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We celebrate teachers who have created their own websites about teaching writing:

Always Write
(Grades K-12)

Start to Learn

(Primary Grades)

Making Mathematicians

(Grades K-12)

Learning is Messy

(Grades 4-6)

Write in the Middle

(Grades 6-8)

Writing Across the Curriculum: Our Nevada "Wacky We-Search" Inservice Class
sharing resources from our Northern Nevada workshops
"This was a really fun workshop that made me realize that anything in written form can be a teaching tool. Learning can and should be fun. I would love to take another class like this one." (Christine R., Nevada elementary teacher)

"I loved the class's mix of presenters and and the great energy they brought to the workshop. It helped me bring more energy to my own classroom." (Dawn C., Nevada high school teacher)

Hello, my name is Corbett Harrison, and I am hosting this page for the WritingFix website. This page celebrates one of my favorite books for teaching writing (51 Wacky We-Search Reports), and it shares resources I present with when I facilitate Northern Nevada's Wacky We-Search Inservice class for teachers.

I first met author Barry Lane (he's the shorter guy in the picture at left!) back in the spring of 1997 when he was presenting materials from one of his earlier books-- Reviser's Toolbox--at my local university. I had always struggled with teaching writing, especially the teaching of revision, and Barry's Saturday seminar changed me as a teacher. I discovered that, before meeting Barry, I had mostly been assigning writing to my students; after I began adapting his book's ideas, I found myself actually teaching writing for the first time. Over the years, Barry and I have become pretty good friends, and I always remind him that his unique ideas were the very first ones that began transforming me from a "barely adequate writing teacher" into a "smart writing teacher." That day with Barry helped shape me as a future teacher, a teacher leader, and university leader for my state. Inpired by Barry's style and energy, I now put my whole heart and soul into improving my own classroom skills so that I can design local workshops for teachers where I share my personal discoveries.

In 2006, I took a new position with my local Writing Project, where I have always been a very active workshop presenter. I became the Northern Nevada Writing Project's Coordinator of Writing Across the Curriculum (W.A.C.) Projects. My first order of business was to design a new W.A.C. inservice course, and I based this workshop on a newer book Barry had written in the years after I had first met him: 51 Wacky We-Search Reports. The collection of fifty-one lesson ideas from this book had four major themes on which I based this wacky we-search workshop for teachers:

  • Almost anything made up of words can serve as an interesting (and wacky) writing assignment for school. Hamburger paragraphs, book reports, and formulaic essays are the predictable formats seen often in school; the creative and unpredictable teacher will occasionally challenge his/her students to write wacky report card comments for a fish in its school, to design wacky billboards that white blood cells would drive past as they traveled down the blood highway, and to script wacky answering machine messages for historical figures who lived long before there were even phones..
  • Students find plagiarization and regurgitation of facts easy to do and easy to get away with; requiring students to use a unique writing format (like those in 51 Wacky We-Search Reports) significantly prevents students from plagiarizing and regurgitating classroom facts from books or from notes.
  • Writing assignments that ask students to summarize their learning can (and should) be fun; when students think about new content with their funny bones (like the reports in Wacky We-Search encourage), they are thinking with a more sophisticated level of their brains.
  • Students benefit from writing summaries of their learning together...in small groups; the "We" in We-Search was a wake-up call to me that I too often had my students write in isolation. Group writing tasks can be a fantastic technique for differentiating writing instruction.

We were lucky enough to receive a grant in 2007 that allowed us to purchase 300 copies of 51 Wacky We-Search Reports. Since then, we've faithfully offered our Wacky We-Search Teacher Workshop multiple times in Northern Nevada, and our participants each receive a copy of the book to use in their classrooms. The workshop remains one of our most popular offerings, and I am pleased to share the class's activities on this webpage for any teacher to access and learn from.

On this WritingFix Page:
The Wonderful Book this Workshop is Based on:

51 Wacky We-Search Reports by Barry Lane
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A Popular Wacky Picture Book Lesson:
Wacky Animal Diaries

inspired by Doreen Cronin's
Diary of a Worm
Writing Across the Curriculum: Moving Beyond Regurgitation of Facts
We always begin our Wacky We-Search Workshop for Teachers by examining and discussing actual student writing. After asking teachers to recall the types of writing across the curriculum assignments they remember from their own school days, we look at the writing and thinking skills that are shown by these three developing writers.

Teachers read the following three pieces, asking themselves three important questions:

  • What specific writing skill (or trait) does each writer show a command of?
  • What specific writing skill (or trait) might each writer work a bit harder on, if they have the opportunity to revise this writing once more.
  • Which student showed they learned the most about the topic they were writing about?

Two of these pieces of writing are better simply because the students used a writing format that allowed them to explore different degrees of creativity. The other (written by my wonderful wife when she was in fifth grade, by the way--she gave me permission to feature it here!) is clearly plagiarized and regurgitated. I ask teachers in our worksop: "Which type of writing would you rather receive from your students, and how would you have to instruct them to receive that type of writing?"

W.A.C. topic: The Big Bang Theory
Exploding Universe Cupcakes

by Wittikin, sixth grader

  • 1 cup sugar (stars)
  • 2 cups baking soda (space dust)
  • 1 cup pudding (dark matter)
  • 6-10 marshmallows (galaxies)
  • 1 1/2 cups white vinegar (empty space)
  • 2 cups water (gravity)


Mix 1/2 cup of stars with space dust, 1/2 cup of dark matter, and the galaxies. Add 1 cup of your gravity and mix thoroughly. Put in oven for thirty minutes on high heat. While it's cooking, mix the other cup of gravity with empty space, remaining stars and remaining cup of drak matter. Stir well. Drizzle this mixture on the baked universe. Back away about ten feet and watch the explosion.

W.A.C. topic: Animal Science
The Important Thing about Bats

by Dante, fourth grader

The most important thing about bats is that they eat nasty pesky mosquitoes. Bats are nocturnal to keep them from furious slobbering danger. Bats use sonar to help them know where they are and so they don’t collide into anything. Bats are as blind as a doorknob so it’s difficult for them to know where they are. They are as black as outer space. But the most important thing about bats is that they eat nasty pesky mosquitoes.

W.A.C. topic: World Geography
History of Argentina

by Dena, fifth grade writer

In no country is the influence of history and geography more clearly than Argentina. It is especially interesting, therefore, in viewing Argentine history, to watch for the gradual develop of economic, psychological, and racial characteristics which differentiate this country from other American republics.

Click here to open/print these three pieces of writing to share and analyze with your students.

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Writing Across the Curriculum: Moving Beyond Traditional Writing Assignments
Over the centuries, mankind has found many different ways to tell its stories and report out on learned information. Long before writing, we had pictures on cave walls. Cave wall writing was a theme of one of my best demonstration lessons I ever did for the Northern Nevada Writing Project. My packet's cover is at right.

Here's how it worked. To "shake things up" on occasion, in my students' journals, I sometimes required them to pretend they were archeologists instead of writers; after reading a story or learning some new content, I'd say, "For your journal entry today, you need to draw the petroglyphs that you've discovered about this story/content on a cave wall somewhere. I need to not only see five (or six or ten) petroglyphs, but you also need to--using your best archeologist's voice--write a sentence that explains each drawing for someone who doesn't know the story or the content you just learned about."

We called these special journal entries "Cave Wall Pages," and the simple idea became the foundation of my "Cave Wall Journal" demonstration lesson. I shared this creative method of asking my students to not regurgitate what we had just learned; instead, I asked them to build a unique summary that required a degree of originalilty on their parts.

When I assigned "cave wall pages," my students didn't feel like I was asking them to write, which was great. The Cave Wall Journal pages were like nothing they'd ever been asked to do before in school, so they didn't feel like the typical kind of formulaic writing done in other classes. I "fooled" them to use writing and pictures (and original thinking) to prove they had learned something by summarizing it.

If you're interested in seeing more samples and learning more about my "Cave Wall Journals," you can explore my page that explores how to use him as a writing tool at my own website: Mr. Stick...A Margin Mascot.

After sharing my "Cave Wall Journal" idea, our Wacky We-Search workshop participants explore another unique way to report out information that involves writing but isn't your typical writing assignment. In 1932, author Wurther Crue published a very unique story in Vanity Fair. The story was called "Ordeal by Cheque," and it told its fictional tale in 39 cashed checks. By studying the information written on the checks in order, an entire story unfolds about a father and a son and the dangers of having too much money.

During our workshop, workshop participants analyze these thirty-nine checks and they enjoy discovering the story that they tell. They compare their interpretations. They argue and speculate. They point out subtleties on the individual checks that they didn't notice during the first read through and then change their interpretations.

In short, they discuss in-depth ideas behind a short story that isn't presented in typical short story fashion; it's just a series of cashed checks that help you to understand an idea that a writer thought up and then presented in an unusual--or "wacky"--way.

See, that's the concept behind Barry Lane's 51 Wacky We-Search Reports: to report on ideas (learned ones or creative ones) in an unusual or "wacky" way--to promote originality and humor while teaching students not to plagiarize.

After sharing the "Ordeal by Cheque," class participants are always inspired when I ask this question: "If a series of cashed checks can convey information creatively, what else might too? A series of phone pad messages? A series of notes passed in class? A series of petroglyphs scratched on the wall of a cave?"

One of our past Wacky We-Search Workshop participants--Kathy McCormick--was inspired by the cashed check story frame, so she created an original use of Wurther Crue's original idea. Kathy's Check out my Vacation Story lesson write-up had her students re-think the traditional "Here's What I Did Over Summer Vacation Story." Click here to access the whole lesson, including access to graphic organizers and a teacher model.

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Four Wacky We-Search Reports from Barry's Collection
In 2009, author Barry Lane gave us permission to feature four of the fifty-one wacky reports from his book here at WritingFix. We selected four that we always feature in our teacher workshop. If you enjoy these four awesome ideas for writing across the curriculum, be sure to purchase Barry's whole book--51 Wacky We-Search Reports--so you can see his other forty-seven unique assignments.

Join our WritingFix family and earn a free resource for your classroom. We're looking for original student samples for the four wacky we-search reports listed below that we can post here at this page. We're also looking for original teacher-made tools for these four types of reports that would help students find more success with creating high-quality pieces of writing. Student samples must be typed or photographed and sent to us over e-mail. Teacher-made tools must be sent to us as electronic documents over e-mail. If we feature your students or tools here, we will send you either a free copy of Barry's book or of any of the NNWP Publications. E-mail questions or samples to us at webmaster@writingfix.com.

Wacky Rare Photographs

Wacky Rare Photographs are a fun way to think about nots and nevers associated with your topic of research. With your wacky camera, photograph your research topic doing something it would never or not do. These are great quick-writing tasks that can serve as an "exit ticket" after learning. We challenge teachers to create Rare Photograph bulletin boards to feature some of the best photos their students draw. Click here to open the rare photograph pages from Barry's book.

Help make your student(s) famous! Did you do this assignment with your students and end up with a good student sample? Click here to post the sample at our Ning, and we'll make sure the always-generous Barry Lane sees it! Barry loves to show off student samples during his workshops and presentations that he gives worldwide. Your students' Rare Photographs might just be seem by thousands of teachers!

The Wacky Report Card

Wacky Report Cards allow students to play the pretend role of teacher, which they always like to do. After establishing the wacky idea that anything can go to school and receive grades, students design a report card that not only evaluates their topic's progress in certain subjects but also comments on the rationale behind the issued grade. These work great as jigsaws, where different groups make report cards for different related topics, then share. Click here for Barry's write-up.

The Wacky Wanted Poster

In a wacky world, you'd walk into to the post office (or into the old west) and you'd see wanted posters for all sorts of things, not just your typical human criminals. In the wacky world, lots of things would put out wanted posters for lots of other things--for anything or any person who has committed some sort of unforgiveable "crime" against the poster's designer. Spring might put out a wanted poster on Winter. Tragedy might put out a wanted poster on Comedy. Click here for Barry's write-up.
The Wacky Recipe Poem

Imitating a recipe's structure is a pretty brilliant way to prevent students from plagiarizing or regurgitating learned facts. Any school-studied event or process can be re-explained using the two parts of a recipe: 1) list of ingredients needed and 2) directions for mixing the ingredients together to make something. You can strengthen this task by requiring students to only use kitchen verbs in order to build a stronger metaphor. Click here to open the recipe write-up from Barry's book.

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Original Wacky We-Search Reports Created by our Class Participants
Template: As part of our workshop, participants propose original ideas for wacky we-search reports. Click here for the template our participants use, which is modeled after the format of Barry's write-ups from the book.
The Wacky "I Will Not" Chalkboard -- When you do something bad in school, the teacher might make you write “I will not [fill in offense here]” repeatedly on the chalkboard. Every episode of The Simpsons opens with Bart writing something different on the chalkboard at his school. Bart has done this so many times now that he could actually fill up an entire chalkboard with different “I will not” statements from his past. This writing activity has students create multiple “I will not” statements a person, place, or thing the class has studied.
The Wacky Cereal Box Assignment -- What if things we studied in school could all be packaged in boxes and containers that eventually found their ways to the shelves of grocery stores? Here, teacher Joni Martindale shares how she uses this wacky idea to have students show what they've learned about the different types of rocks and minerals. She invites you to borrow the writing assignment and use with other scientific or historical topics.
The Wacky Smear Campaign -- originally featured in our Going Deep with Compare and Contrast Thinking Guide, this wacky report format asks students to imagine that any two things might run against each other in a wacky election. Students create campaign posters, print media, or radio ads that would discuss the opponent's weaknesses and reasons for not electing him/her/it. All good smear campaigns should end with the words, "I'm [insert name here], and I approve of this message."
The Wacky "Who Doesn't Want to Be a Millionaire" Gameshow Script -- Inspired by Scholastic's "You Wouldn't Want to Be..." book series, students research the cons of being historical figures. They create a series of questions about their research that would be featured on this imaginary gameshow.
The Wacky Calendar Assignment -- Each December, you can buy lots of themed calendars that are very visual. Here, student groups design a 12-month calendar about a topic they are learning about. Each month has a different theme and a "wacky holiday" that celebrates the information learned about the topic they've studied.
The Wacky Geography Scrapbook -- Students will demonstrate their understanding of the physical and human features of a city, county or state in a fun and inviting way by producing a scrapbook of a chosen place. The scrapbook, written in the "voice" of the place they are learning about, will include graphics and key information about the particular location.
The Wacky "Frame of History" Project -- Using a picture frame and a variety of Wacky We-Search ideas from Barry Lane's book, students create a collage of historical pictures with writing on the back. When looked at from both sides, this framed writing assignment summarizes a topic from history.
The Wacky Advertisement (with Disclaimers) Activity -- What could we learn if we really looked closely at (or listened closely to) an advertisement's disclaimers? Here, teacher Stephanie Kveum invites you to have fun writing a simple, creative advertisement for something your class has studied, and then write a long series of disclaimers that should accompany the ad.

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Seven "Summarizing (instead of Plagiarizing)" Ideas from our Out-of-Print W.A.C. Guide
In 2004, we published a 140-page print resource that became the workbook for all Northern Nevada Writing Project W.A.C. in-service classes offered between 2005 and 2008. The Writing Across the Curriculum Guide contained five modules, each exploring a different technique and theme for writing in any content area.

The guide's fourth module explored the topic of "Summarizing (instead of Plagiarizing)," which is a theme we explore when we use 51 Wacky We-Search Reports. At right, you can access seven of the resources from the fourth module of the Writing Across the Curriculum Guide.

In December 2008, the WAC Guide was published for the last time. Our 2004-2008 inservice, which took a generalized look at WAC, branched off into some more specific W.A.C. topics, which can be explored by hovering over the "Across the Curriculum" tab on the blue navigation bar at the top-left of this page.

You can "earn" one of the last remaining copies of the NNWP's Writing Across the Curriculum Guide by submitting a lesson or a student sample at the WritingFix website. Details can be found near the bottom of the NNWP's Publications Page.

  • Summarize with a Traditional Haiku -- You can't really plagiarize a haiku from the encyclopedia or text book, can you? Teach this simple format to your students and have them create a single haiku or a series of haikus to show they can summarize information.
  • Summarize with a Haiku Variation -- Here's a variation of the haiku format--instead of seventeen syllables, the writer uses seventeen words.
  • Summarize with an Acrostic --You can't really plagiarize an acrostic poem from the encyclopedia or text book, can you? Teach this simple format to your students and have them create a single acrostic or a series of acrostics to show they can summarize information about vocabulary words.
  • Summarize with the Alphabet Book Format -- An alphabet book makes a great group-writing summary assignment. Can you come up with 26 words or ideas (all beginning with different letters of the alphabet) that summarize a topic? Here's a worksheet to help students plan theirs.
  • Summarize with a Research Recipe -- Here's a great summarizing assignment: translate research into the format of a recipe. What "ingredients" do you need to summarize a topic? What do you do with those ingredients to "cook up" your topic?
  • Summarize with a Board Game--Version 1 -- This is another great group-writing task: have your students design a board game that summarizes their topic. Here's a template to help them design their board.
  • Summarize with a Board Game--Version 2 -- Here's a second template for a board game, in case the first version doesn't appeal to your students.

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Other NNWP Projects that Make Use of "51 Wacky We-Search Reports" by Barry Lane

HistoryFix is our always-growing collection of mentor text-inspired lessons for history and social studies curriculum. HistoryFix launched in 2007 under the coordination of NNWP Consultant and 5th grade teacher, Denise Boswell.

Click here for Denise's HistoryFix lesson tempate.


NumberFix is our always-growing collection of mentor text-inspired lessons for math curriculum and math topics. NumberFix launched in 2008 under the coordination of NNWP Consultant, literacy trainer, and high school math teacher, Holly Young.

Click here for Holly's NumberFix lesson tempate.


ScienceFix is our newest, but always-growing collection of mentor text-inspired lessons for science curriculum and science topics. ScienceFix launched in 2009 under the coordination of NNWP Consultant, literacy trainer, and high school science teacher, Yvette Deighton.

Click here for Yvette's ScienceFix lesson tempate.

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Please, share the resources you find on these pages freely with fellow educators, but please leave any page citations on handouts intact, and please give authorship credit to the cited teachers who created these wonderful lessons and resources. Thanks in advance for honoring other educators' intellectual property.

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