Giving Voice to Students Through "This I Believe" Podcasts

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Ten 50-minute sessions
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According to the National Public Radio website, the "This I Believe" series is "a national media project engaging people in writing, sharing, and discussing the core values and beliefs that guide their daily lives." In this lesson, students participate by writing and recording their own essays. Students first complete a series of activities designed to get them thinking and writing about their experiences. They then write, read, and record their essays for a class blog. The final activity has students comment on each other's work. Designed specifically for disabled students, the lesson also includes suggestions for use in inclusive classrooms.

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From Theory to Practice

There are many reasons for "extending ideas about literacy and for teaching with new technologies and mass media" including the "prevalence of electronic media and popular culture in students' lives," the importance of making home—school connections, and also simply the fact that these extensions can make both learning and teaching more fun and interesting.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet access

  • Speakers, microphone, and headphones (optional)

  • LCD projector (optional)

  • Digital voice recording software, such as Audacity




1. This lesson is designed for use with students who have disabilities. Modifications for use in an integrated classroom are included at the end of each session. The lesson also includes suggested alternatives for students whose parents do not permit them to post to a class blog (see Session 6 to 9).

2. Begin by visiting the This I Believe, Inc. website and reading through it to understand the format and history of these audio essays. You should select three or four essays to share with your students (see Session 4); you can find them either by visiting the Essays New and Old page or the Search Essay Database page. In addition, visit the Basic English webpage and choose three or four essays to share with students during Session 5. Ideally, you will share these essays by playing the audio versions on a classroom or lab computer that has speakers; you may also choose to print the essays and make copies for your students.

3. From the This I Believe in the Classroom page, click on the Download Curriculum link and print the PDF file. You will need a copy of page 21, which is titled “Things I Have Learned About Life,” for each student in your class.

4. Check with your school’s Internet policies to ensure that you and your students can view and post to a blog and so that you are familiar with any rules or restrictions on use. Use a site like Edublogs or Blogger to set up a classroom blog that students will use to post their podcasts and comment on each other’s work. (Both sites allow you to create blogs that only invited members can view.)

5. Print off the Creating, Editing, and Posting Podcasts handout and review it. Arrange to use recording software such as Audacity, which can be downloaded for free. (See Judge Memorial Catholic High School: Audacity Tutorials or Audacity: Tutorials for tips on its use.) You may want to create your own essay and use it to practice recording a podcast and posting it to the blog. To record, you will need a microphone, either one that plugs in or is built into your computer.

6. You will need at least one computer with Internet access to share and record essays (see Sessions 4 through 9). In addition, it is best for students to use computers to draft their essays during Session 5 and to comment on each other’s work during Session 10. If necessary, arrange to use your school’s computer lab during these sessions.

7. You will use the following statements during Session 1:
  • I like having a disability.

  • My friends know I have a disability

  • I tell others about my disability

  • I hate being in special education classes

  • Having a disability will impact my life after I graduate
You may choose to write them on a piece of chart paper or on the board. Cover the statements with a large piece of paper, revealing them to students as you read them.

8. Print off and make copies of The Top 10 Lessons I Learned From Charlie Brown, Two Belief Statements, and the Blog Permission Slip for each student in your class. Make one copy of the Five Belief Topics handout for every two students in your class; these can be cut in two.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Interpret their own experiences by responding to a series of statements and writing prompts designed to get them thinking about what they believe

  • Examine the experiences of other people by reading and listening to short essays

  • Think critically about what makes a strong essay by developing a list of criteria and applying it to their own and other people's work

  • Synthesize what they have learned by writing, revising, and recording their own essays

  • Practice responding to and providing authentic feedback by commenting on each other's work

  • Use technology for authentic purposes by participating in an online community

Session 1

Before class starts, use signs to label one side of the room Agree and the other side Disagree. Move furniture so that students can easily group around the signs.

1. Have student stand in between the two signs, telling them they should bring a journal or notebook and a writing utensil with them.

2. Tell students that you are going to read a statement. They should think about it before responding. Depending on their stance, they should move to the side of the room labeled Agree or Disagree. Read the first statement from the list in Preparation, Step 7.

3. Once all students have chosen a side, give them five minutes to write about why they agree or disagree with the statement.

4. Have students share their reasons with one another. If you have large groups, tell students to break into smaller groups of three or four. Allow another five minutes for them to share.

5. After time is up, ask for volunteers from each side to share why they made the choice that they did.

6. Have all students move back to the middle of the room and repeat with the remaining statements as time permits.

Modification for integrated classrooms
Follow the same steps for this session using the statements from page 14 of the This I Believe in the Classroom curriculum dowload.

Session 2

1. Pass out The Top 10 Lessons I Learned From Charlie Brown handout. Read aloud, pausing after each lesson to allow students to respond to the following prompts:

a. It’s okay to be afraid. What are some of your fears? Which one, if any, is holding you back?

b. Persistence wins out. Tell about a time that you refused to give up.

c. It’s what you think of yourself that matter most. What do you think about yourself at this very moment?

d. Sometimes you need to talk. Who do you turn to when you need to talk? Do you have a special place that you like to go?

e. Sometimes everyone needs to listen. What makes you a good listener?

f. Do what you love to do. What do you love to do?

g. It’s important to have friends that care. Who are the friends that you know care about you?

h. Big dreams lead to big things. What are your two biggest dreams?

i. Action creates reality. Tell about a time that you took action and it paid off.

j. Laugh every day. What three things make you laugh?

2. Ask students to share their responses if they would like to.

3. Distribute “Things I Have Learned About Life” (see Preparation, Step 3) to students. Students should read silently and choose two statements that they either agree with or understand. Have them share their thinking about the statements with a partner.

4. Hold a group discussion having students share their thinking. Ask questions such as:
  • Can you give an example of how this statement relates to your life or that of someone you know?

  • When have you experienced this?

  • Is this statement easy or hard to do? Why?
5. Have students write three things that they have learned about having a disability using the same phrase I have learned to begin each sentence.

Modification for integrated classrooms
This session can be followed as it is written with the exception of Step 4, which should be left open-ended instead of referring to disabilities.

Session 3

1. Start by having students discuss the things they wrote about during Sessions 1 and 2.

2. Pass out the Five Belief Topics handout. Explain to students that they should write about what they believe it is like to have a disability. While students are working, circulate and review each student’s work, verifying that they are developing strong, coherent belief statements. Offer assistance as needed.

3. Have students pair up and share their fives topics. They should discuss which two statements are the most powerful and why. If students have trouble with this step, ask questions such as:
  • Which belief means the most to you? Why?

  • Which has universal meaning (can be understood by the most people)? Why?

  • Which statement do you think others would agree with? Why?
4. Pass out the Two Belief Statements handout. Students should fill these in using the two statements they have selected as their strongest beliefs. They should keep these sheets; they will use them during Session 5.

Modification for integrated classrooms
Have students think about things that they strongly believe. You can leave this session open ended or narrow it by having students think about what they believe about being a high school student in today’s society.

Session 4

1. Using a computer with speakers, share the examples of “This I Believe” podcasts you have selected (see Preparation, Step 2). If you have printed copies of the essays, distribute them to students to read aloud.

2. After each one, have students give feedback about what they liked and didn’t like about the essay. Write their responses on a T chart you have created on the board or a piece of chart paper.

Homework (Due at the beginning of Session 5): Students should return signed Blog Permission Slips.

Session 5


Using a computer with speakers, share the examples of Basic English podcasts you have selected (see Preparation, Step 2). If you have printed copies of the essays, distribute them to students to read aloud.


After each one, have students share items that they thought made the essay strong (e.g., clear examples to support ideas, powerful verbs; you can guide their responses based on the writing skills you are working on) and what made it weak. Write their responses on a T chart.


Have students return to their Two Belief Statements handouts, and share their statements and reasons with a partner to help select the most engaging and coherent belief statement. If they need help in narrowing the statements, have them talk with a partner about what each statement means to them and the story behind the statement. Explain to them that they probably want to choose the statement about which they have the most to say.


Post the T chart from this session and the previous one where students can see them. Have students take their strongest belief to begin crafting an essay that is similar to the ones they have been listening to and reading. They should start the essay with the words I Believe.


Give students time to finish a draft of their essay. If necessary, assign it for homework.

Modification for integrated classrooms
You may choose to have students look at and listen to more “This I Believe” podcasts or have them look at and listen to podcasts written by students that do not focus on disabilities, such as those found at Digital Voices.

Sessions 6 to 9

Provide feedback on student’s essays before the start of this session. You might have students e-mail the drafts to you on a Friday so that you have time over the weekend to respond. Use the class-created T charts from Sessions 4 and 5 as anchors for your feedback.

From here your students will work at different paces. The work will not neatly fall into sessions, but should take approximately three class sessions to complete. See the Creating, Editing, and Posting Podcasts handout for a detailed explanation of the steps you should be taking to make the podcasts while students continue working on their essays.

1. Distribute the “This I Believe” Podcast Rubric and discuss.

2. Have students revise their essays. This can be done by hand or on the computers and may take some students multiple sessions. Check in with students as they work, assisting them as necessary, and helping them determine when the essay is finished.

3. As students complete their essays, they should prepare to record them. Have students work in pairs to practice reading the essays aloud. The listener should offer feedback both about the content of the essay and the quality of the reading. Note: Students often will find that they have holes in their writing or areas that do not flow well. They will therefore move back and forth between the revising stage and the practice stage. It is not uncommon for students who think that they are finished to go back to their essay and fine tune it. Encourage students to make revisions to their writing as they practice reading it.

4. Each student should practice reading the essay aloud to someone else at least three times and should also spend additional time reading the essay aloud to him- or herself.

5. Once students have practiced and feel confident, they are ready to record. See Creating, Editing, and Posting Podcasts handout for an explanation of how to conduct this step.

Students whose parents have asked that they not post on the blog should complete Steps 1 to 4. When they finish their essay, you can have them read it aloud to the class.

Session 10

By the start of this session, all podcasts should be posted to your class blog. Note that you may send out a link to the blog to colleagues or parents, allowing them to post comments before this discussion. Students will appreciate seeing this feedback the first time they look at the blog.

1. Refer students to the Posting Comments section of the “This I Believe” Podcast Rubric. Go through the grading scale. As a class, look at one of the student examples you read and listened to in Session 5. Craft a comment that would score a 4 and one that would score a 1 on the rubric.

2. Have students log onto your class blog and listen to each podcast, using headphones if you have them available (if not, have students listen collectively). Have students give feedback to each podcast. Remind them that the feedback must include at least one positive comment along with suggested areas for improvement. Remind students that they should integrate information from previous comments into their own feedback. Students whose parents do not want them posting on the blog can write comments in their notebooks, which they later share with the podcast author or with the entire class.

Note: If you are the only one who has access to the blog, you can use an LCD projector to show students the blog and listen to the podcasts. Ask students to volunteer feedback for each one. Talk with students about the content of the feedback, if they feel it was helpful or not, if it was accurate or beneficial. You may also choose to have the author of the essay respond to comments.


  • Have students continue to keep digital journals that revolve around the belief shared in their essay.

  • Conduct this lesson both at the beginning of the year and near the end. Have students examine how their beliefs have or have not changed.

  • Complete additional activities from the This I Believe in the Classroom curriculum download.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Informally observe students’ abilities to think critically and respond to the work of others during classroom discussions about the essays they listen to and read and while they are working to narrow down their belief statements.

  • Have students write a two-page self-reflection using the following prompts as guiding questions:
  • What was your overall experience with this project? Why?

  • What did you learn about yourself or your disability?

  • Which piece of feedback did you agree with the most? Why?

  • Which piece of feedback did you disagree with the most? Why?

  • What changes would you make to your essay podcast if you could? Why?

This activity works best after students have had a day or two to visit the blog and read the feedback that their podcasts generated. Modify the prompts as necessary for an integrated classroom.

  • Use the “This I Believe” Podcast Rubric to assess students’ essays and recordings and to assess students’ abilities to think critically, apply criteria to the work of others, and participate in an online community.

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