Review by Jennifer Sitkin, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2014

This I Believe

Long-running radio show, curriculum help students explore core values

Subjects & skills
  • Arts
  • English Language Arts

  • Character & SEL
  • Communication & Collaboration
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
Great for:
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (2 Reviews)

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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. Most of all, have your students submit their essays to the website -- the possibility of a genuine audience is sure to boost enthusiasm! Teachers might want to take it a step further by promoting the program as a school-wide activity, whether for common assessment, an essay contest, or purely for its own intrinsic value.

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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. Students are also encouraged to submit their essays to the site for review. Those that meet the site's guidelines will be posted as part of the online collection, as well as considered for radio broadcast.

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 -- 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. There are a variety of instructional strategies 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.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

A focus on values, beliefs, and life experiences brings personal relevance to students' writing. The instructional activities should pique students' interest and encourage self-exploration.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Lessons and content are age-appropriate and include detailed procedures with all of the required materials. Pre-writing activities help students develop and craft their own personal-belief essay.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

An educator's FAQ page provides helpful information about how students can submit essays. Teachers and students can also contact the site directly for further assistance.

Common Sense Reviewer
Jennifer Sitkin Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

(See all 2 reviews) (2 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Larry J. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
El Diamante High School
Visalia, CA
A great source for essays on values.
This is always one of my favorite essays of the year. I learn so much about my students right off the bat, and the sheer variety of essays available here helps them to see that the five-paragraph essay is only one of many, many possible forms. The essays on this website serve as a bridge to greater freedom of expression. They also help students understand how crucial values are as we are confronted with important decisions in life. As a teaching tool, I find this website easy to navigate, and the wide array of topics ensure that my students will find something that speaks to them. In particular, I like that I can download individual audio files, as I've had a few lessons hindered by internet problems. One final note: I've had a number of students submit their essays to the site, and all have been accepted for their archives. I don't know if that's because my students wrote great essays, or they are just very accommodating. However, the resulting ego boost for my students was quite motivating.
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