Paul Ackers, a Year 3 teacher at Brookes Moscow International School in Moscow, Russia, first discovered Six-Word Memoirs after he and the rest of the school’s staff were asked to think of an activity or competition that could appeal to the entire student body. Ideally, the challenge needed to engage with their diverse student population— students, local and international, ranging anywhere from ages 2 – 18. As an English teacher, Ackers started researching word-based activities. He humored spelling bees and word puzzles; still, nothing stuck. Eventually, he stumbled upon the Six-Word Memoir and things started to fall into place.
“After reading several examples online, I realized that it may be too difficult for students (and staff!) to tell a story in six words a la Hemingway,” says Ackers, but he didn’t want to give up on the format. He wondered if there was a way to reframe this task to make it more fun, accessible, and open-ended for everyone. Luckily, Ackers found our Six-Word Memoir website and realized the format could be more engaging and flexible than he originally thought.
After showing students and staff the website to help them better grasp the format and generate ideas, Ackers helped launch a school-wide six-word competition.”We simply asked students and staff to write an original six-word sentence,” says Ackers. “Funny, heartbreaking, motivational, profound, anything!” The competition ran for the entire month of December 2018 and winners were announced at an assembly in January. The six-word competition was so well-received by students and staff that Ackers has plans to make it a bigger, annual event.
The open-ended nature of the contest led to staff and students writing memoirs that touched on a variety of different subjects. From encouraging creativity (“Let your imagination leave your brain”) to simply describing their new home (“Golden domes, sheets of ice, Moscow”). They inspired confidence (“Believe in words that you say”) and chronicled the struggles of making friends at school (“Easy losing friends, hard finding them”). Students gave good advice (“Be funny, be humble, be you”) and staff reflected on their teaching careers (“Teaching has given me grey hairs”). The competition sparked a lot of creativity out of students and staff at Brookes Moscow, and one student’s memoir can attest to the enthusiasm it inspired: “Everything around me is wonderfully exciting.”
To Ackers, one of the beauties of Six-Word Memoirs lies in its ability to combine fun with learning. He believes the six-word format is a great way to get students (and anybody interested in writing) thinking about grammar, punctuation, and word choice. But, at its core, Ackers applauds the format’s unique twist on creativity. “We often think of creativity as being open, free of rules with room to explore,” says Ackers. “But one thing that struck me when writing six-word stories is that having strict parameters can sometimes lead to even more creative thinking!”
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.