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Listening to ‘This I Believe’ and Our Students in ESL Classes
“We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men – not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.”
—Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965), American broadcast journalist and correspondent
What are your core beliefs? More importantly, what are your students’ core beliefs? How can you help English language learners improve their listening skills while exploring their own personal philosophy?
English teachers often use radio podcasts and personal essays as tools in the English classroom. However, finding authentic and compelling listening materials may prove challenging for many English teachers. This I Believe remains a favorite resource and speaking skills activity. The eclectic collection of personal reflections encourages active learning too.
A Free, Insightful Resource
A radio program originally hosted by legendary American journalist Edward R. Murrow and resurrected in the mid-2000s by National Public Radio (NPR), ‘This I Believe’ features a variety of brief, personal essays – in both audio and writing – from a diverse range of contributors. Each essay deals with the author’s “core beliefs that guide their daily lives,” according to the podcast’s website.
The website includes a tremendous amount of free resources for teachers and students alike. For starters, I recommend the personal essay by Jim Haynes called “Inviting the World to Dinner,” an engaging read that many English teachers, tutors and students will find fascinating. English teachers can also sign up for the free mailing list and download an exceptional discussion guide online. Check it out if you are looking for quality, reflective materials to enliven your ESL classes.
Additionally, I have developed a simple reproducible worksheet for students to find, summarize, and share their own favorite ‘This I Believe’ podcasts. There are thousands of essays and hundreds of podcasts for students to choose from. If you’re curious about other ways to use podcasts in an English language classroom, then take a look at our blog post “Podcasts for Real Skills and Compelling Conversations“. Search and Shares are reflective exercises which build class rapport, develops speaking skills, and earns high marks from students.
Can you ask students to give their own ‘This I Believe’ presentations? Sure. But the extended assignment requires a few class lessons to prepare and record each student presentation. It also requires a high level of trust and comfortable among classmates. I have found time for that fascinating presentation, however, only in a few small, outstanding university English classes where everything seemed to just come together. It could, of course, be done as one of a few standard presentations. Or English teachers might add ‘This I Believe’ presentation as an additional choice for a capstone speaking project in advanced ESL and EFL courses.
As ever, use or lose!
‘This I Believe’ Search and Share
Please select one radio segment from the popular NPR series ‘This I Believe.’ Find a story that is based on a personal essay, and read by a writer. Choose one that resonates with you. Then listen carefully, take notes, and fill out the worksheet below.
- Who is the author? Briefly describe them.
- What’s the main idea shared in the segment?
- Which part was the most interesting or relatable for you? Why?
- What was the most surprising thing shared in the segment?
- Do you agree or disagree with the author’s point of view? Why?
- Write five new vocabulary words, idioms, or expressions related to the topic.
- Why did you choose this story?
- How effective was this essay on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest? Why?
- Who do you think is the audience for this podcast? Why?
- Would you share this essay with a friend? Why or why not?
This Search and Share worksheet is also featured in the Creating A Home unit from Creating Compelling Conversations: Reproducible Search and Share Activities for English Teachers, now available on Teachers Pay Teachers! The full activity book, featuring over 75 Search and Share exercises on a variety of topics, will be available this month.
What will your English students choose to share?