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Classroom of the Month: John Ferry’s Illustration Class at Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Missouri

Three years have passed since Associate Professor John Ferry first discovered Six-Word Memoirs on NPR, and the idea has since become a staple in his illustration class each year at the Kansas City Art Institute. This spring marks the fourth year that Ferry will lead his class through his own twist on the Six-Word Memoir, where he is able to uniquely combine elements of both illustration and writing.

Image by Haley Gookin

In his “Image and Form” class, Ferry begins by explaining the concept of the Six-Word Memoir using the original Hemingway memoir (For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn), as well as examples from for inspiration. Then students get to craft their own Six-Word Memoir. Finally, Ferry asks his students to incorporate their memoir into a self-designed image. In this way, Six-Word Memoirs is able to give his students a medium for their artistic vision, while also giving them a voice.

Even though Ferry has been using Six-Word Memoirs for several years now, he says that the assignment itself hasn’t undergone much, if any, evolution over the course of his teaching: “The project doesn’t need to evolve at all, because you just get a whole new group of students, who are usually getting something like this for the first time, so it’s still a new assignment each time around.” It is not the prompt itself that changes over the years, but the students and their work. As Ferry describes, “What they learn from themselves is really where the growth and change comes through.”

Image by Joelle Lemongelli

This past spring was no different, as a new batch of students got to explore Six-Word Memoirs and tell their own story. For some students, their art told of perseverance (“It’s not time to give up” –Haley Gookin) for others, of aspirations (“Latino dreamer with passion to create” –Marco Defillo) and for others still, of new beginnings (“Stepping from one story to another” –Shannon McLeroy). But for all students, the lesson was yet again a chance to discover who they are (“Met myself, we’re still getting acquainted” –Joelle Lemongelli).

For Ferry, the Six-Word Memoir exercise is a perfect way to end each year: “I will always do this, in some way, shape, or form, because the students all seem to respond positively to it,” he states, “It’s a project where I see students really get behind it and get motivated.”

Image by Marco Defillo

Ferry remains thankful to the Six-Words Community for continuing to recognize the work of his students. “Whenever the students can see their work grow legs outside of the classroom, I think it really encourages them—it would for me as a student, to see my work appreciated.” We thank you as well, John, for remaining a devoted member of the Six-Words community and passing on the idea to creative young minds each year.

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.


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