Telling a Story

This week we started narrative paragraphs. I was REALLY excited to use this lesson plan idea that I’ve been wanting an excuse to use since my Covington Middle School days. The 7th Grade Humanities teacher I worked with introduced me to The Mysteries of Harris Burdick and I completely fell in love at first sight. Unfortunately, our school year was packed and I never got to see how ELL students would react to this project.

Fast forward three years and I finally have a writing class to teach. Not only do I have a writing class, but I have a writing class that needed to be introduced to writing a narrative paragraph.

Now for an explanation of the project. You can visit the book website Who is Harris Burdick for a general idea of the book, but I think The Harris Burdick Project website does an excellent job of explaining how to use it in a classroom.

Basically, you introduce the book with a very interesting and compelling story. My students were surprised and asked all kinds of questions when I finished telling them the story of the mysterious Harris Burdick. I have to admit that when I told them it was just a story that models the type of writing they should produce for their stories they were very disappointed. I guess I was too convincing in my storytelling!

I explained to them that they would work in groups of 3-4 to write a story based on one of the mysteries. Each mystery contains a title, a beautiful picture, and a caption to get them started. Their only requirement was that they needed to use that information to write a narrative essay. Each student wrote a 5 sentence paragraph to contribute to the overall group story.

I cannot even tell you how fun this was. Now, keep in mind that my students are all over 18, but they were still inspired immediately with very compelling stories. My favorite part of this activity was watching the students collaborate. I gave them all day Wednesday to work as a group to brainstorm a story together and assign the sections. They outlined their tale and then worked individually for homework.

Some groups created a google document so that they could work and see what the others were writing, thus making a more cohesive product. Others decided to meet after class to work on it together. This was not what I anticipated. I expected them to just divvy up the work, but they really worked as a team. Not only that, but when the bell rang, I couldn’t get them to stop. I kept saying, “You can leave now.” But the students stayed and said they wanted to keep working.

Yesterday they came in with their stories and I gave them more time to work in their groups to make sure that the story parts were connected. Some groups needed to make significant changes, but the others were finished very quickly. I gave the book The Chronicles of Harris Burdick to the groups that finished early so that they could read the stories famous authors wrote about the same story starter.

Then I projected the story starters so the whole class could see them while each group read their stories. It was amazing! The vocabulary and sentence structures they used were the best I have seen this semester. The flow of their writing at both the paragraph and essay level was excellent as well. I cannot even tell you how wonderful this activity proved to be. It is definitely something I would repeat in the future.

I asked permission from my students to share their stories, so here is one example from one group that wrote about the prompt Archie Smith, Boy Wonder. The caption reads, “A tiny voice asked, “Is he the one?”


This is the story of Archie Smith a boy wonder, who once had a strange experience. Archie Smith was born in unusual circumstances in London. His parents noticed that he was a special boy. All began in a common day. He went to sleep how every day, but that night he will never forget it. He woke up at midnight, but he couldn’t see anything it was too dark and tenebrous.

He only could hear his breathing. He tried to find the door of his bedroom, but it was impossible. Suddenly, he could hear a tiny voice that said: “is he the one?” many times, but each time the voice was coming more and more. He scream, but no one heard. He thought that all was a dream, but…

He could feel the cold floor on his feet and he began to walk slowly around his bedroom trying to find the tiny voice, but it disappeared. Suddenly, he saw a shadow who looked like a young man with a gold watch. The shadow started walking toward him saying: “We’re special”. Instantaneously, the lights turned on, and he noticed the man was he. He told him that over time he can travel in the time, and he will be responsible of the humanity’s future.

After this conversation he gave him his watch and he could see a lot of destruction inside the planet. When the man began to tell something, he said: “It’s time to go. Archie, wait for instructions” and the man went away. He heard his mom’s voice saying: “Archie, wake up! It’s time to go to school”. He woke up and he saw the watch on his hand.