SixContest Winners! Our top 6 “firsts” in six words

Six-Word Memoirs in Schools

Tabitha Cooper’s first exposure to Six-Word Memoirs came in the form of a perfect condition copy of I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets she picked up in her local bookstore. Years later, Cooper’s copy of the book is well-worn and Cooper has implemented the idea into her English classes at Metamora Township High School in Metamora, Illinois, where she teaches. Cooper was attracted by the alignment the book had with what she was teaching. “Six-Word Memoirs is a brilliant way to introduce memoirs in a classroom by starting off small and then kind of growing from there,” says Cooper. “I also thought it was an ideal way to teach connotation, denotation, and word choice and its value within a classroom when you only have six words to work with. I just kind of stumbled onto the book; now it's totally worn out and covered with post-it notes now and I love it.”

According to English teacher Mary Lochtefeld, great writing has the exact right number of words. When she introduced Six-Word Memoirs to her classes at Ansonia Local Schools in Ansonia, Ohio, the exact right number was six. Lochtefeld discovered Six-Word Memoirs during a graduate class at Miami University she took over the past summer and decided to introduce it to her own classroom this fall. “The form seems easy at first and then when kids realize that they have to be really choosy about the words it becomes a little bit more difficult and really allows me to see if they understand the content,” says Lochtefeld.

[caption id="attachment_27833" align="aligncenter" width="350"] "Bottle it up until it pops." — Taylor Ingram[/caption] 2023 marks the seventh year since Professor John Ferry started teaching Six-Word Memoirs in his “Image and Form” class at the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) in Kansas City, Missouri. Ferry first discovered Six-Word Memoirs in 2016 after listening to an NPR segment, and rushed to implement the idea in his art classes.

Ninth-grade teacher Aanya Ismail first learned about Six-Word Memoirs through conversations with coworkers at Libra Academy, Huntington Park, California. Ismail was looking for ways to revamp writing exercises and invite student expression. After discovering the Six-Word Memoirs website and setting up a Zoom meeting with founder Larry Smith, Ismail was encouraged that the six word format would be a successful exercise for her narrative writing unit. To ease her students into Six-Word Memoirs, Ismail started with casual journal prompts like, "What event in your life got you to where you are now?" and then gradually opened things up with themes like family, life, and overcoming challenges. The short and concise nature of Six-Word Memoirs was also emphasized during the project.

[caption id="attachment_27015" align="aligncenter" width="555"] Personalized books for the students and classroom[/caption] Students across the board in all grades at Maranatha Christian Academy recently discovered six words — and a rhapsodic outlet for self-expression. What was first administered by their teacher, Elizabeth Brandstrom, as an ice breaker to warm up, these novice writers soon became a full-fledged publishing project and possibly even a tradition. A physical book of their memoirs, a cherished reminder of their journey, could inspire the next batch of students as they are given the incentive to test their talents. Brandstrom, who teaches science, math, engineering, and language arts, realized that during the pandemic students (a carefully curated batch of gifted children and advanced learners in grades 2-8) had become relatively lax in the latter. So she started searching for a novel way to train their writing skills: "I remembered a college professor that I had that gave this crazy assignment at the beginning of the year to describe your life in six words. I googled it to see if I could find the name of it and the Six-Word Memoir Project came up."

At Kennedy Middle School in Redwood City, CA, 8th grade students published their own books and excitedly shared their Six-Word Memoirs. Their English teacher, Cynthia Wilson, even shared that her students signed each other’s books — just like a yearbook — placing their names next to their memoirs. The students, now published authors, would have a physical copy of their eighth grade memories, experiences, and writing skills. Although Wilson first heard about Six-Word Memoirs from a fellow teacher, when she read about Six in Schools in a New York Times article, she was hooked on Six-Words and the idea of student publishing. “I have my students write several different forms of poetry, and so Six-Word Memoirs was another ideal way to encourage them to express themselves.” Students created their memoirs on Google Slides, then practiced their speaking skills by sharing their memoir and backstory in front of their classmates.

IN JANUARY 2022, A CLASSROOM OF FIFTH GRADERS at Maplewood Elementary School, Missouri looked themselves in the metaphorical mirror to discover their true identity and those of their peers. The two-day activity that inspired 5th grade core teacher Lexi Sinnett to launch her first ever memoir unit in her English class was her and the class’ first handshake with Six-Word Memoirs. Now, Sinnett is confident that the concept has will continue to be a part of the Maplewood Elementary family. Sinnett discovered Six-Word Memoirs while looking for ways to begin her full-length memoir unit for the semester. The brevity of the concept inspired her to do so through a “vignette memoir” assignment, where students were to describe themselves at their core in six words. She introduced the Six-Word concept to her class by showing them creations posted by other classrooms online via platforms like YouTube before the students dipped their hands into the exercise. Sinnett also wrote her own Six-Word Memoir as an example that demonstrated the amount of self-concept the students would be required to establish. “I told them, ‘Really zoom in and pick the thing that stands out the most. What matters to you the most right now?' I zoomed in on what really matters the most to me, [which is] being a teacher and focusing on the kids within my four walls.” The class began by journaling ideas, then the students were paired up to brainstorm their works in progress. Sinnett felt that partnering the students to brainstorm and choose their memoirs would allow them more creative agency without an adult influence. “I wanted to reflect them as kids,” she says. Once the students found a memoir that spoke to them, they would have to combine their memoir with a suitable illustration that would visualize the memoir, on a readymade template Sinnett provided. The illustration piece of the lesson helped some students decide which memoir they wanted to choose based on how difficult it would be to draw out their unique creations. Sinnett felt that the illustration aspect would also be a refreshing first for the class, as visual art is uncommon in the fifth grade writing curriculum.