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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


Materials and Technology

Student Interactives






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

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Cube Creator

Grades   3 – 12  |  Student Interactive  |  Organizing & Summarizing

Cube Creator

The interactive Cube Creator helps students identify and summarize key elements. It can be used as a prewriting or postreading activity.


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  • Writing with Writers: Mystery Writing

    This learning activity helps students write a mystery step by step by following tips and suggestions from writer Joan Lowery Nixon.

  • The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

    This official site for the book includes a message from the author, Chris Van Allsburg, Readers’ Stories, and Tips for Writers.

  • Chris Van Allsburg

    Chris Van Allsburg’s author site includes a look inside the book, teacher resources, and a kids’ corner, as well as information about Van Allsburg and his other works.

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  1. Locate The Mysteries of Harris Burdick in your classroom library, your local library, or a bookseller.  Familiarize yourself with the content and the images within the book.
  2. Test the Mystery Cube student interactive and make sure that you have the appropriate software installed for it to run effectively.  You will need computers with internet access for each student to use this interactive.  If computer accessibility is a problem, print a copy of the Mystery Cube and make enough copies for each student. If you need additional help with this interactive, please visit our Technical Help page.
  3. Make enough copies of the Mystery Cube Planning Sheet and the Mystery Writing Rubric for each student.

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