IN JANUARY 2022, A CLASSROOM OF FIFTH GRADERS at Maplewood Elementary School, Missouri looked themselves in the metaphorical mirror to discover their true identity — and those of their peers. The two-day activity that inspired 5th grade core teacher Lexi Sinnett to launch her first ever memoir unit in her English class was her and the class’ first handshake with Six-Word Memoirs. Now, Sinnett is confident that the concept has will continue to be a part of the Maplewood Elementary family.
Sinnett discovered Six-Word Memoirs while looking for ways to begin her full-length memoir unit for the semester. The brevity of the concept inspired her to do so through a “vignette memoir” assignment, where students were to describe themselves at their core in six words. She introduced the Six-Word concept to her class by showing them creations posted by other classrooms online via platforms like YouTube before the students dipped their hands into the exercise. Sinnett also wrote her own Six-Word Memoir as an example that demonstrated the amount of self-concept the students would be required to establish. “I told them, ‘Really zoom in and pick the thing that stands out the most. What matters to you the most right now?’ I zoomed in on what really matters the most to me, [which is] being a teacher and focusing on the kids within my four walls.”
The class began by journaling ideas, then the students were paired up to brainstorm their works in progress. Sinnett felt that partnering the students to brainstorm and choose their memoirs would allow them more creative agency without an adult influence. “I wanted to reflect them as kids,” she says. Once the students found a memoir that spoke to them, they would have to combine their memoir with a suitable illustration that would visualize the memoir, on a readymade template Sinnett provided. The illustration piece of the lesson helped some students decide which memoir they wanted to choose based on how difficult it would be to draw out their unique creations. Sinnett felt that the illustration aspect would also be a refreshing first for the class, as visual art is uncommon in the fifth grade writing curriculum.
Looking at the finished pieces, Sinnett was met with some pleasant reminders and revelations: “I love that their Six-Word Memoirs clearly painted that the building I work in is one that has established an environment of equity, and freedom, and creativity.” Sinnett noted that this equity was also present in her students’ academic levels, and that the freedom to express their identities leveled the creative playing field for many. “It was one of those days when I went home and was reminded, ‘Okay, this is why I wanted to be a teacher!’” Especially considering the fact that most of the student examples she was able to show her students were by older, secondary school students, Sinnett was also surprised by the wisdom and maturity her students injected into their pieces. She says she saw LGBTQ flags on her students’ work; the complex dilemma of choosing between sports and academics; and uplifting motivational messages about life and goals. “That’s heavy for ten, so most importantly it solidified my why I’m here as an educator, and it showed us how brave these kids can be at such a young age when we just let them!”
“[The student] said she loved transferring to our building because she felt the teachers actually cared about her goals”
Once they’d perfected their six word personal narratives, the students presented their memoirs out loud to the class, and if they were comfortable, also has the opportunity to expand on the meaning behind the six words. Sinnett felt that her students handled the challenges of brevity quite well, considering their initial apprehension towards the tight word limit.
Pleased with the success of this flagship project, Sinnett plans to continue her Six-Word Memoir journey as a way to integrate an element of creativity free from the confines of research and structure in writing. And above all, she notes, embark on the endeavor of self-discovery with them.
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.