Spoken Word: Audio Recording This I Believe Essays
What do you believe in? Why?
What experiences from your life serve as an illustration of your belief?
How can audio essays impact voice in your writing?
- Students will analyze spoken word essay models for content and speech delivery.
- Students will engage in the writing process to compose their own essay.
- Students will record their own spoken essay, focusing on delivery to enhance the voice of the essay.
Lesson Context / Summary
This lesson offers a sequence to engage students in exploring the essay genre This I Believe as a model in order to compose their own essay and create their own audio recording of a spoken essay. Workshop time for composing, peer responding, revising, and editing, is not built into this lesson sequence. Rather, this lesson offers a frame to get started with this work and will need to be modified to meet student needs.
Invite students to engage in a quick write and then pair share their ideas.
Quick write: What do you believe in? Why?
Pair share: Share your ideas with a partner or two.
Tell students that there is a popular writing opportunity called This I Believe, where people write an essay to share their belief and illustrate that belief through anecdotes and stories. Details about the history of This I Believe are available through the This I Believe website.
As a class, listen to a recorded essay from This I Believe. One example, students often enjoy is Tony Hawk’s essay “Do What You Love”. There are many other wonderful essays to review, including pieces from a variety of famous people, powerful speakers, or writers from your city or state. You can search for people or topics when exploring essays.
As a class, share reactions to the essay focused on both content and delivery.
Students may find it helpful to annotate the essay while listening to it to make notes about content and delivery.
Students can continue to explore models independently or in small groups. Additionally, they can share reactions in class discussion or in a print response to the teacher or in an online class discussion forum. Invite students to complete the following:
Listen to more This I Believe essays. You can search for specific people (specific people or by location) or topic of the essay.
Respond to one of the This I Believe essays that you listened to. Name the essay and explain what you appreciated about the essay in terms of content and delivery. You may also explain what puzzled you about the essay or what might not have worked for you as a reader.
React to the genre: What did you find interesting about the This I Believe essays? What stood out to you? How does the audio of the essay impact the essay? How might knowledge that you are writing a spoken essay impact your writing process? Why?
Brainstorming for your This I Believe essay
Invite students to review the writing invitation from This I Believe. Additional writing suggestions can also be reviewed.
Some students may know what they want to write about and others may get ideas from the writing models. Others may also appreciate other brainstorming options. One option is to discuss beliefs from Charlie Brown in an open-discussion or a four-corner (strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree) debate. Other lesson resources are available from ReadWriteThink.
Students will compose and revise your own This I Believe Essay.
Students will record their own This I Believe essay. Students can record using a variety of audio recording applications. A free program that also offers students opportunity to edit their work and piece several audio clips together is Audacity.
As a class, you may also decide to make the entire essay into your class broadcast or radio show like the examples from the This I Believe website as highlighted by National Public Radio. A class collaborative introduction can include each class member stating their belief. This can be followed by an individual introduction to the writer, the essay, a closing thank you to the writer, and a class closing that cites any music used in the audio recording.
Assessment / Reflection
Students will publish their complete spoken essay on a class website or blog space. Or you might explore the Youth Voices community as a space to engage student in collaborative discussion with other youth.
Students will also be invited to respond to their classmate’s essays.
If RSS is used on the website where you publish the work, then the audio can be obtained via subscription, making the work your class podcast.
Students will compose a reflection focused on their learning about genre study, the writing process, and the role of spoken essays in their composition experience.
Compose a 1 page minimum typed reflection with specific examples explaining what you learned from the spoken essay This I Believe project.
Be sure to consider the following:
Writing invitation: You were invited to compose an essay that is part of a larger speaking invitation. What was your experience exploring this genre and writing to this invitation? What worked well for you? What puzzled you?
Spoken Essay: Describe your experience working with audio recording and editing. What worked well for you? What was a challenge? Why? What did you have to think about in terms of pacing, variety in speech, emphasis with voice?
Audience: What impact does a larger audience have on your work?
Focus areas for evaluation of This I Believe Spoken Essay
This I Believe essay (350 to 500 words) follows guidelines including that the essay focuses on a belief, represents a personal statement of belief, maintains a positive tone, provides clear examples are given to support the belief. The essay provides a clear overall point or message.
Essay is turned in typed and in audio format.
Essay includes clear, specific, detailed information which proves the relevance of the belief to the speaker are present in the essay and conveyed through the speaking voice of the presenter. The essay and spoken performance has logical progressions and clear transitions.
Developed essay shows speakers’ unique style and voice. Essay is edited (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics do not disrupt readability)
The speaker’s voice shows interest and appropriate emotion to compliment speech. Rate, volume and variety complement the speech.
Response to other speeches
Thoughtful and specific response to other speeches shared with speaker through a discussion blog comment.
Final Reflection on Podcasting Project
Reflection explains what the speaker learned from sharing their work with a larger audience, developing a speech focusing solely on voice, being a part of a larger project through This I Believe, recording, editing and podcasting an essay.
Extension / Homework
Students can respond to classmate essays via small group work or online discussion. Students will need class time or time and time to work on essays outside of class.
Students may continue to explore recording audio clips of their work or they might explore their own radio show with essays, interviews, discussion and more.
Students will need time to complete this work, including revision. Often students find the process of recording their voice inspires them to rework ideas and phrasing for their essay.
A few examples of previous This I Believe essays in classrooms can be found in the following spaces.
Other reflections and writing on this work
Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.
Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
Although we are no longer accepting new essays on our website, we thought we would share these essay writing suggestions in case you wished to write an essay for your own benefit. Writing your own statement of personal belief can be a powerful tool for self-reflection. It can also be a wonderful thing to share with family, friends, and colleagues. To guide you through this process, we offer these suggestions:
Tell a story about you: Be specific. Take your belief out of the ether and ground it in the events that have shaped your core values. Consider moments when belief was formed or tested or changed. Think of your own experience, work, and family, and tell of the things you know that no one else does. Your story need not be heart-warming or gut-wrenching—it can even be funny—but it should be real. Make sure your story ties to the essence of your daily life philosophy and the shaping of your beliefs.
Be brief: Your statement should be between 500 and 600 words. That’s about three minutes when read aloud at your natural pace.
Name your belief: If you can’t name it in a sentence or two, your essay might not be about belief. Also, rather than writing a list, consider focusing on one core belief.
Be positive: Write about what you do believe, not what you don’t believe. Avoid statements of religious dogma, preaching, or editorializing.
Be personal: Make your essay about you; speak in the first person. Avoid speaking in the editorial “we.” Tell a story from your own life; this is not an opinion piece about social ideals. Write in words and phrases that are comfortable for you to speak. We recommend you read your essay aloud to yourself several times, and each time edit it and simplify it until you find the words, tone, and story that truly echo your belief and the way you speak.
For this project, we are also guided by the original This I Believe series and the producers’ invitation to those who wrote essays in the 1950s. Their advice holds up well. Please consider it carefully in writing your piece.
In introducing the original series, host Edward R. Murrow said, “Never has the need for personal philosophies of this kind been so urgent.” We would argue that the need is as great now as it was 65 years ago.