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This I Believe
Pros: Students are engaged on a personal level as they develop Common Core-aligned literacy skills.
Cons: Modifications may be necessary to help ELLs and other struggling readers and writers access the essays and lessons.
Bottom Line: These meaningful, personal stories help strengthen kids' writing skills through a close examination of their values and experiences.
There are a lot of ways you can use This I Believe in your classroom. It would be wise to take some time to explore both the site and the curriculum guides -- decide what's a good fit for your students as well as your teaching style. Some students may find it challenging to explore their values in a school setting; some could be reluctant to share experiences they might feel to be too personal. Before starting, it's a good idea to help prep your students on responsible ways to share and communicate with each other about personal topics and beliefs.
Students will likely benefit from going through the entire lesson sequence provided. In addition to an exploration of personal beliefs, they'll get practice developing some specific writing skills. For example, the handout on composing an effective lead helps students overcome some of the challenges of getting started with the writing process. Teachers might want to promote the program as a schoolwide activity, whether for common assessment, an essay contest, or purely for its own intrinsic value.
The This I Believe website is a companion to the book and radio series of the same name, all of which focus on the writing, sharing, and discussing of people's core beliefs through short personal essays. The site offers background information on the project, as well as featured essays (in both print and audio format). Educator resources on the site include a set of paid curriculum guides for middle school, high school, college, and life-long learners.
Each guide includes a series of lessons that explore the concept of belief and help kids uncover their own personal values. As a culminating activity, students incorporate their work into a specific This I Believe-style personal essay. The site also has posters and brochures to help teachers promote the assignments and activities. Though students are no longer encouraged to submit their essays to the site for review, the site still provides essay writing suggestions.
Students often lament the lack of connection between what they learn in class and the realities of their individual lives and experiences. This almost surely won't be the case, however, with a resource like This I Believe. The lessons here encourage students' engagement by asking them to focus and reflect on their personal experiences, and this allows for a great deal of creativity in the writing process. In one pre-writing activity called "What Do You Think?," students share their opinions on a list of belief statements such as "Life is long" or "Miracles do happen."
The curriculum guides offer great materials to support teachers as they implement a variety of reading and writing lessons. A variety of instructional strategies are offered, each geared toward different learning styles. Students might work in groups, participate in a four-corners activity, complete a quick write, or design a poster. While the lessons come with clear instructions and the final essay is quite structured, teachers could easily adapt the assignments to meet their individual classroom needs. Teachers should be prepared to address the fact that their students are likely to hold and share a variety of values and beliefs -- at times, the program prompts kids to address challenging ideas and issues head-on.