Lindy Merwin focuses on creativity and critical thinking skills in her advanced English college course at Universidad Panamericana in Guadalajara, Mexico. Six-Word Memoirs has been especially useful as she helps students navigate the differences in writing styles between Spanish and English.
Merwin explains that she teaches a different kind of English as a second language class at the university. She doesn’t focus just on grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, and other basic structures that many associate with language teaching. “Using the six-word stories has helped with that. Our students generally perform at the same level or better than the control groups on these tests,” says Merwin proudly. “It’s more fun for them as well.”
“The sentence structure in Spanish is much longer than in English,” adds Merwin, “so I started using Six-Word Memoirs as a way to teach shortening sentences. Then I’ve adapted it over time to include using a thesaurus and dictionary to develop vocabulary.” Her college students “get the idea that things can be expressed in shorter contexts,” she says. “You don’t have to read a novel to get a big picture of something, and you can visualize something from just a few words.” The professor of advanced English and linguistic strategy sometimes uses Six-Word Memoirs right at the beginning of class to switch them into English mode. What’s more, the short form of personal expression helps create community in the classroom. “Especially in a second-language classroom, the students need to feel comfortable to express themselves,” says Merwin.
Merwin’s main project using Six-Word Memoirs urged her students to think about innovation. “I introduced this semester with defining creativity and invention,” said Merwin, “so they all came up with their definitions of this idea in six words.” The result was a glimpse into how Merwin’s students thought of creativity in their own individual ways. Examples include: “Thinking out of your comfort zone,” “A unique way to be rare,” and “New solutions, new perspectives with inspiration.”
Ernest Hemingway is one of Merwin’s favorite writers, which led her to introduce the six-word story concept to her students a few years ago, although she didn’t discover Six-Word Memoirs until recently. While at her friend’s yoga studio in Columbus—her hometown—Merwin saw one of Six-Word Memoirs’ books on a table and thought, “Oh my gosh—I do this with my students!” She soon met the creator of Six-Word Memoirs (and fellow yoga enthusiast) Larry Smith and chatted about the project.
Merwin explains that her use of stories in the classroom has been impacted by her meeting with the creator of Six-Word Memoirs. While many of her students weren’t familiar with Hemingway, “Knowing Larry and his project makes it more personal and relevant to them.” Merwin adds, “I can see a bit of a difference in the way that my students have been relating to it. Now they have something to connect it to; it’s part of a bigger picture.” —Amanda Gaglione
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. Contact us (concierge AT smithmag DOT net) if you would like a copy of our free teacher’s guide.