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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 well--can be the most enjoyable part of your teaching day, we created this website to provide fun, adaptable ideas for teachers.

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My lesson philosophy: when teaching writing, assess the process as well as the the product. And differentiate like crazy!

When I was a kid , I was taught to write by teachers who--for the most part--showed more interest in what form my final product took than the interest they showed my writing process. "Write an essay," or "Write a book report," or "Write a story," or "Write a poem"--these are the products I remember being asked to complete as a student writer. "Let's learn some new pre-writing skills" or "I really want to you learn new things about yourself as a reviser" are statements I don't remember hearing from my teachers.

My work with the Northern Nevada Writing Project stopped me from doing the same thing to my own students. Now make no mistake, my students create specific and final products for their writing portfolios, but we understand that our process is the most important thing we reflect upon when assessing our writing. When I focused my own students more on the process than product, I finally learned how to teach writing, not simply assign it. The NNWP started me on an enlightening journey as I continue to strive to be a better writing teacher.

The other invaluable lesson given to me by the NNWP was to rethink my writing lessons so they'd honor all of my students' ability levels and all their learning styles. I recognized, during the NNWP's amazing summer institute in 1996, I was already doing some elements of differentiated instruction, but I knew I could be doing so much more. Their institute came to me at a perfect time in my career as a teacher and a life-long learner.

Today, I am a teacher-trainer as well as a writing teacher. I facilitate lesson-design workshops where participants design new lessons that are more focused on both the writing process and differentiated instruction. The very best lessons that are created by participants during my workshops are posted as part of the lesson collection at the WritingFix website. With each workshop I conduct, I try to post a new lesson of my own at WritingFix so I can share in my participants' process and thinking. With so many years of doing this, I have created multiple lessons that can be found at WritingFix.

On this page, I offer you direct access to sixteen of my most original and favorite lessons that are housed at the WritingFix website; I also offer your access to eight lessons created by fellow NNWP graduates that I think are simply brilliant lessons!

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Sixteen Writing Lessons I've Created and Posted at WritingFix as Part of my Teacher Workshops:

Over the years, I have facilitated dozens of lesson-design workshops for teachers. At these workshops, teachers walk away with a new writing lesson they've designed inspired by tools of differentiated writing instruction, and the best of those lessons become part of our WritingFix website. I truly believe in the importance of having an exemplar to show your learners--be they students or teachers--, so I try to create a brand new lesson each time I conduct one of these workshops. This helps me remember the process so that I can share my thinking and learning with my participants. I post my lessons at WritingFix too, and over the years, I have posted quite a few lessons. Below are links giving you direct access to some of my favorite lessons.

Do you have a favorite lesson? I often ask teachers, "What's your favorite writing lesson?" I'm sad that many claim to not have one. I think the first step in becoming a better writing teacher is to design (or find) a lesson that you absolutely love to teach your students. Your enthusiasm as writing teacher directly impacts your students' enthusiasm as writers.

My Four Favorite Lessons to Teach to Students

My very first WritingFix lesson:
Start with what isn't there

inspired by the non-fiction picture book

by Stephen Kramer

I love imitating a unique book structure:
A Character's Decalogue

inspired by a chapter from
Because of Winn Dixie
by Kate DiCamillo
My lesson on exploring transitions:
Moving through the Machine

inspired by the best chapter from
Homer Price
by Robert McCloskey
I love imitating a unique book structure:
Counting Up/Down Stories

inspired by a chapter from
by Jerry Spinelli

How often do you teach poetry?
I insist on balancing my more structured writing assignments (essays, constructed responses, hamburger paragraphs, etc.) with less structured assignments. Poetry is one of my favorite ways to help students remember that thinking and writing can be fun. At least once every nine weeks, we take a poem all the way through the writing process. Here are four of my favorite original poetry lessons.

My Four Favorite Poetry Lessons
Inspired by a favorite singer:
Quest Item Poetry

inspired by the song
I Gotta Name
sung by Jim Croce
My take on "found poems":
Tributes to an Artist

inspired by the song
sung by Don Mclean
Inspired by a little-known sonnet:
The Butcher's Tale

inspired by the poem
Reuben Bright
by E. A. Robinson
I teach this alongside Romeo and Juliet:
Serendipitous Love Metaphors

inspired by the song
Love is a Battlefield
sung by Pat Benatar

What's your most original teaching idea?
I often wish there was more originality in educational lesson design. Let's face it, we've been using the same techniques (or variations thereof) for years because it's how we survive the sheer amount of teaching we're required to do. I really love it when I see something completely original in a fellow teacher's classroom; it inspires me to think of original techniques

Four Completely Original Ideas from my Writing Classroom
A challenging word-play!
Sausage Sentence
Riddle Stories

My students love making fortune cookies!
Fortune (and Misfortune)

inspired by the short story
The Monkey's Paw
by W. W. Jacobs
Free-verse poems with structure?
Start & Stop Poems

inspired by the mentor text
Twilight Comes Twice
by Ralph Fletcher
For illustrating journals & notebooks:
My Mr. Stick Materials:
Our Journals' Margin "Mascot"

Is Your Writing Time Fun Enough?
I really admire the work of author Barry Lane, who writes books for teachers who struggle with writing. At his conferences/sessions, Barry often says, "There's not enough fun in education any more," and I whole-heartedly agree. I am all about balance; when I know we have to do an "un-fun," standards-required writing activity, I prepare to balance it out with a recklessly fun assignment. Of course, all my fun assignments still teach important writing skills; they're not just fun for fun's sake. Not sure what I mean? Check out four of my favorite "fun writing lessons."

Four Writing Lessons Inspired by my Odd Sense of Humor
My hard-boiled voice assignment:
"Just the Facts, Ma'am"

inspired by the mentor text
The Web Files
by Margie Palatini
I loved Boys' Life's Tom Swiftie puns:
Puns & Punctuation

inspired by the
Tom Swift Adventures Series
by Victor Appleton II
I created this to teach persuasive voice:
Don't Eat Me Monologues

inspired by the mentor text
My Brother Dan's Delicious
by Steven L. Layne
Based on 51 Wacky We-Search Reports:
The Wacky
I Will Not... Chalkboard


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Eight Outstanding, Original Lessons by NNWP Colleagues that I Often Cite in my Workshops

The following six awesome lessons were written by Northern Nevada Writing Project Colleagues during inservice workshops that I helped to facilitate. I often use these brilliant lessons as exemplars when I am helping teachers design new lessons of their own.

A lesson from Karen Suga
Floating Down the River

inspired by the mentor text
Daisy Comes Home
by Jan Brett
A lesson from Rob Stone
With Your Own Two Hands

inspired by the song
My Own Two Hands
sung by Ben Harper
A lesson from Jamie Priddy
Personifying Abstractions

inspired by the mentor text
The Book of Qualities
by J. Ruth Gendler
A lesson from Tamara Turnbeaugh
A Monster of a Metaphor

inspired by the mentor text
The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck
A lesson from Holly Young
How Big is Hagrid?

inspired by the mentor text
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
by J. K. Rowling
A lesson from Janet Cryer
Repeated Catch Phrases

inspired by the mentor text
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
A lesson from Karen McGee
What Your Room Shows

inspired by the mentor text
Boy's Life
by Robert McCammon
A lesson from Denise Boswell
Giving Voice to Opposites

inspired by the mentor text
I Am the Dog, I Am the Cat
by Donald Hall


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