Empowering Writers

April 2017 Lesson of the Month

This month’s lesson is based on a book by Chris Van Allsburg entitled The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. This 1984 picture book is filled with a collection of Van Allsburg’s images inspired by the mysterious author Harris Burdick. For more information and a collection of pictures from the book, search the web using, “The Mysteries of Harris Burdick” and a series of websites will emerge showcasing Allsburg’s unusual story. The fourteen images, the titles and their accompanying captions are what’s left of the amazing, yet disappearing author.


Students will choose a picture from the collection found in the book or online. They’ll work in groups to create a story depicting their image. Each student within the small group will choose a Narrative skill from the Narrative Writing Diamond and write their portion of the story without knowledge of what the other students in the group are writing. The only common denominator will be that they are all using the same image.

Here’s what you’ll do:

1) First, discuss with students the book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick and the incredible history behind the book. If the book is not available, remember there are several websites that feature the artwork and the history.

2) Next, divide the students into groups of 5-6. Each group will agree upon one picture from the book they want to write a story about. Each of the participants within the group will decide which skill they want to write using the image as their stage (2 students might work together to create a Main Event since it is the longer writing sample). For example, if a group chose the image, “Under the Rug”, one student would write the entertaining beginning, one an elaborative detail segment, another the suspenseful piece, one or two the Main Event, and still another the Extended Ending. To add a mysterious element to their writing, each of the group members will not converse on the ideas they are sharing in their portion of the writing. When each of the members is finished, they will join their story pieces together to create a “wacky” writing sample to share with the class.

3) Once each team has shared their fictional story with the class, the final step will be for each group to trade their story with another team. The new team will then rewrite another team’s story, using as many of the story’s original ideas as possible. Whereas the original story seemed disjointed and lacked flow and consistency, the final story should read like a true author’s writing. The group will revise each of the pieces to fit together and create a finished (published) story.

Optional: Instead of using images from the book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, the teacher can find strange, yet appropriate images online and based on these images, students can create their stories.