Writing (Teaching) Tip: I Believe Writing Reinforces Content

Looking for a way to have students both write more and engage with content?  Consider assigning a “This I Believe” essay.

If you listen to NPR, you’ve probably heard some of these essays.  Radio host Bob Edwards is a big fan of them.  They’re short (350-500 words, about three spoken minutes), direct (a single theme, no jargon), and personal–not unlike a journal entry polished for a public audience.

As an added bonus, if you require the “official” format, your students can submit their final products to This I Believe, Inc., for possible publication online.  A team reviews submissions (which takes about two months), and those that meet the guidelines appear in a searchable database, which the nonprofit describes as a “community conversation.”  Bob Edwards features one per week on his show.

You could even have your students record their essays as podcasts and post them on Blackboard or elsewhere.

Wanting educators to encourage student participation, This I Believe has published a free, downloadable college curriculum (19 pages!).  It covers the entire writing process, with suggestions for everything from discussion to audience analysis to peer review.  The database of essays doubles as a bank of model papers.

As you might expect, a large number of essays delve into love and family, but the database also delineates themes such as “science,” “democracy,” and “addiction.”   Talking about immigration, prejudice, religion, nature, or social justice in class?  You could assign a few of these short essays as a human-interest warm-up .  On This I Believe’s most viewed list, a postdoc paleoanthropologist talks about evolution, a therapist describes the healing power of play, and magician Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller argues for atheism

Search by name, age, theme, or key word, and you shall find!

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