The Mysteries of Harris Burdick - Investigating Darkness

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SWBAT identify the elements of mystery and horror by analyzing their own work.

Big Idea

Looking at "scary" from the inside out

Introducing the Activity

10 minutes

This is the first lesson in our unit that is all about strange and scary subject matter.  I want the students to reveal all that they know about scary, so after the Quick Write, I ask students to give me as many synonyms for "scary" as they can.  They can also name things that are associated with "scary" or the horror genre.

Quick Write: What Happened?

10 minutes

After we listed some characteristics and examples, I told the students that I was going to show them a picture.  After I put the picture on the SmartBoard, I told them to write a quick "pitch" -- which means they had to come up with an original, scary idea to pitch to the class, knowing that the class would vote thumbs up or down if they think it is scary enough.

This went pretty well and I had plenty of volunteers, but most of the stories weren't particularly scary.  I want the students to recognize (through their own trial and error) that the process of creating a piece of literature in the genre of horror or suspense is challenging.

Some of the students felt the picture wasn't particularly inspiring.  But, then, I  pointed out that many of the good horror movies take place in settings that are typical, everyday types of places.  Often, that is what makes the movie scary -- it "could" happen.  The setting provides plausibility.


Partners in Darkness

20 minutes

After we practiced and shared about a single picture, I distributed the fifteen Harris Burdick pages among the pairs and trios in the classroom.

I have a collection of those pictures, with each of them as a separate, poster-sized picture.  It was given to me by another teacher, but I am sure it is widely available.

I challenged the students to develop their own story ideas (with their partners), related to their assigned pictures.  I explained to them that there is a published collection of stories wherein famous authors have chosen one picture each to use as a basis for a story.  So, in other words, if it is good enough for Stephen King, it is good enough for us.

I gave the students 20 minutes to work.  It was a little noisy to begin with, but they eventually settled into the activity.  

When I called time, I allowed five pairs to share, and students voted to "make" their movies or not.  After volunteers were exhausted, I filled in the remaining slots (of the five) by using ClassDojo to choose participants at random.

Compared to the Quick Write, the students seemed to have much more fun and get "into" the activity more.  We will come back to these writings (which are in class notebooks) as we progress with the unit.

Exit Ticket/Choosing Your Novel

25 minutes

Just to continue to draw on prior knowledge, I asked the students to write a quick exit ticket, describing the scariest book or movie they have read or seen and what made it scary.  I am going to highlight similarities among responses in our next class.

Also, students are going to pick either The Haunting of Hill House or Something Wicked This Way Comes for their independent reading for this unit.  So, I encouraged students to browse both books in order to make informed decisions.