Main Components (adapted from This I believe p. 272-273) • Tell a story

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Pope John Paul II High School

This I Believe

Essay Guidelines


Write a “This I Believe” essay that describes one of your own personal beliefs in 350-500 words.

Main Components (adapted from This I Believe p. 272-273)

Tell a story: Be specific and concrete. Incorporate a specific event (or specific events) from your life

that illustrates or explains your belief. Consider moments when your belief was formed, tested, or


Be brief: Remember, this essay should be between 350 and 500 words; choose your words carefully,

and do not wander away from your central belief.

Name your belief: You should be able to articulate your belief in one or two sentences; if you cannot,

then you probably chose a topic that is too broad.

Be positive: Remember, this essay should describe what you do believe, not what you do not believe.

Be personal: Write an essay about one of your personal beliefs. Even though others might share this

belief, you are not writing about their beliefs; you are writing about yourself, so make sure you write in

the first person.

Hooking the Reader

You need to grab your reader’s attention with the first sentences. Here are some strategies:

Question: “When was the last time you went without a meal?”

Quotation: The statement could come from someone famous or from someone significant in your life,

“‘Be careful’ were the last words my father said to me each time I left the house.”

Strong Statement: “If you eat enough cabbage, you’ll never get cancer.”

Metaphor: “The starlings in my backyard are the small boys in the playground, impressing each other

with their new-found swear words. The crows all belong to the same biker gang. You need to know

their secret sign to join their club.”

Description (of a person or setting): “Michael once moved the lawns around Municipal High wearing a

frilly apron, high heels, and nylons, with a pillow stuffed under his sweater so he looked pregnant. And

it wasn’t even Halloween.”

Ways to Support Your Philosophy

• Dialogue

Rhetorical questions

• Anecdote

• Personal experience

• Example

• Statistics
Tips for Writing Your Essay

1. Be sure your essay is about something you care strongly about. Readers want to know what you know,

feel what you feel, and understand exactly where you're coming from.

2. While the idea for the essay must be personal, make the frame big enough to allow your readers to find

parallels between your experience and theirs. Give readers the opportunity to say, "Ah! Yes, I've never

been there or done that, but I can relate to what the author is talking about." Even if readers have not

been on a mission trip to Africa, the effective writer must draw in an audience to show a more universal

implication of a very personal experience or belief.

3. If you are writing about a small, personal occurrence, put your idea in a context that gives the reader

insight to both the small moment and the wider perspective. Think of your essay as a camera lens. You

might start by describing a fine detail (a specific moment in the narrative), then open up the lens to take

in the wide view (the general/global backdrop), then close the piece by narrowing back to the fine


4. Use details to draw the reader in. Be specific and avoid using abstract expressions, clichés, and phrases

such as "the best day of my life" or "I'd never known greater grief" to describe emotions of love or loss.

Make the emotions real and immediate by noting specifics and details that draw the reader into your


5. Employ all the senses to convey your ideas to the reader: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.

6. Make sure that your readers can summarize the main idea that you believe. You should not have to hit

your readers over the head with a summary statement such as "What I am trying to say..." or "What I

really mean is..." In fact, such a closing is almost insulting or an indication that you fear you have

danced around the belief without making it crystal clear. You must aim to leave the readers clear and

satisfied—whether they agree with your belief or not. Sometimes a brief echo of the opening is the

most satisfying clincher to bring a personal essay full circle.

This I Believe Essay Rubric
Essay Title________________________________________________________

















Anecdote and

Narrative Techniques

W 3

In addition to anecdote, does the writer use dialogue, inner thinking, and/or description to enhance the story/essay? To exceed: the writer includes figurative language: metaphors, personification, similes…




W 3

Does the essay include a clear, focused, positive belief statement?


Does the essay engage the reader with an interesting lead and title?

(x 1.5)


W 4

Are the topic and essay coherent? Is the anecdote told in a logical, interesting order? To exceed: the writer uses flashback, sense of mystery, or non-linear sequencing to add complexity to the essay.



W 3

Does the conclusion follow from and reflect on what is experienced or observed over the course of the essay? To exceed: the writer uses technique such as circling back to beginning.

(x 1.5)


L 1 & 2

Is the writing clear and free of errors in grammar, capitalization, punctuation and spelling?


Writing process

W 5

Does the essay show evidence of the writing process (planning, revising, editing, rewriting, trying new approaches)? Have words, sentences, and paragraphs been re-ordered, added or deleted in order to strengthen the piece?

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