2023 marks the seventh year since Professor John Ferry started teaching Six-Word Memoirs in his “Image and Form” class at the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) in Kansas City, Missouri. Ferry first discovered Six-Word Memoirs in 2016 after listening to an NPR segment, and rushed to implement the idea in his art classes.
Every year, Ferry begins by introducing the concept of Six-Word Memoirs to his students, sharing both its origins and examples. Then the students are tasked with forging their own Six-Word Memoirs — at least five per student. From those five, the students select one to illustrate.
“Once they write the first one it seems to spark ideas and they build off the enthusiasm they have for writing them,” Ferry says of the assignment, noting that many of his students “are surprised by how much they enjoy the creative writing experience.” Choosing just one memoir from the many written to illustrate is usually a decision that is based on imagery. Ferry says that though the students create many “great memoirs… it’s important, as an illustration major, to be able to see and be fervent about the image they want to do.”
Ferry especially values this project in the years after the pandemic. He’s noticed that more recently, “current students seem to have a little more trouble adjusting to the discipline of the classroom and the expectations for attendance,” adding the Six-Word Memoir project has facilitated great discussions and classroom engagement among his students. Having students illustrate their own words encourages them not only to be creative in essentially creating their own assignment prompt, but also to be vulnerable with themselves and their fellow classmates. “I always admire their bravery in sharing cryptic yet revealing situations that have obviously been very impactful in their lives,” Ferry says.
And that bravery is more than evident in the students’ works. It’s safe to say that Ferry will be continuing this Six-Word Memoir project in the years to come.
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.