Teach Through Books: The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

Teach Through Books: The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

Age level: Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School

Description: If you haven’t heard the legend of Harris Burdick, it’s sure to grab your attention and the attention of your students. The story is that Burdick dropped off a series of strange drawings with unusual captions at a publishing house in Boston. He promised to bring in more, but was never heard from again. Many years later, several famous authors then wrote stories for each drawing that were put together into The Chronicles of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. There is also a Portfolio Edition, which is how I was introduced to both the drawings and the stories. This edition contains large, 16”x12” prints of each drawing, which I use to encourage conversation, expressive language, and story development.

Skills & Modifications: The book can be read for shared or independent reading if it is the right skill level for your learners. I have used the Portolio Edition for a variety of skills with kids as young as 9 and as old as 16. I appreciate that the Portfolio Edition allows for open-ended conversations and activities to meet the skill level of the learner you’re working with.

Expressive Language – For learners who are motivated by visual tasks and enjoy art, this is a great tool for expressive lanuage. The images are filled with details, and the caption on each photo gives it a twist that adds to the conversation.

Writing – I have often used the Portfolio Edition as a writing prompt with students. You can allow students to choose the one that is most interesting to them. With one ten-year-old student with Aspergers, the activity was so motivating that she ended up writing a 30-page story about the picture. It’s fun to have students share their stories when possible, create additional illustrations, or read the story from The Chronicles of Harris Burdick that is about the same image.

Cause and Effect – There is a lot of activity within each image, so it’s a great tool for talking about cause and effect or asking “What do photo 2 (35)you think might happen next?” 

Retelling A Story – For one student, I set this up as a sort of “choose your own adventure” activity. He looked at the picture at right and would make different choices that would then lead to other choices. For example, the first choice “Does the man hit the thing with the chair?” or “Does the thing under the rug move before the man can hit it?” The boy chose that the thing under the rug moved. The next choice was “Did it move quickly and disappear?” or “Did it knock over the lamp, causing it to break and have the room go dark?” This continued until he had a complete story that he could retell in it’s entirety.

Pros: These images are very engaging and allow for easy differentiation when used in the classroom.

Cons: For some students, the images may be scary and should not be used.

portfolio editionIdeas for extending the lesson: Have students go through a newspaper or magazine to find other images that could have the same title as those in the Portfolio Edition or are similar in another way. Have them describe the similarities and differences and discuss how the stories from the paper might be similar to the story from Harris Burdick.

Cost: Book – $24.95, Portfolio Edition – $24.95 You should invest in this game if: you are seeking motivating writing prompts for your students, your learner is very interested in unique visual images, or your learner is motivated by fantastical stories and images.



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