As we've talked about, we all live in many worlds, our family, our friends, our school, our city...and we belong to groups and clubs and team that are their own worlds with values and beliefs.

It's time for us to start writing our This I Believe essay. TIB was a program that first aired on radio in the 1950's. The host was  a famous journalist named Edward R. Murrow. He believed that personal statements about beliefs would encourage people to find common ground--even if our beliefs are different.

The challenge in a TIB essay is to clearly say what you believe--not what you DON'T believe and then focus in on a moment or moments that SHOW how this belief came to be or SHOW the way the belief works in your world.

A bigger challenge is to CHOOSE the belief that you want to write about--and we'll spend some time today talking and exploring so that we can all choose something to write about.

The biggest challenge, of course, is to write a TIB essay that will capture your listeners with vivid language and images--you need to create word pictures in the radio listener's mind and be clear about your main idea in both your introduction and your conclusion. You have to think about your audience and what they need even more than when you are writing something that can be read and re-read.

We are going to start on our essays by identifying the belief and the moment, using a graphic organizer.  Please bring this in by next week. 


Last year, Ms. Kyles introduced me to a wonderful book,  Home of the Brave.

It's about a boy who comes to America from another country. 

I'll share the first three pages of his story with you. You'll see that he is unfamiliar with many things he sees in America--can you figure out what he means by how he describes them? There are many reasons why he describes them as he does--not just that he is from another country. Can you guess what those reasons might be? 

A good writer is not only willing to look at topics or objects from all different angles, a good writers is willing to look at topics or objects as if he or she has never seen them before. A good writer is also aware of how he or she is influenced by his or her own background. 

This week is Halloween. Make a list of all the things you might see on Halloween (at least 5)--pumpkins, costumes, black cats--For each of the items on the list, write a description as if you were Kek--seeing it for the very first time, not knowing anything about Halloween. See if a classmate can guess what you are writing about. 

Assignment: This week, write a short letter to Kek and tell him about your Halloween. Use the graphic organizer I provide to write 3 paragraphs: 
  1. an introduction explaining who you are, what Halloween is, and how you feel about it. 
  2. a middle, giving specific examples of what you experienced on Halloween that would show why you like or don't like Halloween,
  3. and a conclusion, including a summary of what Halloween is, what your main feeling is, and a final thought you'd like to share about what Kek might see if he came to visit on Halloween. 

Unpack as many abstractions as you can, use metaphors or similes that Kek would understand, and be sure that Kek understands what Halloween is like here in Asheville. 

A good writer listens well and asks questions that will help him or her to understand and clarify. Here a couple of quotations that I try to live by:
You are not really listening if you aren’t willing to be changed by what you hear.

Listening requires us to do only that—one cannot truly listen and be doing something else at the same time.

To often, we listen to our friends, teachers, family etc while doing something else, or while thinking about what WE WANT TO SAY. I am quite guilty of doing both. But I try, every day, to do this a little better. I am always amazed about how just listening to someone else encourages them to tell me more--and I get to learn more. Asking questions that show I've really been listening really makes the other person feel like they've been heard. In the months ahead, you'll use the same principles when reading a classmate's writing or when interviewing someone you don't know about their concerns.

Below is the poem Fifth Grade Autobiography by Rita Dove. She describes a photograph in the poem, with very specific and clear details--all chosen to create a feeling about a particular point in time. After we talk about the poem a bit, it will be your turn to describe a photograph to a partner--think of one that is about a specific time in your life--a birthday party? Going swimming? First day of school? Think of all the details in the photograph--and all the memories you associate with it. Then, we'll practice  Empathic (trying to put yourself in the other person's place or point of view)  listening and questioning.

Divide into pairs...
  • Sit, directly facing each other
  • Take turns speaking and listening
  • Ask questions only during the question round
The Speaker:
From your memory, describe a photograph that you really like from your own life. Give as many details as you can and say why you like the photo, when it was taken, talk about any memory you have about the photo or any stories that you were told about it.

  Look directly at your partner. If you finish speaking before time is up, just sit quietly.
The Listener: While the speaker is talking, listen only. Don’t comment or ask questions. Look directly at your partner.

During the question round:


1. Make sure you heard your partner right--

So, what I heard you saying is…

2. Ask a question of your partner that will get them to expand on what they said.
 Do you think…

 Do you feel…

What memories came up for you?

    Speaker: Answer the questions as best you can.
Switch roles and repeat the process...

 Using the memories that the photograph prompted, write a personal reflection story. Use as many specific details as you can. Just like your thumb story, focus in on details, the setting, the characters, the time. Your reflection will have a  beginning, middle, and end--in this cas
(If you want to--you can write this as a story poem).

Fifth Grade Autobiography by Rita Dove

I was four in this photograph fishing

with my grandparents at a lake in Michigan.

My brother squats in poison ivy.

His Davy Crockett cap

sits squared on his head so the raccoon tail

flounces down the back of his sailor suit.

My grandfather sits to the far right

in a folding chair,

and I know his left hand is on

the tobacco in his pants pocket

because I used to wrap it for him

every Christmas. Grandmother's hips

bulge from the brush, she's leaning

into the ice chest, sun through the trees

printing her dress with soft

luminous paws.

I am staring jealously at my brother;

the day before he rode his first horse, alone.

I was strapped in a basket

behind my grandfather.

He smelled of lemons. He's died--

but I remember his hands.

This week, we will talk about something that sounds simple but takes focus and energy--something every good writer develops as a habit. I'm speaking of the simple act of noticing. As good writers, we notice with all of our senses. This week, we'll consider our THUMBS. Yes, our thumbs. They've been with us quite awhile and we probably haven't stopped to really appreciate them. Pretend that you have never seen your thumbs before and look at them, smell them, taste them, feel them, and even hear them--can you make a sound with your thumb?

Because your thumb has been around for so long, it could probably tell a lot of stories about you. What story would it tell? This week, pretend you are your thumb--try and put yourself in its place and tell a story that really happened to you. See if you can tell that story from the thumbs point of view and include details that it might have noticed.

My thumb might tell this story:
Janet and her family went on a trip to Guatemala. One day, they visited a school called Escuela de la Calle, or, in English, School of the Streets. It served children who lived on the streets or in homes that had very little money. Janet's family had books for the school and Janet had been emailing with the director of the school. She was so excited that she jumped out of the car--but then leaned back in to get her bag of books. She used her left hand, to balance as she stretched in and I found myself curled around the doorframe, helping to steady her. Then she quickly shut the door--right on me! Ouch! I felt that metal squishing me from the top of my thumb and on the bottom of my thumb. I could feel the skin ripping and if I could have screamed, I would have. But, Janet screamed for me and the door quickly popped open. Phew. I was so happy--even though I was bleeding a bit, even though I started to puff up a little bit. Janet held on to me and someone else took the books. When we went inside the school, she asked the director for a band-aid. I think she was a little embarrassed but I didn't care. I liked being all wrapped up in some white gauzy material. I just snuggled in there to heal.