Helen Spearman, the principal at Lone Star High School West, located in Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex facility in Brownwood, Texas, says Six-Word Memoirs helps students have an opportunity to share their voices. Mary Singer, Reading Specialist and former classroom teacher who introduced the project, agrees.
TJJD operates several halfway houses and five secure facilities for youth who’ve been committed to these programs by juvenile court judges from across Texas. These facilities and halfway houses provide treatment services to the youth, giving them the tools they need to return to their communities to lead productive, fulfilling lives.
“The Six-Word Memoir concept has helped the students because it has given them an opportunity to say something that they think matters to the world,” says Spearman.
In 2018, a group of English teachers on the campus came up with the idea of introducing Six-Word Memoirs to the school. While only a few classrooms did the project last year, this year the Six Words expanded to a department-wide project. To introduce the form, the teachers talked about summarizing, and showed examples of Six-Word Memoirs from the website.
“The teachers came up with this because our kids struggle with writing in all aspects,” says Spearman. “They struggle with being specific and summarizing, and in general they don’t enjoy it. This was a way for them to practice those skills, as well as learn that writing can be enjoyable.”
“Not only did Six-Word Memoirs introduce the students to each other, but the idea that each word needs to be carefully chosen because every word has power.”
– Mary Singer, Reading Specialist at Lone Star High School West
When Singer was was still a classroom English teacher, she used Six-Word memoirs as her first day activity.
“Students knew they would be sharing them with each other, and they would spend time really considering what they wanted to say as they knew the memoirs allowed others to make inferences about who they were as people,” says Singer. “I filled my walls with their memoirs, and during the year, students would interact with each other. Sometimes they would guess who wrote them, and sometimes they would bring me over to read ones that emotionally moved them or that they described as ‘fire.’ I loved seeing the way my students interacted with words and emotions. Not only did Six-Word Memoirs introduce the students to each other, but the idea that each word needs to be carefully chosen because every word has power.”
Their posted memoirs expressed wanderlust (“Your journey in this world comes.”); others delivered daily mantras (“You are worth so much more.”). Students wrote about harsh lessons (“Struggles in life are for everyone”) and some dove under the surface of the labels that constantly define us (“Eyes are seen without the body”). Each six-word story sheds light on the unique minds of those who wrote them.
“This program creates an activity that any student or staff can participate in regardless of ability and learning background.”
– Helen Spearman, the Principal at Lone Star High School West
However, the project wasn’t only engaging for the students, but the staff as well.
“After seeing the ones hung up on the wall, the English teachers invited the rest of the staff to write and post their own,” says Spearman.
This year, all of the English classes participated in making their own Six-Word Memoirs. They hung the projects in the hallway for all students to see. Spearman says the project itself helps students create concise ideas as well as giving them practice at summarizing their thoughts. This is what makes the program special to their students.
Singer reflects on the impact of Six-Word Memoirs for the students. She says that their peers’ overwhelming positive reactions to the Six-Word Memoir assignment gave her students the confidence to take risks in their future writings, because they realized that others wanted to hear what they had to say.
“These skills are things the students struggle with and the extra practice in a creative way is an engaging way to do so,” says Spearman. “This program creates an activity that any student or staff can participate in regardless of ability and learning background.”
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.