On January 25th, I began the process of teaching 8th graders how to write a “This I Believe” essay in 350-500 words. It seemed like a simple task until I realized the magnitude of what I was asking them to discover about themselves, in addition to being able to share that information with me. Although I can’t share the essays with you, I have created a video with true belief statements extracted from the original pieces. I hope this will inspire you to ask yourself what you believe in…go ahead…ask your students, too!
These are the original slides that we created the video from:
I continued with my activities to prepare my 8th graders to write their “This I Believe” personal statement. The first day was spent identifying and defining values along with ranking those values to what was most important to them.
The second day was what I was not prepared for in doing this assignment with my students. I asked students to freewrite about the following questions:
When did you first realize your family loves you?
When did you learn that it is better to tell the truth?
Who was the first person to make you feel invincible?
When did you realize you could be anything you want to be?
When did you learn that life isn’t always fair?
Who taught you that sometimes things don’t work out the way you want them to?
When did you learn that you can’t always get what you want?
How did you learn about the Tooth Fairy, or other characters?
Has anyone ever tested your faith?
Have you ever done something that you regret? What did you learn from that moment?
I read the questions, that I got from the This I Believe curriculum, and when I was finished, the room was silent. Dead silent. Then, a few hands went up. The question that struck me most was, “What if you just realized someone loves you? Can it be recent or does it have to be from when you were a little kid?” With that, I answered by telling them a story about my gram. I always knew that she loved me, but I could remember a specific time when I was a young adult that I truly realized that she loved me. I got teary just telling the story….but what happened next, I was completely unprepared for…
I told the students to answer the questions as best they could on a separate piece of paper, and that they could skip around. Some students sat at the table, some sat on the floor, and others asked to go in the hallway. Once they started writing, I heard sniffling, people getting up for tissues, and some outright sobbing. I was amazed at the power that a question could stir up such emotion. These kids were writing like I’ve never seen…totally focused and engaged. I was overwhelmed by emotion myself as I saw my students “go there” emotionally…and that they were doing it through writing. It dawned on me that they felt safe and secure enough in my class to be that emotionally open. This is what I was completely unprepared for. I never imagined that a little writing exercise could be so powerful to them, and to me, but…I will remember to never underestimate the power of words and the emotional connection that we have to them.
I am beginning a project with my 8th graders based on NPR’s This I Believe. My students are writing about what they believe in 350-500 words. I plan on having them podcast their pieces as well as create an “ipod” ad of themselves that is hosted on our wiki as the final project.
As I introduced the project, some of the students were struggling to define values and choose what five values are the most important to them…certainly a daunting task for 8th graders! I found this amazing podcast on the website that was written by a kindergarten student.
When Tarak McLain’s kindergarten group celebrated their 100th day of class, some kids brought 100 nuts or cotton balls. Tarak brought a list of 100 things he believes. Now a first-grader, Tarak shares his top beliefs about God, life, nature and war.
Click here to listen to his “This I Believe” podcast.
I’ll keep you posted on the progress of my own students’ pieces!