During the fall quarter of 2020 at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle, thirty upper division students gathered online to rant, share their experiences and opinions on life in COVID-19 times in — you guessed it — only six words. The discussion was part of an icebreaker in a class entitled Civil and Human Rights Law for Disabled People, taught by UW Part-Time Lecturer Stephen Rosenbaum. “Succinctness is always a good thing,” Rosenbaum says, “I tend to be verbose myself, but always encourage my students to be succinct in their writing.”
After reading The New York Times article “The Pandemic in Six-Word Memoirs” by Larry Smith, Rosenbaum had the idea of skipping the small talk and asked his students to share their opinion on the hottest and most relevant topic that was currently looming over their heads as they logged onto Zoom. “People went back and forth, and I replied to some and tried to get them to post elsewhere, knowing that this really had a life of its own.” He encouraged them to read the article, reflect, and come up with their own memoirs based on where they were in their personal lives.
“Covid isn’t done because you are.” — Emmorie Anne Boas
Boas was unhappy with how the pandemic was being treated as a tired out trend by some, and wished for some to continue exercising caution despite the growth of mask fatigue. Still, she looked forward to seeing her peers online for class.
“Like an introvert’s dream come true” — Michelle Tsang
No longer “forced to interact with people we didn’t like or attend events out of obligation,” the pandemic made Tsang realize that she was secretly an introvert, as the world slowed down to a more comfortable rhythm for her.
“One isn’t safe we’re all unsafe.” — Julia S Mitsch
Mitsch, from personal experience, learned how rooming with friends makes communication a higher priority, especially during a global pandemic.
“At risk, live or let die.” — Lindsey Renee Muszkiewicz
Muszkiewicz’s memoir reflects her frustration with how the world was neglecting the more vulnerable population and their struggles. “The economy is fake, human lives are real! Argh!” she says in her backstory.
“Learn to dance in the dark.” — Marleyna Beene
Beene agreed with her peers on their opinions, but was determined to be optimistic in the face of a “time which seems so dark and unknown.”
There was an interesting juxtaposition with how Rosenbaum’s students opened up through their words, but kept themselves hidden behind their screens during class. “Here we were again with people not being present in a conventional way,” he says, “and yet very present in wanting to respond in this digital way.” Since all discussion took place online, the icebreaker was also accessible to students with impairments in mobility, communication, hearing, and vision. “Interestingly, this was something that really caught on with the students,” he says, noting that even the official discussion-focused community forum on the course page didn’t get as much traction throughout the semester as his ten-day long icebreaker.
Delighted and somewhat surprised by how engaged and revealing students could be about their personal lives, Rosenbaum says, “As icebreakers go, this was a very rewarding experience.” He plans to use the Six- Word Memoirs concept in future classes, for more socializing and reflecting, pandemic or not.
Teachers! Since we first launched The Six-Word Memoir Project, educators across the spectrum have found the six word format 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—including our most recent pandemic edition here. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your classroom’s six-word journey and your students could be featured in a future Classroom of the Month.
Want to make your own classroom book? We are delighted to offer a new way for any classroom to make their own Six-Word Memoir book. We provide a free classroom kit that leads teachers through a Six-Word Memoir lesson plan and bookmaking process (it’s a simple one). Parents can buy the book the way they buy class photos, teachers get a free book, and schools receive ten percent of each book sale. Sign up to receive your free classroom kit on our Six in Schools site.