Excellent large collection of personal essays on a variety of themes; wonderful for teachers who have time to sift through many essays to find one that is just right for the learning task.
Firstly, I must begin with my personal philosophy that drives this field note and any future field note: Any product is only as good as the teacher who uses it. A good text in the hands of a good teacher can teach volumes. A poor text in the hands of a good teacher can teach volumes. This website offers examples of both. The short length of the pieces allows them to be used frequently as models without overwhelming the precious few minutes of instruction that we are allotted.
Another benefit is that This I Believe features teen authors. I know that my students really respond to teen writing. They like seeing what kids their age can do. The huge collection also practically guarantees that you can find authors and themes that will speak to many audiences.
Because these are personal essays, they tend to work well with teaching narrative and argumentative writing. Some of the essays feature narrative techniques to set up the moment or moments that shaped belief. Since each essay is a statement of belief, the writing features elements of argument. Considering the key shifts called for by the Common Core, these essays are often (but not always) examples of arguments with limited evidence. Personal essay tend to figure first-hand evidence rather than stronger second-hand evidence. So I think they definitely have a place in the classroom. Consider the discussion you can have with kids about what kinds of evidence would strengthen the overall claim.
Sorting by theme is wonderful (and there are SO many!), but I wish that essays could be tagged with writing concepts and skills that are demonstrated in the essay (e.g., figurative language, description, dialogue). That would make this website an utter dreamboat!
How I Use It
I have used This I Believe in a variety of ways in my classroom. Primarily, I have used the texts as writing tools. What I mean is I may take a particular This I Believe essay and share it with the class. Some of the essays are available in audio format as well. This can be super helpful for kids to hear tone while they are still learning how to determine it from words on a page. I use the essays as mentor texts. Mentor texts are anything new or revolutionary; I hope most teachers are using them. Essentially, we look at what writers DO as well as what they SAY. If I see an excellent use of description in a This I Believe essay, I will ask students to break the description down to determine why it is so effective. Then I would invite them to add description at a point in their writing.
I have also used these essays as a jumping off point for argument writing. The essay is transformed into a writing prompt. Generally speaking, I might ask student to summarize the author's point of view and then argue to what extent he/she agrees with the author. A teacher can browse essays by theme. Unfortunately, this can be time-consuming as not as essays will work for a given learning objective.
The website also offers curriculum for middle school, high school, and college. Curriculum costs $19.95 to download as of this writing. I did not pay for it, so I cannot review it.