In August 2020 and 2021, two middle school classrooms in Mohave Middle School, Arizona spent a week weaving the world around them into a six-word narrative on their lives. When arranged on a linear timeline, the difference in the tone of the memoirs speaks for itself — the world is yet to return to its pre-pandemic state, but the intensity of 2020 has notably faded since.
The idea to bring the Six-Word Memoir concept into the classroom first came to 6th grade English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher April Goodman when stumbled across the site in the summer of 2020. Intrigued and inspired, she decided to tackle the problem of a faceless digital classroom with the personal depth that six words could potentially communicate. “A lot of the memoirs ended up being…just honest. Something about having such a small amount of time and words to write [meant that] people got right to the heart of things.” What’s more, Goodman explained, students expressed an anxiety of not making the jump to middle school in person, and the memoirs were a reflection of their uneasiness.
Goodman came up with a simple writing assignment to ease the class into the semester: students had to describe themselves in six words. The class spent some time learning about memoirs before watching Crash Course Crayon’s two minute video in which Larry Smith energetically runs through the defining features of a Six-Word Memoir. Goodman’s assignment spanned the course of approximately a week, and the students were told to create a presentation slide that adhered to two general components: telling their story in six words and being visually creative with their presentation. The class also discussed background pictures, fonts, color, and other visual elements that could contribute to their six-word stories.
Students in her 2020 class wrote about not being able to see friends, the dilemma of social distancing, and the frustration at not being understood. But they also shared stories about perseverance, individuality, optimism, and expressed their gratitude for the things they were grateful for. Goodman was surprised by the maturity that shone through the way her students were coping with the pandemic. Mixed in with the typical sentiments of middle school life were proverbial truths that reflected their idealism. “Some of the wisdom that can come out in just six words from some of these kids is just awesome.” They wished for a longer summer and to see their friends, but also acknowledged the finite gift of life in the face of a global pandemic.
“Even in bad times, there’s good” — Anonymous Student
“Swimming everyday, six feet away” — Anonymous Student
“Online school is not for me” — Anonymous Student
All the memoirs were arranged in a slideshow that the class looked at together. Goodman notes how the difference in tone of the memoirs written this year compared to Pandemic 2020 is a great reflection of how time influences the collective consciousness. “You look at the memoirs from last year and they shine a light on everything that was completely new to us, whereas this year, I don’t think very many people zoomed in on Covid.”
Pleased with the outcomes of her Six-Word adventures with her students, Goodman is optimistic to keep the streak going and has some ideas for the future. “As a teacher, I like things that are simple, yet powerful,” Goodman says, going on to note the literary potential that such seemingly restrictive concepts bring, especially with the honesty that the Six-Word Memoir approach encourages. “I do always feel fortunate that I teach English language arts because I get to read my students’ writing and know things about them and what’s important to 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.