3 Ways This I Believe Essays Support Writing Instruction

All, Teaching Tips

I was first introduced to the This I Believe book several years ago when it was chosen as the common reader for Morehead State’s First Year Seminar program. I loved it from the first and through the years that love has continued to grow because I find the essay collection so useful for teaching writing. Today I rely on the This I Believe web site, but I continue use “This I Believe” essays every semester for every first year writing class I teach.

Flexible

One of the reasons I first began using TIB was the fact that all my first year students had the book, because it was provided for them by MSU FYS, and even though it was a handy compact volume I could always seem to find essays that worked for the concept or theme I’d decided upon for that lesson.

If we are working on literacy narratives then some of my favorite essays include:

If we are working on our American Creeds then we work with:

If are focused on critical thinking and the humanities we work with:

Recently, to expand the ways my students were thinking about their gaming narratives I used:

Obviously you can see some overlap (Gates, Moody, and Morris appear multiple times) but that flexibility is one of the things I most love about using TIB essays as writing prompts and conversation starters.

Arguments

In recent years, strongly influenced by my work with the National Writing Project’s College, Career, and Community Writers Program, I have made argument a part of every writing assignment in my first year writing classes. I focus heavily on teaching compelling, debatable, and defensible claims and I love how TIB essays offer just that. As TIB essays are brief focused arguments they are very easy to read and understand. While I use them with my college students I know many high school teachers who regularly teach with TIB essays and I expect they could also be used in many middle school classes.

Models

TIB essays are good models for students. As noted above, they are short, focused arguments with no extraneous information which makes them great to study. Also, they weave in personal stories and details to support their argument which is a strategy that many student writers struggle to develop in their own writing. I also love that TIB essays offer writers a recipe rather than formula. I know many developing writers like a structure to follow, but I am loathe to teach a formula because I know that can hinder their growth and development as writers. However, TIB is great because it does offer a structure, but there are so many different examples that students can see how different writers interpret that recipe. I also like that these essays feel more comfortable and accessible to my students. Somehow this essay collection feels more approachable than many others I have used through the years.

I love teaching TIB essays because they are flexible arguments and models that are accessible to my students. That accessibility is true in many ways. Students can listen to the authors read their essays as well as read the text and students do not need to buy a book which means I get to be textbook-free! And bonus – TIB essays are authentic writing in every way with a real world audience (if you choose) and deeply personal topic. Do you teach with This I Believe essays? What do you like about teaching with This I Believe essays?

4 comments

  • i started using TIB essays when I taught a class called “Storytelling” in the Newark Public School District. I started the students off with an exercise in which they had to write a letter to a younger sibling, or their 11-year-old selves telling the child what they needed to know to live well. (In my students mind this translates into “to survive.”)

    90% of the letters I received began with the line: “Trust no one.”

    I managed to get most of them passed this reflexive beginning to get some truly wonderful essays, but this initial exercise made me incredibly sad.

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