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31 “This I Believe” Essay
The history of ‘this i believe’.
by Tanya Matthews
This I Believe is an exciting media project that invites individuals from all walks of life to write about and discuss the core beliefs that guide their daily lives. They share these statements in weekly broadcasts on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered .
The series is based on the 1950’s radio program This I Believe , hosted by acclaimed journalist Edward R. Murrow. Each day, some 39-million Americans gathered by their radios to hear compelling essays from the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller and Harry Truman as well as corporate leaders, cab drivers, scientists and secretaries — anyone able to distill into a few minutes the guiding principles by which they lived. Their words brought comfort and inspiration to a country worried about the Cold War, McCarthyism and racial division.
Eventually, the radio series became a cultural phenomenon. Eighty-five leading newspapers printed a weekly column based on This I Believe . A collection of essays published in 1952 sold 300,000 copies — second only to the Bible that year. The series was translated and broadcast around the globe on the Voice of America. A book of essays translated into Arabic sold 30,000 copies in just three days.
[The NPR series This I Believe can be read and heard here . In addition, the website and organization This I Believe houses thousands of essays written by famous people, such as the ones mentioned above, and everyday people like you and me.]
As a college student in 2020, you are faced with turbulent politics, socioeconomic issues, and ethical dilemmas that will challenge you to take a stand and contribute to the local, national, and global conversation around you. The purpose of this writing task is not to persuade you to agree on the same beliefs. Rather, it is to encourage you to begin the much more difficult task of developing respect for beliefs different from your own. Fifty years ago, Edward R. Murrow’s project struck such a chord with millions of Americans. It can do so again today…with you.
Video Resources for Generating Ideas
Dan gediman on writing a “this i believe essay”.
Read Cecelia Munoz’s essay “Getting Angry Can Be a Good Thing” referred to in the previous video here .
“This I Believe” Essay with Animation
“This I Believe” Essay Ideas
1) analyze others’ statements.
Consider the following statements, written in response to the question What Have You Learned About Life? Highlight any sentences that resonate with you. Talk about them with a partner or group, explaining why. 1. I’ve learned that when I wave to people in the country, they stop what they are doing and wave back. – Age 9 2. I’ve learned that if you want to cheer yourself up, you should try cheering someone else up. – Age 14 3. I’ve learned that although it’s hard to admit it, I’m secretly glad my parents are strict with me. – Age 15 4. I’ve learned that if someone says something unkind about me, I must live so that no one will believe it. – Age 39 5. I’ve learned that there are people who love you dearly but just don’t know how to show it. – Age 42 6. I’ve learned that you can make someone’s day by simply sending them a little note. – Age 44 7. I’ve learned that the greater a person’s sense of guilt, the greater his or her need to cast blame on others. – Age 46 8. I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. – Age 48 9. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you miss them terribly after they die. – Age 53 10. I’ve learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life. – Age 58 11. I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. – Age 62 12. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with kindness, I usually make the right decision. – Age 66 13. I’ve learned that it pays to believe in miracles. And to tell the truth, I’ve seen several. – Age 75 14. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. – Age 82 15. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love that human touch—holding hands, a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. – Age 85 16. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. – Age 92
2) Compose Your Own Statement
Write down a sentence that expresses what YOU have learned about life. Maybe it is similar to one of the statements above; maybe it’s completely different. Whatever it is, write it down.
3) Freewrit e
Now free-write about your sentence. Include at least two examples / experiences that you have had that support why you think this way.
Personal Statement/Philosophy: ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Why do you believe in this statement? ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Name two experiences that you had that would support the statement: _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ What does this say about yourself or your personality? _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ After your life experience, how have you come to the conclusion that this should be your statement? How have your beliefs changed, if at all? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ How has the event effected your relationship with a person, place, or object? _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ How does your statement apply to you today? (How you view yourself & society) ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
SAMPLE STUDENT ESSAYS
Sample #1: america’s beauty is in its diversity.
written by Alaa El-Saad, high school student, as heard on NPR’s Tell Me More (2009)
America is built on the idea of freedom, and there is no exception for Muslim women. I believe in the freedom of religion and speech. But mostly, I believe it’s OK to be different, and to stand up for who and what you are. So I believe in wearing the hijab.
The hijab is a religious head covering, like a scarf. I am Muslim and keeping my head covered is a sign of maturity and respect toward my religion and to Allah’s will. To be honest, I also like to wear it to be different. I don’t usually like to do what everyone else is doing. I want to be an individual, not just part of the crowd. But when I first wore it, I was also afraid of the reaction that I’d get at school.
I decided on my own that sixth grade was the time I should start wearing the hijab. I was scared about what the kids would say or even do to me. I thought they might make fun of me, or even be scared of me and pull off my headscarf. Kids at that age usually like to be all the same, and there’s little or no acceptance for being different.
On the first day of school, I put all those negative thoughts behind my back and walked in with my head held high. I was holding my breath a little, but inside I was also proud to be a Muslim, proud to be wearing the hijab, proud to be different.
I was wrong about everything I thought the kids would say or even do to me. I actually met a lot of people because of wearing my head covering. Most of the kids would come and ask me questions—respectfully—about the hijab, and why I wore it.
I did hear some kid was making fun of me, but there was one girl—she wasn’t even in my class, we never really talked much—and she stood up for me, and I wasn’t even there! I made a lot of new friends that year, friends that I still have until this very day, five years later.
Yes, I’m different, but everyone is different here, in one way or another. This is the beauty of America. I believe in what America is built on: all different religions, races and beliefs. Different everything.
Sample #2: The Essentials to Happiness
written by Alexxandra Schuman, high school student, as heard on The Bob Edwards Show (2013)
As a child, I was generally happy; singing and dancing to my favorite songs; smiling and laughing with my friends and family. But as far back as second grade, I noticed a “darkness,” about me. I didn’t enjoy engaging in many things. I didn’t relate to my peers in elementary school because they appeared so happy, and I didn’t have that ability to achieve happiness so easily.
In middle school things in my life began to get even worse. I began withdrawing from everything I once enjoyed; swimming, tennis, family. I hated going to sleep knowing I had to wake up to another day. I was always tired. Everything was horrible. Finally, midway through eighth grade, I was told I had a chemical imbalance; diagnosed with clinical depression and put on medication. It took months for me to feel the effects of the medication.
When I began to feel happy again, is when I realized that I had to take the responsibility for getting better myself, rather than relying on medication and therapy alone. Aristotle said, “To live happily is an inward power of the soul,” and I believe that this quote describes what I had to do to achieve happiness. Happiness is a journey. Everyone seems to need different things to be happy. But I believe people are blinded from what truly makes one happy.
Growing up, we’re encouraged to be successful in life; but how is success defined? Success and happiness are imagined now as having a lot of money. It is so untrue. Recently I went to Costa Rica and visited the small town of El Roble. I spent the day with a nine-year old girl named Marilyn. She took me to her house to meet her parents. It was obvious that they were not rich; living in a small house with seven children. The house was cluttered but full of life. Those who have decided that success and happiness comes from having money and a big house would be appalled at how utterly happy this family from El Roble is. People say that seeing things like that make you appreciate what you have, but for me, it made me envy them for being so happy without all the things I have.
“The essentials to happiness are something to love, something to do, and something to hope for,” a quote from William Blake sums up what I believe people need to realize to be truly happy in life. People need love; I feel they need their family and their friends more than anything in the world. People need work to do, something to make them feel they are making a difference in the world. People need to know that more good is to come in the future, so they continue to live for “now” instead of constantly worrying about the bad that could come. And most importantly people need to know that happiness is not something that happens overnight. Love and hope is happiness.
Sample #3: Find a Good Frog
written by Delia Motavalli, high school student, as heard on The Bob Edwards Show (2013)
I believe in finding a good frog. It seems that all throughout childhood, we are taught to look for a happily ever after. “And they all lived happily ever after”; isn’t that the conclusion to many children’s films? When I was a kid I always thought of that as magical; but now really it just seems unrealistic. And it teaches us that what we want is a fairytale like they have in the storybooks. We all want to be Cinderella who gets swept off her feet by the hot prince; we want to live in the royal castle, right? But I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing for us to seek. Now I’m not saying I believe in being pessimistic, but I do believe in being realistic; it’s something I got from my mom.
My mother and I always have our best conversations in the rain. We sit in the car, neither of us wanting to brave the rain to get to the house. So we sit. We watch droplets race down the windshield, listen to the rain strike the roof of her little blue Honda, and feel the heater on full-blast rushing at our feet (just the way we like it). I don’t know why, but sitting in the car, we always talk more than normal. There was one rainy day when my mom told me something that is going to stick with me forever. Earlier that day she and my dad had been arguing about something; I can’t remember what. So she said, “Don’t spend your life looking for Prince Charming. Instead, find yourself a really good frog.”
At the time, I found this thought really disheartening. Who wants to think that you’ll never find Prince Charming? You’ll never get to be Cinderella? Another thought that struck my mind: if my mom says there’s no Prince Charming, then what’s my dad? A frog? I asked her, and she replied with, “Of course! If he were Prince Charming, he wouldn’t snore, would be able to cook, and we would never argue. But you know what? He’s a damn good frog.” Of course, being young, I didn’t think of the meaning behind what she was saying. I was too busy thinking of it literally, visualizing my mom as a princess and my dad in frog form.
But a few years later, I understand the value of my mom’s words. You can’t expect everything to be perfect. Let’s be completely honest; if you wait your whole life for your prince with flowing hair, statuesque features, and a white horse, you’re going to be lonely. I think that the point of finding a good frog is you accept something that’s great, flaws and all. It’s so easy to be picky. You can find the one tiny thing that’s wrong, and that one tiny thing is what you can’t get your mind off of. But in life, we can’t afford to wait years in vain for perfection. So I think that a good frog, an amazing frog, the best frog you can find is what we’re really looking for in this world. Don’t laze through life waiting for a happily ever after, because I don’t think you’ll be very happy with the outcome.
Examples from the ‘This I Believe’ Website
Be Cool to the Pizza Dude by Sarah Adams
They Lived Their Faith by Charles Henry Parrish
Returning to What’s Natural by Amelia Baxter-Stoltzfus
The Birthright of Human Dignity by Will Thomas
Remembering All The Boys by Elvia Bautista
I Am Still The Greatest by Muhammad Ali
A Goal Of Service To Humankind by Anthony Fauci
My Life Is Better by Abraham
Give Me a Waffle by Brenda
The Little Things by Sophie Crossley
You can also browse thousands more This I Believe essays by theme .
Prefer to Listen to Get Inspiration?
Check out This I Believe’s Podcast Series
Assignment guidelines + suggestions and tips for drafting.
1. While the examples you’ve been given can serve as a model, it is essential that each of you write about a personal belief or philosophy that you feel strongly about. 2. Tell a story. Personal experiences are the corner stone of a good essay. Your story doesn’t have to be a heart breaker or even a major event, but it must be something that has affected how you think, feel, and act. List your personal experiences that you intend to use as evidence below: 3. Be concise. Avoid repetition. This essay should be between 500 – 650 words. When read aloud, it should take roughly four minutes. 4. Name your belief. It is essential that you can name your belief in a sentence or two. Focus on one belief only. This is your thesis. Write it here: 5. Be positive. Avoid preaching or persuading. You aren’t trying to change the way others think or act. Write about what you believe, not what you don’t believe. 6. Use the first person. Speak for yourself. Avoid using we or you. 7. Let your voice shine. Use language that sounds like you. Read it aloud as your revise. Keep making changes until your essay sounds like you and captures the essence of your belief.
5) Peer Review
Once you have written your first draft, arrange for your essay to be edited by a peer, using the following Peer-Editing Checklist: Writer’s Name: ________________________________________________ Peer Editor’s Name: ________________________________________________ Use your PENCIL or PEN (NOT red or green) to make corrections. Remember, this essay is a work in progress. You are not done writing! Look for ways to improve what you’ve already written. Tick each step if it has been completed. _____ 1. Read the paper backwards, one sentence at a time. Check for spelling errors. Use a dictionary, a friend, or a spell checker to find the correct spelling. _____ 2. Check for capitalized proper nouns and the first word of each sentence. _____ 3. Skip a line between each paragraph. _____ 4. Every sentence should have end punctuation. _____ 5. Check commas. Are they only used for compound sentences, a list of items, an introductory word or phrase, direct address, setting off interruptions, separating adjectives, or in dates? Do you need to add commas? Make sure you do not have commas separating complete sentences (i.e. comma splice errors that create run-on sentences). _____ 6. Apostrophes are used only for contractions and to show ownership. _____ 7. The use of more complex punctuation (dashes, hyphens, semi-colons, parentheses, etc.) is done correctly. _____ 8. Have you used commonly mixed pairs of words correctly? Check these: they’re/their/there, your/you’re, it’s/its, a/an, to/too/two, are/our/hour, and others. _____ 9. Read the paper backwards one sentence at a time. Check for sentence fragments and run-ons and correct them. _____ 10. Did you stay in present tense (such as is, am, do, take, know, etc.) or past tense (such as was, were, did, took, knew, etc.) throughout the entire essay? _____ 11. Did you stay in first person (I, me, my, we, us, our) or third person (he, him, she, her, they, them, their) throughout the entire essay? _____ 12. Was there adequate use of specific details and sensory details? Were the details clear and relevant to the statement? _____ 13. Is the overall purpose/philosophy clear? _____ 14. Does the conclusion make you go, “Wow!” “Cool!” “I never thought about it that way,” or any other similar reaction? Other suggestions for the overall content of the piece: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
This I Believe by Tanya Matthews is licensed by CC-BY-SA
“This I Believe” Essay Copyright © 2020 by Liza Long; Amy Minervini; and Joel Gladd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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Power Lesson: “This I Believe” Essays
December 4, 2016
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“Doing homework” by Predi is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
In this power lesson shared by high school English teacher Cynthia Ruiz , students write their own personal statements of belief. The essay pushes students to write about something that matters to them and helps them get to know each other on a deeper level.
I used to assign a “Letter to the Teacher” at the beginning of every year to get a snapshot of how a student writes while simultaneously learning background information. Being completely honest, this assignment is also an easy way to get the first few back-to-school days started when a 90-minute class period feels like 900 minutes, because everyone is typically on their best behavior and not talking much. Although I enjoy reading the letters, the assignment doesn’t lend itself to revising and is written only for a specific, one-person audience.
I know building relationships with students is important and a way to get to know them is through their writing, so I did some research to see what other teachers were trying. I came across the “This I Believe” site and immediately liked the concept better than an introduction letter for a teacher.
The first time I assigned a “This I Believe” essay was in the fall of 2014, during the second week of school. I planned it as a year-long endeavor, something we could work on as a distraction from other essays required to prepare for state testing. This past year, I did not assign it until late April; it would be our last major writing task. I wanted to give everyone plenty of time to write but held them to a firm deadline of having four weeks to work.
This time, I crafted my writing guidelines according to those posted on the NPR site that hosts hundreds of This I Believe essays from around the world. My rubric still has some typical writing conventions, but overall I think it focuses more on student voice than structure. I made it clear that students had a lot of choice regarding both content and format. The biggest restriction came directly from the This I Believe site: a 500-600 word limit. I know a lot of writing teachers are divided when it comes to word count, but I figured it was still better than giving a specific number of required paragraphs and sentences.
One other requirement was that students use at least three “vocabulary devices.” This may seem like a restriction, but it actually supported student voice. Over the spring semester, we spent a lot of time reviewing both rhetorical and literary devices (anaphora, hypothetical questions, simile) and I told students to focus on the devices they genuinely felt comfortable using.
Helping Students Choose a Topic
Because the rubric leaves room for a lot of choice, I encouraged students to visit the featured essays site and not only read, but listen to real examples. I wanted them to see that this wasn’t just another run-of-the-mill assignment, that what they believe is important and writing is just one way to share those beliefs. I also made it a point to tell them our end goal was to share this essay with their entire class by way of a gallery walk.
After giving students time to explore the site, I had them “rush write” in their notebooks to see what immediate ideas they captured to help start the brainstorming process. Here’s the prompt I used:
This I Believe For 2 minutes: List words or ideas that you think about when you think of YOUR LIFE. (Can be feelings, symbols, names, events, etc.)
After students generated this list, I asked them to consider what they wanted to write about and share with others. I wanted them to imagine a larger audience and think outside of meeting my expectations.
For some, deciding what to write about was easy and they began drafting immediately. However, the majority of students struggled not so much with what they believe, but how to write about it. Even though they appreciated having so much choice, they still needed some direction to get started.
We continued the listing strategy by focusing on “most memorables”: most memorable events in life so far, most memorable stuffed animal, most memorable friends, family experiences, life lessons learned, and so on. I asked them to focus on why they remember what they remember, and whether or not it impacts any of their beliefs. One student remembered a saying his grandmother always told him that still provides comfort as he’s gotten older. Another focused on her family not having a big house when they first moved to America and how she’s learned to be satisfied with opportunities instead of possessions. While this strategy helped a lot of light bulbs go off, it didn’t work for everyone.
Another strategy I tried was using involved sentence stems: I know I am the way I am today because______. I know I think about things the way I do because _______. I think most people would describe me as ______. I emphasized that these phrases did not have to be included in their final products, but should help generate ideas. I talked with a few frustrated students about this strategy and they told me it made them realize they’ve never really had to think about themselves in this way, but ultimately, it gave them direction for their essays.
Drafting and Revising
Because of block scheduling, I gave students about a week and a half to complete a working draft, which required having at least two paragraphs of their essay done. I only gave a portion of two to three class periods to actually write in class; students were expected to write on their own time.
On the day drafts were due, I set aside class time for revision. I asked students to refer to the rubric and focus on voice and vocabulary strategies. Questions I told them to consider were: Does this sound like me? Do I talk like this to my friends or family? I gave students the option of reviewing their own essays or partnering up with someone to peer edit. Again, this was the end of the year, so we had already established a pretty firm community of trust in class. I don’t know if peer editing would have been as easy had I done the assignment early in the year.
Overall, draft day didn’t feel like the usual “revising and editing” days we’ve had with other essays. Students were very concerned with whether or not they were making sense, if they should add more, or if they were being too repetitive, rather than only being concerned about capitalization, spelling, and grammatical errors.
Sharing the Finished Essays
The culmination of this assignment was when the essays were shared in a gallery walk . The gallery walk is my answer to having students write for a larger audience, and it really helps this essay become about what students have to say instead of just another grade. I can’t count how many times I have returned tediously graded essays only to have a kid immediately walk over to the recycling bin and trash it! Sure he read the comments and suggestions I made, or saw the cute smiley face I left by an excellent word choice, but it didn’t mean much to him because the paper is graded and finished, and he is now done thinking about it. With a gallery walk, not only are students thinking about what they wrote, but they have the opportunity to think about what their classmates wrote as well.
I printed each essay without any names, and made sure any identifying statements were revised. However, there were quite a few students who said they were proud of what they wrote and had no problem if others knew which essay belonged to them. Because not every student turned in a final copy, I printed additional copies of some completed essays to ensure every student had something to read during our gallery walk, instead of drawing attention to the two or three students who did not finish the assignment.
I placed the essays on different tables throughout the room and allowed students to move around as needed; some chose to stand and read an essay, others opted to sit, while others sprawled out on the floor to read. I played soft music and asked that the room volume stay quiet enough to be able to hear the music at all times. I didn’t mind if students were sharing and discussing, and I really wish I recorded the various conversations and comments I overheard that day: “Wow! Did you read this one yet?” “Man. Who wrote this? I might cry. Good tears, though.” “This one is life, Ms. Ruiz.”
I provided a pad of post-its near each essay and told students to leave POSITIVE feedback for each other. I provided sentence stems to help:
Something I liked…
Something I can relate to/agree with…
Something that surprised me…
Something I want to know more about…
I really think…
I periodically checked to make sure no one was being inappropriately critical or just leaving cute hearts or check marks. I wanted students to think about what they were reading, and understand that feedback is a crucial part of the writing process
After about 40 minutes, each essay had received multiple written comments, looking similar to the picture below:
Overall, the feedback was uplifting and actually created a sense of belonging in each class. Students told me they learned so much about each other that day and were shocked by their classmates’ writing. A few said they wished they had written this essay sooner.
Sample Student Work
I was floored by some of the essays I received. Some made me laugh, some made me gasp, some made me cry. Compared to the typical papers I usually assign, this essay allowed my students to not just think about what they were writing but to care about their writing and to be intentional in the language they were using, both in word choice and rhetorical strategies, because it was about what they believe. It is some of the strongest student writing I have ever received as an English teacher.
Here are some sample paragraphs from students who gave me permission to share their work:
From a student who told me he hates school and hates writing.
From a student who by all outward appearances, comes from a traditional family.
From a student battling depression and anxiety.
From a student who missed almost a whole semester but is trying to stay in school.
Although this essay helped end the year with a strong sense of community, I think teachers could easily have students write it at the beginning of the school year or even in January at the start of a new year. I’d love to hear how other teachers have used an essay like this in their classes. ♦
Have you taught a lesson or designed a learning experience we should feature in Power Lessons? Send a full description of your lesson through our contact form and we’ll check it out!
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Tags: English language arts , lesson planning , power lessons
Cynthia and Jennifer, Thank you for sharing this Power Lesson; it’s one I plan on “borrowing” for sure in January. I love the connection built during the gallery walk. I can imagine this being truly powerful for all students. Well done!
I LOVE this!! I will use this in the Spring with my students. The excerpts in the blog post were so personal. I hope the students realize what a gift they shared.
Tonya, I agree. I’m always so grateful when students are willing to let us see their work here!
I love this assignment. I use it every semester with Public Speaking students, following a similar brainstorm and drafting process. Since the assignment comes from a radio program, my students audio record themselves, and our celebration of the work happens through hearing each student read the essay. Very powerful hearing their voices!
Ruth, thanks so much for taking the time to share this idea. I’m sure lots of teachers will love how audio enriches this assignment.
Thank you for sharing the students’ samples. Writing is such a great way to express oneself and when you make it personal students are engaged. ❤️ it! I am thinking about adding it as my last assignment for my 3rd graders!
Thank you for sharing, especially the students’ work samples.This will help inspire my students to share important details about their lives. Might I also recommend an excellent book I purchased used recently: Reading, Writing and Rising Up (by Linda Christensen)
I like this writing strategy. Last week I started something similar with my Arabic students. In groups of 3 to 4 students, they wrote stories (Brainstorm, first draft…) They started writing their final draft(with illustrations and drawings) on the butcher paper. On Monday, they will hang it on the wall and they will give each other feed back wile walking and reading each other’s essays. The problem with the foreign languages students writing is that they have brilliant ideas in English, but they cannot express them in Arabic or French… My questions is the following: Is there a way to adapt this writing strategy to World Languages students with taking into consideration the limited students’ language levels.
I love this assignment. I use at the end of the year with my seniors. I tell them to focus on a belief that they have formed over their past years of school and that will guide them as they make steps on their next journey — college, military, work, etc. Every year I am awed by the thought and pride they take in it. Their voices shine through the papers. The emotions, ranging from joy to sadness or humor to regret, overtake their essay making each both personal and universal. I also always write one that I individualize for each class and how they have shaped or firmed one of my own beliefs.
I love this, especially as a way to “re-enter” in January! I hope that I can use it effectively with my middle schoolers. Thank you so much for sharing this!
YES!! This was my first lesson in my first year of teaching and it completely set the tone for the rest of the year. The work I received from eleven year olds blew my mind, and I even submitted(with their permission) a few pieces to be published because they were that deep. Bravo to this I believe essays & sharing lessons like this with other educators.
Did you find that you had to add in any scaffolds/support for students? I want to try this with my 7th graders who really struggle with writing and getting started with ideas.
This looks like a fabulous project and one I am keen to try out next semester.
I, too, have been doing this assignment for a few years now. It is my favorite assignment of the year. I teach 8th grade English and I have my students share their essays aloud. We sit in a circle and listen to each student share his/her belief. It is powerful. We laugh. We cry. We learn. Having students write for an audience of their peers is challenging for them, but so rewarding in the end.
This looks great for January. I noticed that the This I Believe website has a high school curriculum for sale for $20. Has anyone used it? Is it worth it? Necessary?
This reminds me of an assignment I had in high school. It was called our “Capstone,” and was a year-long process (12th grade). We first chose three things that were important to our lives: a person, a place, and an event. Over the first semester we wrote about these in three separate papers. Then come second semester we had to connect them with a metaphor, and put together a 20 minute presentation that connected everything. It really allowed students to get creative while expressing what was most important to us.
Do you happen to have an example of this still? It sounds AWESOME and I would love to do it with my 8th graders!
Your students’ essays are beautiful, authentic and inspiring, as I am sure your teaching is. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for the lesson. I like this idea for journaling too!
A brilliant idea! Thanks!
Thanks for sharing and including student work examples. Essays like this are a great way to get to know students at a deeper level and could also make a good college entrance essay!
Thank you for sharing this. Inspirational and heartfelt writing from young people.
This is so inspiring and beautiful. Thank you so much, both of you for sharing this power lesson. I was lookibng for a writing task muy ss could include in their e-Portafolio. Can’t wait to try it!! Thank you again!!
I know this might be simplistic, but could you share more about the vocabulary devices?
Hi, April! For the vocabulary devices, I’m referring to adding similes, metaphors, hyperboles, imagery, etc. We usually practice devices like anaphora and asyndeton in my advanced classes, so those can also be used. One of my favorite lines this year was: “I mean, I thought a step stool would do the job but instead it was like climbing a 20 foot ladder just to finish my goal…” We talked about how using a vocab device is more powerful than “I worked really hard.” Hope that helps! Cheers!
This is sooooo great!! I love it!!!!!
I love this. Has anyone tried it at the start if the year? Are students willing to write about such personal experiences and beliefs with a teacher and classmates that they don’t know well?
Hi Lizzie! I work for Cult of Pedagogy, but I’m replying as a teacher. I teach college level freshman comp and I started my previous semester with this essay. Because it was the beginning of the year, I didn’t do a gallery walk; it was more of a practice assignment to get used to the flow of papers and feedback. They had to bring in a rough draft for in-class workshops, so I made sure they knew a few of their classmates would be reading what they wrote. For extra credit, I offered them the chance to record their paper as a “podcast” and post it on YouTube. I was blown away by how in-depth most of them went! In fact, I’m starting my fall semester with it again.
I love this assignment in the spring for senior English. Generally, kids are appreciative that we’re doing the final writing assignment about something that is ‘real world legit’. I’ve always been impressed by their level of attention (and attendance),as our gallery walk happens on the last day of their English class in June.
Hi! This looks like a fantastic lesson and I would love to try it with one of my English classes. I noticed that your writing guidelines link is no longer available. Is there anyway I could get this information? Thanks Kelsey
Hi Kelsey! Thanks for letting us know about the link. This was a guest post and we will be happy to reach out to Cynthia to see if she has a current link to the writing guidelines. If so, we’ll get that updated on the post as soon as we can. Thanks again!
I was wondering about the guidelines as well. I teach in China and we are out of school right now for Chinese New Year, so I would love to have this when we return in February. Thanks for your help!
Hi Karen & Kelsey! I wanted to follow up on your request for the guidelines to let you know that Jenn no longer has access to them. If you haven’t already done so, Jenn recommends to check out the writing guidelines posted on NPR. I hope this helps!
I teach a course called Theory of Knowledge. One of the concepts we study is ‘faith’ as a way of knowing or gaining knowledge. I remember the “This I believe” series on the radio and then NPR. I have my students read several of the essays from the website and a few I copy from one of the books published. Then, they brainstorm and write their own essays. This spring, right before the Covid shutdown, one of my students committed suicide. I had returned his essay to him only days before; he’d written about the importance of love and relationships in life. Being able to share his essay with his mother and brother (who I had also taught) was a gift for all of us. I think the inspiration to have students write these essays was somehow a preparation for this sad experience. I like the suggestions here and may use the sentence stems to help those who struggle to get started.
Hello! I want to say that I had some difficulties in writing essays and statements. When I entered college, the first thing I encountered was writing a quality application.
thanks for sharing, this is really useful information for me!
thanks for sharing informative!
This looks like an amazing lesson plan and although it is late in the year I will try to use it. could you please send the grading rubric you used?
Hi, there! Because this post was written so long ago,we have unfortunately lost touch with the author, Cynthia Ruiz. From what we understand, she is no longer in the classroom. However, you may be able to connect with her on Twitter by clicking on the Twitter icon at the top of the post underneath Cynthia’s name.
If you are looking to create your own rubric, the section of this post called Assignment Guidelines links to the NPR website where Cynthia found the writing guidelines that she used as a basis for her own. In addition, there is another Cult of Pedagogy post on the single-point rubric , which you might find useful. I hope this helps!
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Listen... a sound collage from This I Believe from NPR
About this i believe.
This I Believe was an international project engaging people in writing, sharing, and discussing the core values that guide their daily lives. These short statements of belief, written by people from all walks of life, are archived online in perpetuity. Selected essays aired on National Public Radio from 2005 to 2009, and were collected in a New York Times bestselling book; further collections of NPR-aired essays were also published.
Atlantic Public Media served as the independent production team for the long-running and acclaimed NPR series, This I Believe .
Jay Allison was the curator. Viki Merrick was editor. The series also produced best-selling books which are still used in schools and colleges today.
Listen... Eboo Patel on This I Believe
In 2005 and 2006, USA Weekend invited its readers to participate in the project and published selected essays from their readers. Numerous local public radio stations, newspapers, and magazines have featured essays from citizens in their communities. In 2008 Atlantic Public Media helped Madhu Acharya create a Nepali version of This I Believe .
The series spawned an outreach structure to bring this program to the attention of schools and other community groups, and the books have become popular with “one book, one community” projects.
The project was based on the popular 1950s radio series of the same name hosted by Edward R. Murrow.
Listen... Dennis Downey on This I Believe
- More audio stories from This I Believe at NPR’s website
- License This I Believe at PRX
Expect Unexpected Engagement When you try Hexagonal Thinking in ELA
Listen to my latest podcast episode:.
- https://traffic.libsyn.com/sparkcreativity/Thursday_Alone_full_show.mp3 00:00
076: You’ll Love the “This I Believe” Writing Project
- October 16, 2019
This weekend I spent three days in Richmond, Virginia in my first ever experience as a keynote speaker. It was delightful to get to meet so many wonderful educators and hear about their work. As I watched two young teachers spending all their free time at the conference planning a Halloween escape room to engage their 8th graders, I was reminded for the millionth time how much I believe in teachers. How much I wish our system believed in each teacher and put their work and their artistry above scripts, standardized tests, and purchased programs.
I found myself itching to write a manifesto about this, and it reminded me of the This I Believe essays I wrote years ago with my students in Bulgaria. So today, I want to share this writing project with you, and show you the simple steps you can take to launch a high-engagement personal writing project that culminates in a public performance of student work. This was one of my favorite writing units that I’ve ever done, and it’s an ideal way to help juniors and seniors with college essays too. So let’s get into it.
Read on, or listen in on the podcast player below, or on iTunes , Blubrry , or Stitcher .
I love so many things about NPR, but their This I Believe radio series is right up there in the top tier. In this series, NPR invited people to write short essays explaining a dearly held belief, using specific, detailed stories to give evidence for their belief.
These beliefs varied hugely, and were not always the big picture idealized beliefs you might expect. “ Be Cool to the Pizza Dude ” and “ Find a Good Frog ” (written by a 9th grader) are both featured on the This I Believe project website , which has extended the project into the present.
So how does this all translate into the classroom? Funny you should ask.
Setting up the Project
You can begin by playing a few of the recorded essays from the site and talking about what makes the pieces so colorful and fun to read or hear. Explain that you’ll be doing a lot of writing and discussion about what matters to your students prior to writing essays of their own and eventually performing them in a live radio-style show.
Then you can move into reflective prompts from the free NPR curriculum set or prompts of your own devising to get students to think about their own strong beliefs, discuss them in small groups or with partners, and begin different types of reflective and personal narrative writing.
For example, you might:
- Ask students to journal on prompts like: What advice about life do you think you would give to your own children, based on your experiences so far? What’s one experience you’ve had that changed the way you look at the world? Who do you most admire and why? What’s your motto? What’s something you’ve learned from your family over the years? Have you ever read a book, heard a song, or watched a movie that made you think about life differently? Why?
- Invite students to participate in small group discussions around prompts like: What’s your favorite quotation and why? What do you wish everyone in the world would agree on and do? What’s unfair in the world and what could be done about it?
- Try a #makewriting project in which students first build the answer to the question “what do you care most about?” using loose parts, then reflect on what they’ve made and why they care so much about it.
- Ask students to find a photograph from their phones that shows an important moment in their lives. Have them talk to a partner about the image and why that moment felt important, and what it shows about what they care about.
- Play “The Truth about Me” as a class
- Read a short piece of memoir and try a six-word memoir project , then dive into some aspect of the six-word memoir in search of a key belief, either in writing or with small groups or partners
Once you have spent several days thinking and talking about beliefs as well as building community, share the This I Believe essay guidelines with your students and let them begin drafting final essays.
Prepping for the Performance Event
Along the way, students can choose a committee to join to help prepare for the final performance event.
I divided students into the following committees, based on their interests:
- P.R. (these folks worked on programs, inviting guests, and capturing photos and ideas from the event to share out afterwards)
- Event Planning (these folks worked on food and drinks, designing the space, and decorating it)
- M.C. /Tech (these folks figured out lights and speakers and made sure we had a working microphone, then they supplied either an M.C. or cohosts for the show to welcome everyone and close the show)
The Big Day
On the day of our final performances, we gathered with our guests in the main entryway of our building, where seating, fun decor, a mic, and food were ready to go. The students performed their pieces (or in many cases, performed others’ pieces so they felt more comfortable in front of the crowd) as the class and guests watched and cheered them on. The M.C.s hosted the event, the P.R. committee took photos, and the event planning group made sure there were some treats on hand and cleaned up after the shows.
To help keep kids focused during the event, I recommend you either have them vote for their top three essays (with reasons to back up their choices) or fill out several compliment cards you can hand out later to the writers. This is a nice reminder to pay attention without feeling onerous, since it just contributes to a culture of appreciation for what their peers are doing.
You don’t really need to grade the performances, though you could make it a nominal grade if you’re worried some kids won’t take it seriously. You’ll get the actual essays that you can read and comment on afterwards. Mostly, it’s a fun day to celebrate the work of the students and build a community as everyone shares beliefs that really matter to them – some funny, some serious.
I encouraged the students to send their work in to the This I Believe project, and two were published online. Unfortunately, the website is no longer accepting work, but you might consider encouraging students to send them to the local newspaper or the school newspaper, or you could put up your own This I Believe blog at your school and publish all the essays there, or even publish the essays into a binder in the library that kids can continue to add to year after year. This will turn into a great resource as the project continues.
These essays can also make quality springboards for the college essay process. This personal and reflective writing is an ideal beginning to thinking about how to represent themselves to their future colleges.
As I said earlier, I started to think back on this project after my weekend at VATE, so here’s the This I Believe essay I’ve been pondering myself since then…
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My "This I Believe" is one of students' favorite units (College Writing – juniors and seniors). There are some phenomenal exemplar texts that we use in conjunction with our syntax unit. But, most importantly, I wanted to say how much I appreciate the sentiments expressed in your own essay. It's a wonderful model to write alongside your students. Thank you!
Thank you, TJ!
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This I Believe Essay Examples + Writing Tips
Table of Contents
If you want to create a successful paper, follow these writing tips:
- Tell an interesting story . Describe to readers when your belief was formed and how it made you feel. Your story doesn’t have to force people to get this belief too but remember it should be real. Tie your essay to your life and share your belief truly. Only in this case, you have all the chances to impress readers with a very interesting story.
- Do not write too much . Make an essay about 400-600 words. It shouldn’t be too long, so it’s important to put only the most bright facts and fill your writing with your thoughts without creating a long manuscript. Read your finished document aloud – it should take not more than 3-4 minutes. Find successful This I Believe essay examples to understand how you should build your document.
- Make sure you have named your belief . Focus on your belief when you are writing a paper and name it in a couple of sentences. Without this, you will write a paper about anything else but not about your belief. Concentrate on the most important things because you don’t have a lot of space to write a lot.
- Write from the first person . Create an essay about your belief and don’t jump to things other people should do. Your task is to tell a story from your own life without connecting it to any social ideas or beliefs.
- Write positively . Avoid mentioning things you don’t believe. Try to not include in a This I Believe essay any preaching, editorializing, or religious things. Concentrate on yourself and you will find the right words to express your feelings.
How to Write a This I Believe Essay?
So, now you know more about this paper and we’re going to provide you with useful tips on how to write a This I Believe essay:
- Choose a topic for your future essay (see hints on brainstorming good ideas in the next paragraph).
- Analyze your own life and fins facts and ideas that confirm and proof this strong belief in something.
- Choose the most powerful from these ideas and create an outline for your future paper.
- Create a paper following the outline.
- Proofread your essay thoroughly to find and correct misprints and errors. If you’re not strong in grammar, use online programs or ask someone more experienced for help.
Like any other essay, it must have a good structure. Here is a good scheme on choosing a This I Believe essay format :
- The hook to grab the readers’ attention.
- The statement of your belief.
- Describe the event, time and place when it happened, the main characters, and reasons.
- Describe your thoughts after the event happened. What has changed in your beliefs and why this experience was so much important for you?
- Explain shortly why your experience is important.
- Mention how others can use this experience.
5 Hints to Brainstorm Great This I Believe Essay Ideas
Many students feel lost when they have to write this paper because they have no idea where to get successful This I Believe essay ideas. Follow these simple hints to get more interesting ideas:
- Write the list of words or ideas that describes your life.
- Write the list of the most memorable moments of your life.
- Think about who influenced your life mostly.
- Write the list of the greatest achievements in your life.
- Write the list of your dreams.
You can use all these techniques or choose the one. After you have made a list, brainstorm these ideas and think about what could become the main thought of your future essay. Just focus on yourself, your feelings and your thoughts, and you will find something to write about with passion!
30 Inspiring This I Believe Essay Topics
Read these inspiring and interesting This I Believe essay topics and create your paper without wasting a lot of time:
- I believe our planet can be cleaner and brighter.
- I believe friendship is the most important thing a person can get.
- I believe family is the greatest thing people can make.
- I believe that I can overcome my fears and reach all of my goals.
- I believe people all over the world can be more kind and soft.
- I believe that we need to use the Internet less and spend time with friends instead.
- I believe in future people can fly to Mars.
- I believe that real love couldn’t be forgotten.
- I believe in magical things that can happen to anyone.
- I believe that I can graduate from college and get a job.
- I believe in my parents, who are the closest people to me.
- I believe only in good people around.
- I believe that anything is possible because it depends only on me.
- I believe that dead people can listen to us from the skies.
- I believe I can invent something good for people in the future.
- I believe that all the magical things from books will appear in reality sooner or later.
- I believe I can find a way to my success.
- I believe that God will save our planet from bad things.
- I believe I can earn money and travel around the world someday.
- I believe I can help others becoming a doctor.
- I believe every person on earth has its mission.
- I believe in kindness, honesty, and faith.
- I believe in my dreams.
- I believe in great ideas even if they seem a bit crazy.
- I believe that sports can turn anyone into a good-looking person.
- I believe that someday we will be able to study in sleep.
- I believe in technical progress.
- I believe in love because I had a great experience once.
- I believe in the future teachers will be replaced with robots.
- I believe I can do my best in college and get good grades only.
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