Monday, October 7, 2013

Writing Activity Using "The Chronicles of Harris Burdick"


October is one of my favorite months for teaching narrative writing.  For the past two years, I have had my students create an exciting narrative writing piece using the photos from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg, award-winning author and illustrator of Jumanji and many others.

I got the idea for this assignment from a fantastic website that provides lessons and questions for teachers to use with Chris Van Allsburg's photos from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.  You can find it here.  There are also several other websites that have great tips and lesson ideas for using the illustrations from this book as writing lessons.  I'm going to share with you exactly how I use it in my classroom.


Introduction:

To get my students engaged and excited about the writing activity, I read some of the short stories from Allsburg's The Chronicles of Harris Burdick where famous authors, such as Lemony Snicket and Stephen King have created their own stories based on Allsburg's illustrations.   My students really enjoy seeing how the author manages to tie the photo and caption into the story.  I have purchased the book on Amazon and here is what it looks like:
Activity:
I print out the photos from this story (along with the titles and captions) and display them in my room for my students.  Each photo is a unique black and white, charcoal drawing.  My students chooses one of the iconic photos from the famous collection and must create a narrative around it using the writing techniques I have taught them through our Empowering Writers program.  Within the story, the caption that goes with the photo must be used and make sense within the context of the story they create.  The sentence can come anywhere in the story that they would like (it could be the first sentence, the last, or somewhere in the middle).  We usually work on this story for the entire month of October.  Since the photos and captions are somewhat mysterious, I tie it into Halloween by having them make their story somewhat spooky and mysterious as well.

Here are just a few of the photos included:
Publishing:
When my kids publish their stories, I have them write it on special final draft paper, and also create a cover page with an illustration to go with their narrative.  On Halloween, the stories are due and we have a special celebration for sharing them.  I have parents send in the ingredients to make s'mores (except for fire) and we sit around with the lights low, eat our s'mores, and share our stories.  Since we can't have an actual campfire in school, I project one from Youtube on my Promethean board to give it an extra special effect.  Here are some of the ones I like for the best campfire experience:   a long-lasting outdoor campfire and an indoor fireplace video.

You don't need to use this resource just for writing.  You can also incorporate the stories from The Chronicles of Harris Burdick into Reading by using discussion questions from Chris Van Allsburg's book,  here.  It's a fantastic way to expose your students to several well-known authors and compare how different authors can create a completely different story using the same exact photo that they are using.

I hope you like this idea and can maybe even use it in your own classroom.  If you also use some of Chris Van Allsburg's stories and illustrations for reading or writing with your students, please comment and let me know how.  I'd love to get even more fantastic ideas for incorporating great literature into my classroom.

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