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NPR's "This I Believe" and a TED Talk: Springboard for Writing about a Valuable Lesson


Tech Product/Equipment:
Computer and projector, Speakers

Activity Description



NPR This I Believe
Source: NPR This I Believe (License: Protected by Copyright (c) [i.e. screenshot])
Students listen to an NPR's "This I Believe" essay, "Do Talk to Strangers," and answer questions about the essay/recording, and then watch a TED Talk and answer questions, followed by an assignment in which they write their own personal narratives about a valuable life lesson.


  1. Check the websites to ensure they are not blocked at your site.
  2. Read through the lesson plan.
  3. Print and make copies of any handouts.


Teacher Tips

If your students have difficulties understanding the listening portions of the lesson plans, you can projector or copy and print out the "Do Talk to Strangers" essay on the NPR site and use the captions and/or transcript for the TED Talk.

More Ways

NPR's "This I Believe" has numerous essays on a great number of topics. The essays can be used for reading and vocabulary exercises, cloze listening, and listening for main ideas and details, conversation, discussion, and as models for students' own writing and speaking assignments. Select from the menu which drops below the Explore tab to search for essays that may be appropriate for use in class. Select the Educators tab for resources.

In place of or in addition to the paragraph, students could create podcast episodes reading their writing about their valuable lessons, make presentations, or create a digital story with images and narrations.

Program Areas

  • ESL: English as a Second Language
  • ASE: High School Equivalency Preparation
  • ABE: Adult Basic Education
  • ASE: High School Diploma


  • Intermediate High
  • Advanced
  • Low
  • Intermediate
  • High

Lesson Plan


Tell an anecdote about a simple situation in which you or someone you know learned a life lesson, perhaps in your youth or even as an adult. 


Tell students that there are many sayings in English, which our parents often tell us when we are young, to protect us and teach us life lessons. One of these is "Don't talk to strangers." Ask students if their parents or caregivers told them this when they were young. Ask why this is good advice, if they still follow this advice, and why or why not.


Provide a few more expressions/sayings that are meant to teach life lessons. These could be proverbs. Ask students to explain the meanings of any you provide. Here are a few:

  • When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. 
  • What goes around, comes around.
  • Don't judge a book by its cover.

Ask students to brainstorm (in small groups or as a whole class) other sayings that give advice like these. Elicit explanations about what life lessons they are meant to teach us.

Tell students that they are going to listen to a speaker tell a story about when she learned a valuable life lesson, watch a TED Talk about the same topic for a more academic view, and then write about a time when they or someone they know learned a valuable life lesson or when they or someone they know taught someone else an important lesson.


Pre-listening conversation. In small groups have students build fluency and prepare for the listening by having a conversation.

  1. What are some things that parents always say to their children? (for example, warnings and advice – Eat your vegetables.  Look both ways before crossing the street.)  Make a list of at least three sayings
  2. When you are walking on the street, do you say hello to strangers?  Why or why not?
  3. What is small talk?  What are some good topics for small talk in the USA?  What are some inappropriate topics for small talk in the USA?
  4. Do you like to make small talk?  What is the purpose?
  5. When you are on an airplane, bus, train, in line shopping, or in an office waiting for an appointment, do you like small talk?  Do you start the conversation?  How do you show a stranger that you DON’T want to engage in small talk?
  6. In which jobs is small talk especially important?
  7. Do you know any elderly people?  How are lifestyles of elderly people the same and different in your country compared to in the USA?
  1. Tell students that they will listen to a woman telling about a valuable life lesson. The essay is titled "Do Talk to Strangers." Ask students to predict what the story may be about.
  2. Then distribute the questions for the listening exercises. Have students preview the questions in order to focus their listening.
  3. Play the audio from the site (without projecting it on a screen).
  4. Note that if you would prefer to have this activity as a reading comprehension activity, you can copy and paste the essay from the site and make photocopies or project it from the computer. 
  5. After students have listened one or more times and have the answers, they can compare their answers in pairs or small groups.
  6. Then check the answers with the whole class.

Valuable Lesson:  Listening


Directions:  Listen to the speaker talk about her life lesson and write short answers to the questions.

  1. When did she have this life-changing experience?
  2. What was the name of the man she met?
  3. Where did they meet?
  4. What were his life circumstances at the time they first met?
  5. What happened to the man after the woman and he had known each other for a while?
  6. Who called the woman one day and why?
  7. What was the lesson she learned?
  8. What are the results in her life now?

You could also have students answer the questions online with a form such as this: "Do Talk to Strangers" - Comprehension & Reflection.

  1. Tell students that they are going to watch a TED Talk by a speaker who studies and writes about the ways strangers impact our lives, Kio Stark: Why you should talk to strangers. (Note: This activity could be assigned as homework). 
  2. Distribute the listening worksheet.
  3. Project the video and turn on the closed captions and/or the transcript if students need text support for comprehension of spoken English.
  4. Have students watch the video and answer the questions.
  5. Check the answers in small groups or as a whole class.
  6. After the two listening activities, ask students if they have changed their minds about talking to strangers and why. What can be the positive points about talking to strangers?
  1. Have students brainstorm times they have learned valuable lessons by modeling and/or freewriting about one particular experience when they learned a life lesson. 
  2. Tell students that they are going to write a paragraph about a life lesson. Distribute the paragraph prompt.
  3. Discuss topic sentences and evaluate the topic sentences on the prompt.
  4. Have students explain what makes some of the topic sentences stronger than others.
  5. Note: You could use a Google Form, survey, or poll to have students rank or rate the topic sentences, such as this survey.
  6. Have students use the mind map to list words about their lesson. Then have them answer the questions in complete sentences.
  7. Model for students how to write the first draft of their paragraphs. Have them type their work on MS Word or Google Docs.
  8. Collect the first draft and provide feedback on content (title, topic sentence, organization/chronological, flow, details, transitions, and concluding sentence). Ask students to revise based on your feedback.

Note: At this point, you may choose to have students provide peer feedback by either reading aloud their paragraphs in small groups or distributing their paragraphs with questions to answer about their peers' writing, such as the following:

  • Did the topic sentence grab your attention? If so, how? If not, how could it be better?
  • Was the story easy to follow? If not, where did you get lost?
  • What parts did you like?
  • What parts were confusing?
  • What questions do you have?
  • Was the conclusion effective? If so, how? If not, what suggestion do you have for the writer to improve it? 
  • Make sure to model peer feedback so that students understand the purpose and the process.

After students have revised, collect their second drafts. If more revision on content is needed, provide feedback on content. If not, provide feedback on mechanics (grammar, spelling, punctuation, word order, etc.). It may be helpful at this point to collect common errors that students are making and teach a mini-lesson before students edit their work.


Use a rubric to score students' writing and provide final, summative feedback.

Have students share their work on an e-portfolio (such as Google Sites) or collect students' work and publish it in a booklet (with students' permission).

Have students reflect on their learning, such as this form.


Students will apply the skills they honed by being better able to identify main ideas and supporting details in audio and video and will be better equipped to compose a well-organized narrative paragraph modified based on peer and instructor feedback. 

Students will also document their language learning and writing skills development.



  • English Language Arts
    • English 1-4
  • Language Arts - Writing
    • Language Facility
    • Organization of Ideas
    • Writing Conventions
  • Reasoning Through Language Arts
    • Mechanics (Capitalization, Punctuation, Spelling)
  • Writing
    • Basic Sentences
    • Mechanics (Capitalization, Punctuation, Spelling)
    • Paragraph Skills
    • Parts of Speech


  • Reading
    • CCR Anchor 2 - Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
    • CCR Anchor 3 - Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
    • CCR Anchor 4 - Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
    • CCR Anchor 5 - Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
    • CCR Anchor 6 - Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
  • Writing
    • CCR Anchor 3 - Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.
    • CCR Anchor 4 - Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
    • CCR Anchor 5 - Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
    • CCR Anchor 6 - Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
  • Speaking and Listening
    • CCR Anchor 1 - Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
    • CCR Anchor 3 - Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
    • CCR Anchor 5 - Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
  • Language
    • CCR Anchor 1 - Demonstrate command of the conventions of English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
    • CCR Anchor 2 - Demonstrate command of the conventions of English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
    • CCR Anchor 3 - Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
    • CCR Anchor 5 - Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.


Grammar, Listening, Speaking, Writing, narrative writing, life lessons, podcasts


TED Talks, MS Word, NPR This I Believe, Google Docs
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OTAN activities are funded by contract CN220124 from the Adult Education Office, in the Career & College Transition Division, California Department of Education, with funds provided through Federal P.L., 105-220, Section 223. However, OTAN content does not necessarily reflect the position of that department or the U.S. Department of Education.