...but I suspect I will be sorely disappointed this year.  I forgot to post the "Mr. Stick Metaphor of the Week" over the weekend.   But here is Mr. Harrison's Christmas Wish (in the form of metaphor) that my students are looking at as we prepare for a two-week holiday that starts on December 24th this year.  Who planned this schedule, district folks?

Have a great holiday, everyone.


I always had a great time playing with words as a kid, so I experienced fond memories of my childhood this week-end, creating a new teacher-model page in my writer's notebook.  As you probably know if you follow my work, each month I challenge my Gifted & Talented students (I have quite a few this year) and all other students who may be interested in with a special GT Writer's Notebook Challenge of the Month.

My students know how to find my website, and they know where I store these monthly challenges.  They also know that each month I place the "mentor text" that inspired the lesson near my desk, and they can look through the book any time. At the end of the month, students who independently have completed the challenge show it to me for extra credit points and a prize (a comic book or a smencil is what I've offered to them this year).

We were talking about anagrams earlier this month, inspired by the fact that my eighth graders are reading Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, Jr., and that the movie version of the book is called October Sky--which is an anagram of the original title.  Anyway, my kids became really excited about the notion of making anagrams for their own names and for the names of friends.

I thought anagrams might be an interesting challenge for the next writer's notebook challenge.  After searching for mentor texts on the topic, I discovered a new author/cartoonist: Jon Agee.  He has books on oxymorons, palindromes, and anagrams!  Last week, my new mentor text on anagrams--Elvis Lives! and Other Anagrams came in the mail, and my students went crazy over it.

Saturday morning, I sat down and created a model notebook page on "Personal Anagrams" that I will be showing my students this week--prepping them to think about anagrams while they are away from school over the next few weeks.  Below is the page, which I think turned out great.  I also have the entire lesson write-up for this task completed, and you can access it by clicking here.

Hope you're inspired to anagram too!


My seventh graders have just begun work on their first big cross-curricular project for 2012.  On the evening of January 18, they will be hosting a carnival for their parents, peers, and community judges.  After studying how probability can be applied to population statistics in social studies, they will design science-topic-inspired carnival games that explain to participants' their probability of winning or losing each game.  It will be an evening of science games with probability and prizes!

To accompany their games and set a further carnival mood, the students will also be designing cardboard cut-outs (like this one), where attendees can stick their head through a hole and be photographed as an interesting character from the Steinbeck novels we have been reading and discussing: The Pearl, The Red Pony, and Tortilla Flat.

Next week, we begin writing the character analysis essays that will inspire the cardboard character cut-outs!  The "Mr. Stick Metaphor of the Week" they'll see Monday is designed to be thematic for the project that is about to unfold.


In September, we had discussed the story of Theseus and the 12 other Athenian youths who were sent to the labyrinth in Crete as food for the Minotaur; made some great comparisons between this myth and The Hunger Games, which many of my students had read over the summer.  In the original myth, Princess Ariadne (who was actually the Minotaur's sister) sneaks Theseus a ball of twine, which helps him escape--not unlike the parachutes that fall into the arena to help Katniss.

Anyway, the metaphor of the week, which the students will see tomorrow, is an allusion back to that story.  I'm finding Mr. Stick's Metaphor of the Week a great way to remind students of stories and poems we had read much earlier in the year.

I have five separate literature circles going on among my students this month and going up to winter break.  All students will be writing a character analysis essay based on one dynamic and one static character from the novel they are reading in these literature circles.

This week's metaphor (which they'll see tomorrow morning) is a reminder of the terms dynamic and static characters.  Enjoy!

If you're interested in the five lit circles going on with my kids right now, here they are:  My sixth graders are reading Animal Farm, my eighth graders are reading Rocket Boys, and my seventh graders had the choice of a Steinbeck novel (Tortilla Flat) or two novellas (The Red Pony & The Pearl)


...that are going on in my classroom this November...AND I AM LOVING THE PROCESS OF ADAPTING OTHERS' IDEAS FOR MY OWN CLASSROOM.  Thought I'd share, if you're interested.  I plan to blog this entire experience, which will ultimately lead to a new resource page at my website (launching in February!) on how I am using and integrating a "Reading Workshop" model.

What's most exciting to me is that this current process is helping me develop a brand new classroom motto for writing:  We Write To Change the World, which now hangs above my classroom clock.

A little background on where the ideas shared below came from:  While on special assignment as a full-time teacher-trainer a few years back, I helped initiate, organize, and co-teach the Northern Nevada Writing Project's 'iPods Across the Curriculum' in-service class for teachers, which asked participants to find new ways to incorporate well-written songs (from the past or the present) into authentic, skill-based writing lessons.  My amazing colleague, Rob Stone, eventually became the Coordinator of our NNWP's iPod Project. Thanks to a grant, Rob was were able to give a free classroom iPod to all teachers who not only  attended that course but also submitted a lesson.  The very best lessons that Nevada teachers submitted became a whole new collection of free-to-access online lessons, all written by kindergarten through high school teachers.  Click here to access the best teacher-built lessons that were submitted to us during the dozen or so sessions of the class offered during the 2008-2009 school-years, sponsored by our amazing Northern Nevada Writing Project, coordinated by the even-more-amazing Rob Stone.

Anyway...because I wasn't a teacher back then with my own classroom or students, I secretly felt a little frustrated when I heard Rob (and other NNWP presenters) sharing these really cool, music-inspired writing lessons, and I didn't have my own students to go back and try the lessons out on.  This Fall, when I returned full-time to the classroom (because the state-run professional development agency I was working for had become terribly ineffective and a waste of taxpayer dollars), I immediately began deciding which WritingFix lessons--created by my NNWP colleagues over the years--I would use during my very first year back; there are so many great lessons posted at WritingFix now that it was a little time-consuming to do this.  At the VERY top of my "Must teach these lessons in year one" list was Rob Stone's poetry lesson: "With Your Own Two Hands," which is based on a song by Ben Harper and another song by John Mayer.  Click the link to overview the lesson, access all its resources, and check out the student samples that have been submitted to the lesson from teachers all over the world.

Me?  I love teaching poetry, and I really go out of my way to make sure, when I present a poetry lesson, it feels (to both me and to my students) like it's an integrated part of a bigger unit/idea we are studying.  It's easy to slip a poetry lesson in between larger writing or novel units--as a quick little lesson--like little palette cleansers, I suppose--but I try to not do this.  I find that when you teach poetry as quick, in-between-bigger-unit lessons, the students begin to think of poetry as a separate genre that has little or nothing to do with really important thinking; I don't want my students to ever see poetry as trite when I can find ways to integrate poetic thinking into the essential ideas we are studying.

The reason I loved Rob's lesson when I first watched him present it in 2008 is that I knew I could integrate it so easily into a larger unit.  Rob's theme for his lesson is just a big idea unto itself: Can a Single Person Really Change the World?  Immediately, I began thinking of all the novels I love to teach that have characters who either change the world (anywhere from a personal level to global level), or that have characters who are changed by the world changes imposed by others.

Right now, I have my 6th-8th graders all reading their first assigned novels; we spent the first two months of school establishing our "Reading Workshop," and the projects (thus far) have been focused on novels the students independently chose for themselves.  I had warned them that in November, February, and April, I would be assigning them the novels they would be doing reading workshop projects for, and I purposely chose novels this November that had two types of characters: 1) those who change the world; 2) those who have no interest in changing the world; and 3) those who are changed because their own worlds force that change upon them.  We are almost two weeks into these novel units, and this Monday we begin listening to the two songs (Mentor texts in the form of lyrics!) that Rob uses in his "With Your Own Two Hands" lesson.  As part of their projects for November's "Reading Workshop" in my class, students will all be writing two poems about changing the world: 1) one from their own voices; and 2) one in the voice of a character in the novel they have been assigned to read.

And just so you know, here are the novels my kiddos are currently reading based on my assigning them:
  1. My sixth graders are reading Orwell's Animal Farm.
  2. Half of my seventh graders are reading two novellas by Steinbeck: The Pearl and The Red Pony by Steinbeck; the other half are reading Steinbeck's novel, Tortilla Flat.
  3. My eighth graders are reading the memoir, Rocket Boys, by Homer Hickam.
I am not sure how familiar you are with any or all of these five books and their amazing collections of dynamic and static character, but I was just re-reading Rob's online lesson (which has students write a personal poem about whether they believe they can/could actually change the world or not), and I just can't believe how easy the original lesson's parts will be to adapt so the students are writing a second poem from one of the book's character's point-of-view. 

I will--of course--be asking Rob for permission to post my novel-inspired adaption of his original & amazing poetry idea from WritingFix at my own website (on the "Reading Workshop" section I will be developing in 2012)...mostly, I am excited to present Rob's stellar lesson to my three-levels of kiddos next week, so that the week after Thanksgiving, I can begin presenting my adaptations of Rob's original ideas, and my kids can start seeing that poetry is a way to express a bigger idea from an important book I am having them read together.

Almost every lesson at WritingFix comes with a disclaimer that asks teachers to use (and properly cite) the lesson's big ideas but to adapt everything else.  When a teacher borrows another teacher's great idea, then adapts it to fit their own teaching styles or their own units'/lessons' purposes.  Teachers who adapt (rather than follow scripts found in products like "Success for All" and "Read 180" and other dreadful programs) become REAL WRITING TEACHERS.   I am so proud to be back in the classroom and adapting again!


Again...still catching up on BLOG postings because of my wife's surgery earlier this month.  While I was out with her during recuperation, my students received their report cards.

As a kid, I used to hate not knowing what grade I had earned until the day we received that piece of paper.  I made sure I planned a few lessons that allowed me to call each kid up to my desk a week before grades were due from me so that my kiddos knew exactly why they received what they received as a mark.  No surprises in my classroom!

As each kid talked to me, I asked, "What does this grade tell you that you need to do for the remaining nine weeks of our semester?"  And when they answered, I asked, "So if that advice you just gave yourself was a 'road sign,' what would it read?"  I loved the answers they gave; some very literal; others very creative.

So...this has been my metaphor of the week for this past week.  I think we'll be doing some more road sign metaphors over the next few weeks to remind them to stay the course.

Check out all my "Mr. Stick Metaphors of the week" by clicking here.


Been catching up on posting pictures from my classroom; my wife had back surgery earlier this month (thanks for all the good wishes, friends), and I have many digital shots on my camera but haven't had time to upload!

My student aide helped me a few weeks back change the Trait of the Month bulletin board to ORGANIZATION.  Our state writing test is certainly looming (February), so all my students are going to be working on two things:  1) designing their own advance/graphic organizers for both expository and persuasive writing tasks and 2) creating thorough and sensible paragraphs.  Because we lose so much instructional  time in November & December, this TRAIT will be our focus for both those months.

Order Trait Bulletin Board Materials from Amazon.  Find student samples at WritingFix!


For those of you using our Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards, you know our "center square lesson of the month" for October was our "Life is a Recipe" metaphors.  My students each created a two-page spread in their notebooks; on the left-hand side, they created a personal recipe metaphor; on the right-hand side, they created--in my class--a science-related metaphor.  As of November 1st, I began checking my students' notebooks for these two recipes, and I am astounded at the quality of thought many of my students gave me while competing this project.

Here, by the way, is my teacher example from my own notebook that I shared with them throughout this month-long writing process.

Since beginning this assignment, I even have a few students who have begun creating recipe metaphors beyond the two required recipes my assignment asked for.  I look forward to seeing how these students' extra recipe metaphors will guide them to creating rough drafts for future assignments during upcoming writer's workshop time.

Below is 8th-grader, Alex's, two-page "recipe metaphor" spread; click on it to see it with more detail.  If you click here, you can see several more great examples from my classroom of amazing students, as well as the whole assignment that inspired these samples!

I hope this inspires you to think of "recipe metaphors" that you can share with your own amazing student writers.


With two major holidays, November and December strike me as more family-oriented months, which began my thinking as I decided on next week's "Mr. Stick Metaphor of the Week."  We also had our first freeze this last week (so long, cherry tomatoes and basil plants!), and--add to all that--my wife is undergoing some pretty serious back surgery on Tuesday, which is going to make us both really reliant on both our mothers' care and attention as we recover from this over the next three or four weeks.

As I weighed these three influences Friday afternoon, our classroom metaphor of the week just kind of fell into place without much help.  It was almost odd; I just kind of started writing it on the white board without thinking about what exactly I was writing.  As I started sketching the picture, one of my students in the last period of the day on Friday (which is when I usually change the metaphor) said, "Oh, that's a really good one, Mr. Harrison."

And it is...Hats off to metaphors that just fall into place without much effort.

Here's hoping your family serves as a "warm blanket" in your lives between now and the end of 2011.


We're still working on our "Life is a Cookbook" pages in our writer's notebooks (since it's the "center square lesson on our October Bingo Card).  In the last two weeks, I have photographed and added two student samples that did fun things--I thought--with "Mr. Stick," our writer's notebook "Margin Mascot."   My goal is to post a sample every week from (hopefully) a different student so that by year's end, I have 30+ great Mr. Stick samples in the on-line gallery I have set up.  Just having the page up and showing it to kids each week (plus awarding chosen students a special "Mr. Stick Badge" I created for my classroom Edmodo site) is proving to be a great motivator for my students.

Here is Sarah's personal recipe, which I posted last week:

Here is Ian's example from this week:

Take a look at the whole on-line gallery I've collected so far.  I think is going to be a pretty special page at my website when all is said, drawn, and done.


We've successfully created our personal recipes in our writer's notebook and turned them in for an assessment today.  Next week, in honor of Common Core Standards' Writing Across the Curriculum strand, my students are bringing to my language arts class their ideas for science-inspired recipes.  Eventually, they'll all have a two-page recipe spread that resembles my teacher model.

To move those students brains towards their science recipes, I have dedicated next week's "Mr. Stick Metaphor" to the following metaphor:

I hope my metaphors of the week continue to inspire you--as well as my students!  Our set of nine Writer's Notebook Bingo Cards are still available at our website...

Have a great week, fellow teachers!


I have a fifteen-minute "advisory period" every morning, where my 8th graders are supposed to organize themselves for the day before they head off to their first period.  Our principal has--more or less--admitted that "advisory period" is in place to make sure our students who are regularly late to school don't miss any content in their real first period, which I think is a ridiculous reason to have this period.

But...I'm going to make lemonade with this lemon of an idea.  I am gong to be giving my 8th graders an "interesting word of the day" during this block of time, and then challenge them to use the word of the day with their other teachers over the course of the school day.

Friday, we celebrated the mythological story of Sisyphus, and I introduced them to the word Sisyphean.  They found the Mr. Stick sketch of Sisyphus so amusing that I decided to move him over to my "Metaphor of the Week" white board for Monday.  Here is next week's "Metaphor of the Week!" based on Friday's "Interesting Word of the Day!"  Enjoy!

Keep rolling your boulders uphill, my friends!


This metaphor is inspired by a poem I shared the first week called "Fire" by Judith Brown, which has a nice message that we compared to WB Yeats' quote: "Education is not the filling of the pail but the lighting of the fire."  I felt in week #7, we needed to remind ourselves of the discussion we had back during week #1:

Inspire by Judith Brown's poem, Fire, and a W.B. Yeats' quote about education.
Have a great week, everybody!


I did switch my "Trait of the Month" Bulletin Board while my students worked in writer's workshop this week.  We're following IDEA DEVELOPMENT with WORD CHOICE so that I can focus them on VOICE next month.  Why?  Because these are the three traits that work best together when teaching students to "Show more, and tell less."

Here's my photo!  Here's the bulletin board set I used to make this!


I am figuring I will be offering my "metaphors of the week" to my students for the first ten weeks, then I will be taking nominations from my students for educationally-based metaphors.  I'll probably set it up as some sort of competition, giving a prize to students who have their metaphors chosen.  I will post them and provide a "Mr. Stick illustration" to make them laugh.

Anyway, here's my sixth metaphor for the year!  Enjoy!

Click here to access my "Metaphor of the Week" Archive!

If you have a metaphor of the week to share, I'd love to hear it...


I have to give credit for next week's metaphor of the week to one of my blog followers--KCH--who shared some of her classroom metaphors.  I totally "stole" the "Each day is a blank sheet of paper" metaphor as I go in to my fifth week of weekly metaphors.  Below, you can find the sketch I made during my last period of the day today; my students (who were engrossed in their writer's workshop rough drafts) were fascinated with my process as I sketched and prepared the next week's metaphor.  Several students stayed after class to explain how the metaphor-of-next-week was challenging their thinking already.  WHAT A GREAT METAPHOR!!!

I completely invite those of you following this blog to share your metaphors too!  Let's establish a community of metaphor sharers!

Learning to create/sketch the upcoming week's metaphors during my last class on Fridays AND learning to remember my digital camera so I can post it to my blog (and to my Edmodo site).

This upcoming week we will have "Life is a Road and you are a Traveler" as our metaphor...

We'll, of course, discuss Frost's "The Road Not Taken," and Jim Croce's song, "I Gotta Name."  Both fit the metaphor nicely.  I'm looking for a short piece of prose (could even be an excerpt) that fits the theme too.  Anyone got an idea for me? 

My kids are so into Mr. Stick now--even in their History, Science, and Math Classes!

Hope this inspires you!

Forgot to bring my camera to school on Friday, so I am just now posting the "Metaphor of the Week" that we started using today.

Just an FYI about why this was my chosen metaphor: This week, our district's wisdom has dictated that all our students must be tested on a new on-line assessment tool in order to establish a baseline for several future testing days; the two tests (reading and math) students must take this week will take them between one and three hours to complete.  Our school's computer lab is a slow-running, low-bandwidth nightmare.  We lost almost an entire instructional day to test what turned out to be only a few kids who could actually end up being on the computers at the same time. During the last period of the day, my poor sixth graders were taking the test in a lab that had reached 85-90 degrees.  Sigh....Knowing all this was going down last Friday, I thought "Life is a Multiple Choice Test" would be a perfect metaphor for the week, and that is why I posted it.  One of my sixth graders read the metaphor off the board when she finally finished her test just before the final bell and remarked, "Oh man, I hope that's not really true!" is my metaphor of the week!  Let's hope next week feels like I actually get to teach again.

Have a great week, everyone!


Highly recommended!

In addition to buying over 75 titles myself, I asked for donations of used books (appropriate for my 6th-8th graders) at the beginning of the year in a letter to my new parents...amazingly, I now have two book-carts full of novelsthat my students can directly check out from the back of my classroom.  They can also put holds on books that I have limited copies of.  I thought--for sure--The Hunger Games would be the most sought after title on the hold lists, but it has become Neil Shusterman's Unwind; perhaps the fact that I have been talking about it almost daily in most of my classes, telling my students what a great summer read it was for me (to provide a model of how you talk about a book if trying to persuade others) probably helped.  I am determined to host a "Community of Readers" among my students this year, teaching them how to convince each other to read books they've really enjoyed.

Two weeks in to the new school year, and I have been establishing regular routines that will contribute to my writer's and reader's workshop.  I am pretty close to being ready to explain how these two types of workshops will work to my students and their parents.  I never like to announce how our in-class workshops work too early in the year--not before I've established and we've practiced some of the foundational practices.

I humbly think I am an old-pro at the Writer's Workshop.  The Reading Workshop is new to me this year.  I have officially decided that Accelerated Reader is not a program I can support anymore; dangling points in front of students as incentive to read no longer fits my project-based teaching style.

I am going to be expecting my students to find an independent novel they like once a month and have it read in three weeks.  During the fourth week of each month, they will be expected to complete a project that does two things:
  1. Prove to me they've read the book (without taking an AR quiz);
  2. Convince another student to read the book through an effort they take related to the book.
By the end of the year, I want to have 20-30 project options available to my students; at present, I have created six ideas that I really like.  I like them because they are all designed to be seen by a larger audience than just me--their teacher--and most push persuasive writing skills.

Here are my first six project ideas: 
  • Persuasive book review: (not a book report--I hate reading those!) type a 300-word, thoughtful write-up that shares both the strengths and any criticisms of the novel without giving away the book’s entire plot to someone who hasn't read it yet.   The goal of a review is to convince another student to read (or not read) the book.  Students who do A-work on this task may also submit these reviews to their writing portfolios, provided they are willing to conference with their teacher about it and create one more revision of the review based on their teacher’s feedback.
  • Compose a thoughtful letter to the author: research how to contact a living author of the book you’ve read and write a polished, one-page letter to him/her, both praising the work and asking an intelligent question about the author’s writing process.  Any student who receives an actual letter back from the author (not the publisher or an agent) will be excused from one future reading workshop project provided they allow Mr. Harrison to publish both correspondences at his website.  (This one is inspired by this page at my wife's website.
  • Create/post a webpage-tribute to the book or to its main character:  contribute to our class’s online collection of tributes to books we have read during reading workshop with a thoughtful webpage.  These online tributes can be story-based, setting-based, or based on a main character (like a fictional character’s imaginary Facebook page).  Because these tributes will potentially be seen by thousands of educators and students, final products must be thoughtful and error-free. 
  • Novel-inspired board game: design board game or strategy game based on the novel’s plot; if another student were to play this game, they would completely understand the premise of the novel and be interested in actually reading it.  All of the game’s required “pieces” will be designed by the student, and how-to-instructions for playing the game must accompany this project.  Students will be required to supervise 2-4 other students as they play the game during lunchtime or after school in Mr. Harrison’s classroom.
  • Pamphlet campaign: obtain permission from a librarian/teacher (not Mr. Harrison) to begin a “You-should-really-check-out-this-book” campaign.  After designing a tri-fold pamphlet, students will publish 25+ copies of it and design a distribution method that puts their pamphlet into the hands of students genuinely interested in reading the book they have chosen.  Sending the pamphlet to the author/publisher and receiving a favorable response will excuse the student from a future Reading Workshop Project.
  • Create/Cast/Market a live or video performance inspired by the novel:  write play or other type of performance that would inspire fellow students to check out the book after watching it.  The performance will be scheduled in Mr. Harrison’s classroom at lunchtime or after school, and students must “market” their performance successfully so that 10+ fellow students come and watch it.   This project can be completed together by 2-5 students who have all recently read the same novel.

I am working on a teacher model now for each project suggestion; I will post my teacher models as soon as they are completed.  If you have any feedback or ideas for additional projects, I'd love to hear from you! 


I'm going to make it my personal  "Friday Practice" to always sketch and photograph the next week's (Mr. Stick-inspired) Metaphor of the Week before I leave for the weekend.

We've spent the first week of school pre-writing and planning our writers' notebooks introductory pages.  My sixth graders are working on a page dedicated to their personal treasures; my seventh and eighth graders are creating showing riddles, inspired by WritingFix's Lesson of the Month for September.  Can't even begin to tell you how much easier it is to inspire my kids because I can show them my teacher-model of a writer's notebook page before I send them into the pre-writing process.

I've decided next week's Metaphor of the Week will be : "A Writer's Notebook is a Personal Treasure Chest."  Next week, we'll be reading the forward to Ralph Fletcher's A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer in You, and it will mesh nicely with this metaphor.

Here is the display my students will see as they file in after their Labor Day weekend.  Click on the image to see it in larger form.

Again, if you have ideas for good metaphors about learning, life, and tools of learning, I hope you'll share them with me.

I've decided to add a new feature in my classroom: The Metaphor of the Week.  I want to really push my students to think metaphorically this school year, so I will be providing a weekly example.  Eventually, I will have students assigned to create upcoming weeks' metaphors for the whole class, as well as individual metaphors for their writer's notebooks.

I--who will also be teaching my students to draw Mr. Stick (our writer's notebook "mascot")--will be illustrating each week's metaphor with an original Mr. Stick by me.  I will be challenging my students to create their own (different) Mr. Stick drawings based on the week's metaphor.

In my new classroom, I've got two half-sized white boards on either side of my Interactive SmartBoard. I've decided one of these half-boards will hold my "Mr. Stick's Metaphor of the Week."  Here is the metaphor/drawing I created for our first week of school.  Click on it to see it larger:

I want the metaphors to all be about life, dreams, and if anyone has any suggestions for upcoming weeks, please let me know what they are!

Here's to a fabulous first week of school with a brand new set of kiddos!


My third and final bulletin board in my new classroom has become a "Published Students" display.  It is going to be used to motivate my students to write hard and and revise well this school year.  With a promise of "fame" and a beyond-the-classroom audience, students do work harder during a writer's workshop.  I believe this, and I will use this belief to energize my students.

I believe one of the most motivating things one can do as a teacher is promise to publish your three or four of your hardest-working writers' final drafts in a public place.  A bulletin board is a low-tech way to do this.  A classroom blog ups the ante by increasing the audience possibility.  You can up the ante even more if you're using WritingFix lessons!

One thing I love about WritingFix is that most lessons come with a link to an online page where students' final drafts (up to three!) can be posted by their teacher; with WritingFix receiving over four million hits a year these days, this can be incredibly motivating (if not slightly intimidating) to your students.  To publish your students at WritingFix, you do need to be a member of the "Online Student Publishing" Group.

I challenge you to motivate your students this year by creating a new way to publicly publish your top three writers/revisers with each assignment.  I'm putting up both a bulletin board and I'm publishing at WritingFix.

You know, I've been in classrooms where--upon a student's writing having been published online--the teacher shows the entire class the final draft by projecting it on the wall.  I've seen the student who's been published beam.  I've heard the other students ask, "Will you choose someone else and put them online with the next writing assignment?"

Once I was invited to an assembly where the entire school sat and watched a published classmate's writing be "unveiled" on a huge screen that showed the page from the Internet.  That entire school of students pledged to work hard on their next writing assignment so that they might become the next featured writer from their school online.

This third bulletin board in my classroom features ten students who are not on my current class-list; I found these samples online at WritingFix, and they will slowly be replaced this Fall as my new students' writing is selected (by me) to be featured online.  If you click on the picture of the bulletin board, you can zoom in on the green sign that should pique my writers' interest in being the students who replace the ten samples I currently display here.

I hope you'll consider joining me this year in publishing your own writers at WritingFix!


A teacher once told me he was able to teach the six writing traits in a week.  I acted impressed, but I wasn't really.  I have to wonder at what cognitive level he was teaching them if he could be done in a week.

In my classroom, the language of the writing traits is the most important academic language I give my students.  Without it, my students' ability to talk about quality writing versus average writing would not exist.  Of all the academic vocabulary I give my students, the traits language is the most important.

Each trait has its own academic vocabulary associated with it.  When you really teach idea development, your students are learning multiple things: relevant details, topic, showing, imagery, main idea, subtopic, etc.  There is no way you could really teach the six writing traits in a week. 

In my classroom, I have a "Trait of the Month" bulletin board.  Once a month it changes, but only after we have had dozens of discussions and mini-lessons focused on that trait.  Even with a month, my students discover they still have much more to learn about how to use/improve upon each writing trait.

I don't ever use conventions as the "Trait of the Month."  Conventions is always in the background when we work on the writing process.

I've decided this year--because SHOWING writing is going to be one of my focuses--that we will use Idea Development as September's Trait, Word Choice as October's Trait, and Voice will be November's Trait; these are the three traits most needed when learning to "Show instead of tell."

Above, you can see my just-hung "Trait of the Month" bulletin board.  It not only features one of trait posters I purchased through Amazon, but it also features the idea development chart from WritingFix's Building with the 6 Traits poster set, and various student samples I found at WritingFix that were strong with their use of idea development skills.  The question at the bottom of the bulletin board asks students to analyze those student samples, looking for specific idea development skills that the writers excelled with.

My classroom copy of "Show; Don't Tell" will be displayed in the near-by chalk tray near the bulletin board for September-November!

Back from vacation!  Time to get serious about my new classroom!  I'll have a brand new set of 6-8th graders joining me at the end of this month, and I need to excite them about the reader's and writer's workshops I'll be guiding them through.

I have three bulletin boards in my new classroom.  The next three posts will share what I'm planning to put on them!

The bulletin board closest to my desk will share some "back history" about me as a reader, so they can have an idea of what it means to have a "reading portfolio."  I racked my brain in June to remember what my favorite books were back when I was in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade; I decided to rack it even harder and think about 5th grade and 9th grade too.  I am creating a 4' x 4' bulletin board called "MR. H's READING PORTFOLIO."  It will share cover art and personal memories of the books from those years that had the most impact on me as a blossoming reader.  I will be expecting my students to read independently this year, and at the end of each year be able to discuss which new books they've read that have had the most impact on them.  Perhaps they'll write about/discuss the novels we read as a whole class, but I'll be more pleased if they find their independent novel choices the source of their inspiration.  I want my bulletin board to help them see that I expect them to seek independent novels. are links to my five mini-posters that will decorate my "MR. H's READING PORTFOLIO" bulletin board.

Questions? Comments?  I'd love to hear from you. 

Next stop: creating my "TRAIT OF THE MONTH" bulletin board for September!  I will post pictures soon!


It's Friday!  Spent the last week not only enjoying some time in the garden but also revising on two more of my writer's notebook lessons that will promote Writing Across the Curriculum in my new classroom next year.  As always, my inspiration came from building teacher-models of the lessons I'll be asking my students to participate in. 

The Common Core State Standards--rolling out K-8 next year here in Northern Nevada--have a Writing Across the Curriculum Element that I have been taking very seriously.  I hear teachers de-cry that the CCSS will take away our teachers' ability to be creative, but I disagree.  I worked very hard to make these two new lessons all about my creativity, and I hope they inspire you to be even more creative next year.

The first  lesson I revised on this week was "Rhyming Couplets Across the Curriculum" lesson, which has students creating rhyming lines about newly learned content.  Here's my new teacher-model for this revised lesson:

Click here to access this writer's notebook lesson on-line at my website!
My second lesson this week was "Extending Metaphors across the Curriculum."  It has students establish and extend on content-based metaphors.  Here is the new teacher-model I added to this revised lesson:

Click here to access this writer's notebook lesson on-line at my website:
 These are newly revised lessons!  As always I welcome feedback before these lessons become finalized this September.  I hope your summers continue to be marvelous.  More W.A.C. lessons coming next week!


I have two new writer's notebook lessons for you to compare and contrast!

I've been getting pretty excited about the writing across the curriculum that we're going to have our students do next year.  From pre-writing (in learning logs and writer's notebooks) to publishing (on blogs and for portfolios), our students will be proving they can think deeply about all four content areas (math, science, language arts,  history) by creating original pieces of writing that demonstrate their abilities to make deep, cognitive connections.

Because my own writer's notebook has--until this point--mostly been about topics we study in language arts, I have been busily adding pages to it that reflect the type of thinking we want our students to do for writing across the curriculum.  As I always do, I am publishing the lessons to go along with my notebook pages online.

Here are two new teacher models that I created during the the last two days.   I've done these lessons before but this is the first time I've had a writer's notebook model to show ahead of time:

#1:  Unusual Recipes-- where students create recipes for items you would not find in an actual cookbook.

Click here to access my online write-up that goes with this model page.

#1:  Personified Vocabulary-- where students turn content-based vocabulary into "people," basing their personalities, jobs, clothing, and/or relationships on the vocabulary words' definitions.

Click here to access my online write-up that goes with this model page.
I invite you to compare/contrast these two lessons.  I am always open to feedback.  I'm now working on a Writing Across the Curriculum lesson on "rhyming slogans."  Check back in a few days if that sounds interesting to you!


Wow!  I have been put on an amazing middle school team next year; come late August, I'll be teaching language arts (6th-8th grade), while the three other teachers of my team will be teaching the science, math, and history to the same group.  We will have these kids for three years, which I think is an amazing way to teach, especially when I think of the high-quality teaching that I know will come from the classrooms of  Kelly, Holly, and Sue--my three brand new colleagues next year.  I seriously am in a "dream teaching situation" next year.

One of our team's goals is for our students to maintain separate notebooks/learning logs for all four of their core classes.  With all the writer's notebook materials that I've been developing over the past three years, my kids and I will be set with this requirement in English class, but I know content-based notebooks (kept in the style and spirit of Ralph Fletcher) will be a fairly new concept for my teaching teammates.

In science, math, and social studies, you want students' notebooks to be a place where they can a) summarize content-based learning in their own words (no regurgitation!) and b) reflect on that content morally, ethically, and/or creatively--through a combination of visuals and words.

I am, therefore, working on some brand new writing across the curriculum challenges that I can establish/teach in language arts class so that my teaching teammates--once I've given the kids the format--can then start requiring the same students to use the same format with their different content.

Just finished a new one!  "16-word poems" inspired by William Carlos Williams' famous poem, "The Red Wheelbarrow."  You can read my whole lesson (still kind of in draft form) on-line here:

What I'm doing differently now, knowing that I have these three amazing colleagues, is I am making sure I have teacher models of notebook pages that reflect all four core areas.  This way, my students--in Language Arts--will have already tried my writing challenges with the content of my colleagues' classes before leaving my class.

Here is the "Writing Across the Curriculum"-inspired teacher model that goes with my 16-word poem assignment.  This is a new concept for me to plan for.  I am actually having a great time thinking/planning this way!

Click here for the whole lesson write-up.

It probably sounds sick to say this, being that it's July 15th: I can hardly wait for the new school year to start!


I've been looking for an assignment (other than Heart Maps) to launch my writer's notebook program and to give students ownership of their notebooks' ideas.  I finally found a mentor text that inspired a new assignment: Written Anything Good Lately? by Susan Allan and Janet Lindaman.  This simple little alphabet book provides --from A to Z--a variety of writing genre possibilities.  After sharing these authors' alpha-genre list, I've decided I want my students to create one of their own.

Their alpha-genre prompt will be: "Come up with 26 different things you'd be willing to write this year.  Sky's the limit.  Let your creativity fly!  Make sure you only list things you actually have an interest in writing!"

It probably won't surprise you to know that I'm going to base the success of my own lesson on the teacher model I provide.  My teacher model is below.  I am also working with a friend's seventh grade child this summer--Austin--and he'll be creating a model of this notebook page I'll be posting at my online version of this lesson too.

Click here to access my complete online lesson that inspired the above model.
I hope you like this idea enough to say, "I should make my own teacher model of that assignment, so I can show it to my students this Fall."


It's kind of official!  I am heading back to the classroom next year.  Needed to say "Goodbye" to my previous workplace (a teacher training center) because the work became about politics and keeping superintendents happy--not about what's good for teachers.

So...I am crazily working on writer's notebook pages this summer--going to make my writer's workshop all about what begins in the writer's notebook next year.

Here is a fun page I plan to introduce early on to my students; I especially like how the page is not only teaching unqiue ideas, but it's focused on teaching students what a noun phrase is!  We don't teach enough grammar in places other than worksheets and daily oral language drills.  That's the dogma I head back to my students with.

Here is the complete lesson online that sets students up to create this notebook page in their own notebooks.

More to come...all summer long!


Reserving this week's post to honor my father, who passed away 7 1/2 years ago.  Right after he'd retired, he began writing short, personal narratives to give to his children and grandchildren.  I have two of his stories posted at my website's tribute to my family's writers.  I am particularly fond of his story, My Friend Bro, because it was a rare display of non-stoicism on his part.

My family's writing at my website:

Below, is my favorite photo of my Dad and his three sons; we were all trying to be equally stoic that day!

If you're encouraged to write something that your family can treasure for years to come, I hope you do so!

Happy Father's Day, Dad.  I miss you.


At the final training of the year at one of my focus schools last week, I challenged my fellow educators with this: "This summer, consider starting your own writer's notebook that you can show your students next fall."   I showed them some new pages I'd recently added to my own writer's notebook (which I just started this year and which I had been showing them all year).

About the challenge, I got a lot of "Yeah, right" looks from the majority of the teachers, but at the end of that final workshop, several (less than 10%) came up to me and told me of their intentions to do just start their first writer's notebooks.

I spent this whole year diligently challenging teachers to share their own writing with their students more.  Share their notebooks, share their rough drafts, share their revision strategies, share their final drafts...just share something.   "You'll see a whole new energy about writing from your students if you do this," I assured them, citing my own past experience.

I get it--the resistance from teachers--and yet I kind of don't.  We share our reading strategies with our students.  We share or problem solving thinking when we work on math.  Why are we so resistant to sharing our writing process?  How messed up did our own schooling make us that we're so afraid of showing our own writing to a bunch of kids who--more likely than not--look up to us? 

PLEASE...a final plea as my hair turns a bit more gray based on teachers' general unwillingness to do this...PLEASE...change your practices and include yourself in the writing process more next year.  PLEASE.

Start a writer's notebook this summer.  Just get a few pages done that you can show your students in the fall.

My final writer's notebook challenge for the summer is for teachers...teachers whom I hope will start their own notebooks this summer.  Students can do this one too, but I'm talking to teachers today!

Here's the notebook challenge:  think of three favorite toys from your own childhood or that belong to your own children.  Create a page that shares the "thinking" you think those toys would do if they were accidentally lost.  What would those toys' voices sounds like?  What would they say to their missing owners?  Where would they be lost?  Here is my notebook page based on this simple prompt; it contains both images and words to inspire me to write more:

We have a whole WritingFix assignment that takes this thought, develops it, and challenges students to create a poem.  Click here to access WritingFix's "Little Lost Toy" Poems.  I believe this to be a fantastic lesson to start your students writing next year; certainly, it's better than "Write about what you did this summer."  I believe any teacher who shows off his/her own notebook page to motivate students' thinking will have an amazingly better degree of success with this lesson.  And with most every other lesson.

Writer's Notebooks, I have learned, increase students' quality of thinking during pre-writing.  There's no better time to make a teacher notebook model than during the summer. 

PLEASE...let's do this.


I'm going to admit right now that I have a cool summer learning activity planned for myself.  As you must know by now if you're following this blog, I've been keeping my first writer's notebook myself this past year, and about half of its pages are currently filled.  When I've shown my model to students as part of a demo lesson, I have an amazing response.  "Do we get to do that too?" is the most common question I am asked.  "Tell your teacher you want to!" I respond.  I've helped a lot of teachers add writer's notebooks to their pre-writing tools this year.

Meet Austin (at left--an old picture from a few years back is all I have); he's a colleague's son who's going into seventh grade in September.  Since third grade, he's been featured at WritingFix because he's been a participant in our NNWP's TWIST Camps.  This summer, because he's now too old for the TWISTs, he and I are working on a project we're calling "Corbett & Austin Keep Writer's Notebooks." 

He and I will be chatting (over Skype) about funny ideas we have about new writer's notebook pages; he's just starting his, while I'm adding new pages to mine.  We will then be getting together--face to face--and creating our pages with a shared set of pencils, pens and crayons.  Then, we'll both be using our pages as inspiration for longer stories or poems or whatever.  I'll be turning each idea into a web-page at WritingFix, and next school year, our Writing Lesson of the Month network will be featuring both Austin and my pages and the stories/poems they inspired.  Our hope is to inspire whole classrooms (all grade levels!) of students to create similar pages and to share the stories/poems they eventually write.

To make sure we're both on the same page, Austin and I will be doing several pages together right at the beginning of the summer, and these initial notebook pages will be based on lessons already posted at WritingFix that we'll be modifying with our work this summer.

Larger view
One lesson that I know for sure we're doing is WritingFix's Serendipitous Crazy Illustration Prompt, which has students create two wacky illustrations inspired by choices that make using WritingFix's Crazy Illustration Idea Generator--it's pretty fun; go to the link and try it out!  Students, then, choose their favorite illustration and turn it into an actual story.  At this point, I have my notebook page made (click here to see it in larger form), and this summer once Austin has created his, we will both write stories that will become features at WritingFix.Want to join us in the process?  Here's my summer notebook challenge #2:  Create a notebook page based on the Crazy Illustration Prompt so that you can compare the story you write to the stories Austin and I write.  Got kids at home this summer?  Have them play along too.  If you send me their stories or photographs of their notebook pages, they'll be included at the revised version of the lesson that will be going up in September!


If you've successfully inspired your students to keep writer's notebooks this year, then now is the time to plant "seeds" in your writers' minds that will keep them working in those notebooks over the summer.  This is the first of three Notebook Summer Challenges for you (from me) to share with your students.

Now I am a lover of language!  Palindromes and oxymorons excite the tar out of me.  I also believe puns to be fantastic.  I have devoted full pages in my writer's notebooks to these topics, and when I hear (or make-up) a new pun, palindrome, or oxymoron in my daily work, I know I have a place to record them.

The other day, I came up with a brand new palindrome: Exam know, that's the axe they give novice firefighters when they take the "break the burning door down" test as they're testing to become full-fledged firemen.  My brain works in this crazy way, and I am glad to have a place in my writer's notebook to record them. 

My Summer Notebook Challenge #1 is based on a language pun that I love: Tom Swiftie jokes.   Inspired by the writing style of Victor Appleton, author of the Tom Swift adventure books from long ago, this is when you write a dialogue sentence with a dialogue verb (said, reply, etc.) that sits next to an adverb.  The goal is to make what's said in quotes pun off the adverb.  For example, here are two of my favorite Tom Swiftie puns:

  • "I've only got spades, diamonds, and clubs," Tom said heartlessly.
  • "I'm wearing my wedding ring now," Tom said with abandon.
I have a whole lesson on Tom Swifties posted at WritingFix; it shares the whole history of this type of pun, which I first discovered on the "Grin and Bear It" joke page found in every issue of my Boy's Life Magazine from my youth.  You can access the whole lesson here:

Over the summer, I encourage my students to read their books with a "Tom Swiftie" eye for punning, which means they're looking for lines of dialogue with interesting adverbs attached to the speaking verb.  For example, they might find in a book they're reading the following line of dialogue:
  • "I don't think I can stand," Ariel said weakly.
If they see a punning possibility with the adverb weakly, they can create a Tom Swiftie joke.  They have to change the character name and what's said in quotes, and that might lead to several possibilities.  Here are two from me:
  • "It's Sunday.  Here we go again," Tom said weakly.
  • "Why do I always become ill on Tuesdays," Tom said weakly.
Tom Swifties are certainly not for every student, but I'll bet you have kids excited about their notebooks who will find this to be a great challenge for the long as you model the process and show them a Tom Swiftie notebook page (yours or mine below).  Have your interested students dedicate a page in their notebooks to this topic, and as they read, challenge them to create these types of jokes.  On their notebook page(s) they can record their best ones and illustrate them.

Here is my Tom Swiftie page from my notebook; click the image to see it in larger form:

If you click on the image and print, it should print out the size of a full notebook page!

I'm spending the next two days hammering out end-of-year materials for our Northern Nevada Differentiated Instruction Program: The Student Learning Facilitator (SLF) Program.  As soon as Wednesday night's portfolio celebration is completed, I am full-time committed to finishing our new Expository Print Guide for 6th - 8th grade teachers.

Yesterday, between SLF observations, I managed to complete the second set of 6th grade "sparklers," which puts the sixth grade section of the guide very close to completion.  This set of Sparklers was based on this practice prompt:  Ever since the cave man invented fire and the wheel, people have been inventing things to move us forward.  What invention do you think has been the most important?  Explain your answer with relevant, showing details.

Click here to open this 6-page document of 6th grade Sparklers
Keep watching for new postings after Wednesday night...they should be coming fast and regular now.