idea or descriptive phrase generator for future ideas I am writing about in my writer's notebook. I think every three weeks or so, it's okay to have students create a word bank in their notebooks

My students, I've found, like to look for oxymorons in the real world if I challenge them to bring some to class. I've had students create entire sacred writing time stories based on jumbo shrimp and military intelligence.

Above you see a page from my notebook where I decided to apply an oxymoron I created--fragrant garbage--to an actual product I found at the supermarket.

In Cannery Row (which was my dad's favorite Steinbeck), Doc starts thinking about what a beer milkshake might taste like. He can't get it out of his head until he tries one and is disgusted by it.

New foods can be designed by combining two contradictory tastes. I challenge my students to create advertisements for food that is inspired by oxymoronic thinking. Here's my example.

Once I established the idea that it was interesting to write about nightmares--both real and ridiculous ones--I conceived of the idea of a split-page in my notebook. One one half, I can explore concepts from an item's point of view based on the word nightmare; on the other half, I can explore concepts from

As you can see from my third example above, I began trying something new with my own 'nightmare prompts' in my writer's notebooks; I decided I would try dividing the page in half, and not only would I describe items' nightmares but I would also describe items' idea of the opposite of a nightmare. Now the opposite of a nightmare would be a dream that brings you pleasure, and not wanting to introduce that concept to my students, I have chosen to call these new pages: Nightmarish Utopias or Utopian Nightmares.

The idea behind these new, oxymoron-inspired pages is to think deeply about a noun--and possibly personify it in the process--by describing the noun's idea of bliss and terror. Here are some samples I have been adding to my notebook and sharing with my students to inspire them.

Utopian Nightmare, Page 1
Utopian Nightmare, Page 2
Utopian Nightmare, Page 3
Oxymoronic Thinking from my Dog's P.O.V.
Oxymoronic Thinking from my Remote's P.O.V.
Oxymoronic Thinking from my ___'s P.O.V.

It's easy to write about pets, so I simply asked myself, "What would my dog's worst nightmare be, and what would be a utopian day in my dog's opinion?" I created this split-page to capture both ideas on the same page.

My wife doesn't understand my thinking about the remote control; she says I seem to be purposely leaving it in a different place every time so that I might have an adventurous excursion the next time I need to change the channel.

I decided to think about terrors and paradise from the perspective of the remote control I constantly lose.

I'm still working on this page. Check back soon.

Creating a Utopian/Nightmare Page: The third form this writer's notebook idea took was inspiring a notebook page that shares both a non-human's nightmare as well as its idea of a day in paradise or utopia. I am calling this type of page "Utopian Nightmares," and I'm telling my students that they're fun because you get to apply two opposite ways of thinking to the same non-human item.

For my first example, I created the page at left about my dog, Tucker. It took me 15 minutes of sacred writing time to create.

For my second example, I created the page at right about my remote control.

I have now shown these to my students with this challenge: "What would your utopian nightmare page be about?" I am actively seeking student samples (from my own students and from other teachers who use these lessons) of thoughtful "utopian nightmare" pages.

If nothing else, your students will never need to look up the word utopia again after creating one or two of these as notebook entries.

Post photos/scans of student/teacher notebook pages inspired by this lesson write-up here at our Blog/Ning.

 

If you have a student who is inspired to create a fake notebook campaign after I shared this page, I would love to see a photograph of a student's page who's not one of my own. I often reward teachers who send me samples free items from our Teachers Pay Teachers site. You can email me a photo/scan of students' work to corbett@corbettharrison.com , or you can post it to this blog post.


 



from Corbett & Dena Harrison to you...
Twelve Unique Notebook/Journal Ideas
TBA in August
TBA in September
TBA in October
TBA in November
TBA in December
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:


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Our MOST-POPULAR Product!
365 Ideas for Writing/Discussing:

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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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-- Teachers Pay Teachers Link --

A Text that Guides our Teaching of Literacy:

Notebook Connections
by Aimee Buckner


Differentiating Reading Instruction
by Laura Robb

 

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