Serendipity of Six Words in Elizabeth Brandstrom’s Accelerated Program at Maranatha Christian Academy
[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."
For SixContest #145, we asked Sixers to indulge in their summer memories. As the past few months reached record-breaking temperatures, our sizzling hot short-form scribes looked back on summers filled with first loves, sun freckles, and ocean tides.
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.
For SixContest #144, we asked you to wax poetic in six words. Sixers welcomed the emotive and lyrical aesthetic and even invoked their inner e.e cummings by experimenting with punctuation and line formatting. Poetry allowed Sixers to evoke powerful imagery (“Rows of bent backs, migrant workers” — BanjoDan) and abstract memories (“Mystical July/ Mid-summer juvenescence/ Fleeting rock-stardom.” — JanAlexander). Many Sixers accepted the challenge of the “American Haiku” and embraced the 5, 7, 5 syllable format (“Infuriation. Constant riddle fixation. Wordle addiction.” — PapaCraft). We introduced the contest with three categories: Most Heartfelt, Funniest, and a Six-Word poem that is also a haiku. Then, thanks to the hundreds of inspired contest entries, we decided to add three more categories: Best Backstory; Free Verse Poetry; and Most Meta. Here are our Top 6 memoirs and winners of their respective categories!
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.