An I-Pod Inspired Writing Lesson from WritingFix & ScienceFix
Focus Trait: VOICE Support Trait: ORGANIZATION

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This Lesson's Title:

This I Believe:

imitating NPR's "This I Believe" broadcasts to create an original podcast about a scientific current event or issue

This lesson was created by science teacher and literacy trainer Yvette Deighton. Yvette also hosts our ScienceFix homepage.

This writing prompt inspired by

NPR's international media project,
the "This I Believe" podcast series.

Click here to visit the NPR project's webpage.

Teacher Instructions & Lesson Resources :

Pre-step…before sharing the published model:   Introduce students to the concept of written voice by having them analyze three short samples of writing by three middle school students. Students can compare and contrast the three students' voice using the Venn diagram.

Emphasize that it is the words the students choose that helps the reader hear the person behind the voice, and guides the reader to feel a certain emotion after reading the writing.

Step one…sharing the published model:   Students will listen to two different podcasts from the National Public Radio program “This I believe.” The essays I have chosen are written by people who were driven to make an impact or do something extraordinary in the world. Both of these podcasts emphasize the idea that we--as individuals--can and have the responsibility to make a difference. After students have listened to the essays, they will be asked to consider how these “mentor texts” used voice to help the reader/listener feel the importance of the issue (mood) and understand their opinion (tone) and how they organized their ideas to engage and persuade the audience.

After students have been introduced to the format of the “This I Believe” essays, have them work in small groups to analyze the text (podcast) for words that helped set the mood or tone of the essays. The podcasts can be downloaded to your classroom I-pod to be played for the whole group. Use this graphic organizer to help the students record and discuss evidence of voice in the podcasts. You will also want to have available this handout of faces for students to fill out the second half of the graphic organizer.

If you have time to analyze written voice further, you might also want to find additional text samples for students to analyze for voice. For example, providing students with a poem, a letter, and a science text book could help students identify differences in mood and tone in different genres.

After students have listened to the podcasts and analyzed voice, you will want to facilitate their thinking about organization. Ask them to talk about each podcast's beginning, middle, and conclusion.

Next, in order to learn some new information for their own "This I Believe" essays about the ocean, students will listen to a podcast from Science Friday on the "State of the Oceans."

This podcast is a fairly long interview/discussion. You might want to break it up into smaller chunks. Additional time will be needed within the sequence of the lesson to allow students to research the problems in more detail. Given your unique situation, student backgrounds, and schedules this could take a few days or up to a week. You may want to support the research by using the "web quest” below to help students make efficient use of internet resources. There are so many places this lesson can develop. Use what makes sense for you and your students.

  • A student-friendly webquest on the oceans by Yvette Deighton (coming in May)

Step two…introducing student models of writing:  To give them an idea of the writing assignment at hand, in small groups, have your students read and respond to any or all of the student models that come with this lesson.  The groups should certainly talk about the voice and organization, since these are the focus of the lesson.

Step three…thinking and pre-writing:  Students should be ready to choose a specific ocean topic to base their "This I Believe" essay on. The interactive buttons on this lesson's Student Instructions Page may help them, if they are still unsure where to focus their beliefs.

You should have students talk with a partner(s) about what issue they will focus on to write about, and how they will take a small part in planning for the solution to their ocean dilemmas. After they have had a chance to brainstorm and reflect on this, use this essay-planning graphic organizer to have students begin thinking about their writing.

At the end of the first page, you will need to take a “break” from the pre-writing for an activity about good introductory sentences. This is adapted from an idea in 6+1 Traits of Writing, by Ruth Culham. (attach activity page here).

Once students have completed the graphic organizer, you will want to set some timelines for the rough drafts.

Step four (revising with specific trait language):   To promote response and revision to students' first drafts, attach WritingFix's Revision and Response Post-it® Note-sized templates to your students' drafts.  Make sure the students rank their use of the trait-specific skills on the Post-it® Note-sized templates, which means they'll only have one "1" and one "5."   Have them commit to ideas for revision based on their Post-It rankings.  For more ideas on WritingFix's Revision & Response Post-it® Note-sized templates, click here.

Step five (editing for conventions):  After students apply their revision ideas to their drafts and re-write neatly, require them to find an editor.   If you've established a "Community of Editors" among your students, have each student exchange his/her paper with multiple peers.  With yellow high-lighters in hand, each peer reads for and highlights suspected errors for just one item from the Editing Post-it.  The "Community of Editors" idea is just one of dozens and dozens of inspiring ideas that is talked about in detail in the Northern Nevada Writing Project's Going Deep with 6 Trait Language Workbook for Teachers.


Step six (publishing out loud and on-line):   If your students had fun doing this writing, they might enjoy sharing their original poems whole-class or in small groups.

Interested in publishing student work on-line?  We invite student writers to post final drafts of their original at WritingFix's Community of Student Writers.  This is a safe-to-use blog for students and teachers. No writing is posted until it is approved by the moderator. Contact us at if you have questions about getting your students published.


Learn more about NPR's This I Believe Series by clicking here!

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