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Classroom of the Month: Marci Denesiuk’s Creative Writing Class at the University of Puerto Rico

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, leaving residents without electricity and running water. Today, 1.2 million people, roughly one third of Puerto Rico’s residents, are still living in the dark. As Six-Word Memoir founder, Larry Smith, has noted, some of the most powerful six word stories have come during the most intense moments in life. Marci Denesiuk, an English teacher at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez, had a similar instinct. She instructed her creative writing students to write Six-Word Memoirs about a moment before, after, or during the storm.

“The majority of the students are not English majors, so their interest in writing and level of fluency in English can vary quite widely,” says Denesiuk. “But thanks to social media platforms like Twitter that enforce very limited character counts, the students are generally used to and comfortable writing short ‘posts’ about themselves.”

The students wrote about their experience with the loss of things we take for granted every day: internet (“Without internet for five long months.”), electricity (“100% electricity by December, yeah right.”), water (“Would trade kidney for bottled water.”) and food (“Carmela sausages and soda crackers. Again.”). They detailed what they saw (“Woke up…flying roofs all around.”) and what they heard (“BANG! Think the worst possible scenario.”). Memoirs also moved into what the students had learned from the tragedy (“In the end, family matters most”; “How something that destroys can unite.”)

A number of students used their memoirs as a jumping off point to tell more of their stories. “The memory or image that inspired the Six-Word Memoir is usually clear in their minds, so when asked to write the details they are most often willing, capable and even excited to be able to expand their writing,” Denesiuk explains. 

Hurricane Maria was the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years and has affected millions of residents. As Puerto Rico rebuilds, those who are affected need as many outlets as possible to share their stories, and the Six-Word Memoir project is honored to offer one such place. “By compiling these memoirs,” says Denesiuk, “We can observe the power of joining voices together on a common theme.”

Teachers! Since we first launched the Six-Word Memoir project, educators across the spectrum have found Six Words to be a terrific classroom assignment and catalyst for self-expression. At our Six in Schools section we celebrate students’ work from classrooms around the world. Download one or all of our free teacher’s guides here.