This I Believe: inquiry writing and active reading in a specialized narrative genre


What does inquiry look like in a specialized genre, like the narratively-oriented "This I Believe" essay? 

I discovered the answer to this question at Northern Illinois University in 2011, when the students in my developmental writing class wrote their own "TIB" essays as part of the university's Common Reading Experience.
  • In the document "Inquiry into This I Believe" below, students engaged the techniques of focused, active reading and investigated what TIB involved.
  • In the document "Focused Free Write" below, I demonstrate for students the invention process, by having them generate a list of as many items as they can from each of 3 sources from which TIB essays often are often drawn. 
  • After generating their lists, students followed my "speed reviewing" technique to refine their lists. Like "speed dating," speed reviewing involves setting up chairs in pairs of two; for no more than two minutes, students each share their writing, after which the partner responds with the prompt, "I liked ______ because [specific reason], but this idea, __________, seemed too general and needed refinement because _________________." This technique helps students select unique and specific ideas for writing, and steer clear of generalizations.
  • After students selected their potential topics, we created a specialized bubble outline (see my sample, below), brianstorming types of ideas that seemed to feature prominently in the sample TIBs that we read: narrative examples of the belief; times at which the belief is contradicted; re-definitions of the belief; etc. During subsequent speed reviewing, students identified areas where peers' ideas seemed weak, vague, or cliche.
  • After reading selected TIB essays, students developed the rubric for this unit, which means that they internalized and owned the criteria for what makes a strong TIB essay. Click here to view it.
  • Students wrote their own essays, published them on their own websites, and then performed them at a This I Believe Open Mic (see handout below) for an audience of 70+ university students, faculty, and personnel.
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Nicole Boudreau Smith,
Feb 18, 2012, 3:00 PM
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Nicole Boudreau Smith,
Mar 2, 2012, 12:36 PM
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Nicole Boudreau Smith,
Feb 18, 2012, 2:20 PM
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Nicole Boudreau Smith,
Feb 23, 2012, 1:07 PM
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