The idea originally comes from NPR's This I Believe radio broadcasts, which you may be familiar with. The website has hundreds of This I Believe essays on it to pull from.
So here's how I structure this unit. I teach seventh graders, but it is easily adaptable to any age level.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.7.5 Include multimedia components and visual displays in presentations to clarify claims and findings and emphasize salient points.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.7.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
1) Mentor Texts: We read and listen to multiple examples of This I Believe essays from the website. Some of them have recording included. Kevin Washburn calls this "Acquaintance and Analysis" where students have an open discussion about what they like about the writing style. This gets students thinking about HOW this type of essay is written.
Great Mentor Text: I Believe in the Beatles by Macklin Levine
2) Qualities of a This I Believe Essay: In small groups, students make a list of qualities that define this style of writing (memoir/narrative). We combine these small group lists into one class list to refer to as students write. This helps students to define the style of writing that the essay requires.
Looking for Qualities of TIB essay Assignment
3) Pick a Memory: This is often the hardest part of this essay, yet the most crucial. Students need to pick a very vivid memory th base their essay on. This memory drives the belief by having students explain what they learned from this unique event in their lives. It is very hard to write this essay by starting with the "I Believe" statement because that statement should come from the story itself. So, I have students brainstorm several story choices and then narrow their idea down to a very specific part of that story that they remember clearly.
4) Structure of the Essay: I explain to students the basic structure of the essay to give them a framework. This still allows them a lot of freedom with paragraphing and style choices.
- Open with the "I Believe" statement: It should be symbolic of the true belief at the end of the essay. I encourage students to pull an image from the narrative.
- Set Up of the Story: I emphasize that this has to be short; students tend to want to include every irrelevant detail possible.
- The Key Story Moment: I encourage students to zoom in on a specific moment from the memory.
- The True Belief: Students explain the deeper meaning to their story and the symbolism behind the I Believe statement.
6) Modeling: I have my own This I Believe essay that I am crafting along with them. I model for them how I structure my essay (using short paragraphs) and how I incorporate “Show Don’t Tell." I find a place in my own essay to expand sensory imagery and show them my thinking process by writing in front of them.
7) Coaching: Feedback is a vital part of the writing process. This is where I am sure to meet with each student to conference and coach them on how well their essays match the structure framework and push them to think about each element. I limit this essay to no more than 700 words to force a concise approach to the story. I often coach them on how to cut irrelevant details or how to make their I Believe statements symbolic. We also discuss areas of the essay to add Show Don't Tell.
8) Audio Recording: Since the original This I Believe essays are broadcast on the radio, I wanted to add an audio element to this essay. We have a classroom set of Chromebooks, and I needed a web based tool where students could record the essays, so I found Audioboo! I contacted them on twitter, and once I let them know I was an educator, they extended the audio length to 30 minutes instead of three minutes. Bingo! Bonus: Students can also do this on their cell phones using the Audioboo app. I had students record the essays, and then use the embed code to paste the recording into their blog posts. Just like the examples we read for the mentor texts.
This year's blog posts with the audio included
9) Publishing & Reflection: Students published the This I Believe essays to their blogs - check them out here. This allows for students to comment on and read each other's blog posts and share their work. It becomes a great time for reflection to see how each student approached the challenge of explaining their belief in a different way.
Try This Tomorrow! This could be a great way for you to incorporate Memoir/Narrative writing into your class this year. Please let me know if I can provide more details for you. Check out the resources below!
Essays with audio included
Looking for Qualities of TIB essay Assignment
More 7th Grade Student Samples: From our blog last year. Please feel free to share with your students as mentor texts.
A Dog's Life: This is my This I Believe Essay written during Writer's Stylus about Aspen, my bulldog. There is no "I Believe" statement because I decided to remove it at late stages of editing.