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Lesson Plan

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick: Using Illustrations to Guide Writing

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The Mysteries of Harris Burdick: Using Illustrations to Guide Writing

Grades 5 – 9
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Seven 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Cathy Allen Simon

Cathy Allen Simon

Urbana, Illinois


National Council of Teachers of English



Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice



Mysteries are a great way to hook students into writing about fictional happenings. In this lesson, students engage themselves in The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by examining the illustrations in the book and choosing one for which to create a Mystery Cube and then a creative writing piece. Finally, students present their mysteries to the class and allow students to guess to which illustration their mystery corresponds.

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  • The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg (regular or portfolio/poster-size edition)
  • Mystery Cube: This tool is used to help students develop outlines for their own
    mystery stories.

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In "Literacy in the Arts," Peggy Albers argues that "if we want children to represent meaning visually, musically, and/or dramatically, along with their written texts-in other words, to create a semiotic system-we have a responsibility to teach them how to create meaning in many sign systems" (8). Albers' work provides useful theoretical background to support offering students the opportunity to connect art, existing text, and their own writing in the classroom.

The NCTE Position Statement on Multimodal Literacies supports Albers' claims, noting that the "[i]ntegration of multiple modes of communication and expression can enhance or transform the meaning of the work beyond illustration or decoration." The implication for teachers and the students in their classrooms is the need to study and produce an "interplay of meaning-making systems."


Further Reading

Albers, Peggy. "Literacy in the Arts." Primary Voices 9.4. (April 2001): 3-9.


NCTE Executive Committee. 2005. Position Statement on Multimodal Literacies. Web. November 2009. http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/multimodalliteracies.

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