Inspiring writing, learning in six words

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One of my own six-word memoirs

I want to share my love affair with six-word stories with you today. I have shared some of the ways I use six-word memoirs or six-word stories in my classroom before but those ideas are only the tip of the iceberg.

Smith Magazine started the six-word memoir movement in 2006 by challenging readers to write their life story in just six words. That challenge continues to spark writers of all ages from around the world and increasingly educators have not only joined the movement but created new challenges to spark learning.

Personal writing continues to be a strong trend for six-word stories or memoirs. I use six-word memoirs at the beginning of every semester as a way to introduce ourselves in our new community. As I teach an online class and we write these asynchronously, I like to have students actually create six-word memoir posters. These can be created in any photo editing program or even in Powerpoint or Word although I like to use Big Huge Labs when I want something a bit slicker than I can create myself. Students seem to really enjoy this ice breaker and it generates a lot of conversations as we introduce ourselves using six-word memoirs. During the Morehead Writing Project Summer Institute we often use six-word memoirs as a classroom exercise and writing warm-up somewhere in the middle. I introduce six-word memoirs and share some collections from Youtube (including the original Smith Magazine video) just as I do with my students then we create our own six-word memoirs. What we like to do differently during the SI is to have everyone write their unattributed six-word memoirs on a notecard and then we try to match the memoir to a person. I recently used six-word memoirs to kick off a writing marathon at the Morehead Writing Project’s Teen Writers Day Out and our teen writers enjoyed it so much they wrote pages of them and shared their favorites on a graffiti wall.

Inspired by Kenzaburo Oe's "The Unsurrendered People"

Inspired by Kenzaburo Oe’s “The Unsurrendered People”

As fun and inspiring as these personal stories can be, six-word stories can be so much more. I like to use them to teach summary skills as well. My students write weekly blog posts and I strongly encourage creating six-word stories as the title for their posts. This helps them focus (or maybe refocus) on the primary point they want to make. Similarly, we use six-word memoirs to highlight the main point of a reading selection. It is important to note that these six-word memoirs are not created or presented in isolation. Students are also asked to explain their reasoning and we have a class discussion about why we agree (or disagree) that the six-word memoir accurately portrays that main idea. (see Using 6-word memoir posters to discuss reading, inspire writing) NWP teacher Jonathan Olsen also uses six-word stories to help his history students find clarity through brevity.

Inspired by Frederick Douglas' "Learning to Read"

Inspired by Frederick Douglas’ “Learning to Read”

Like many other teachers, I also use six-word stories as a way to explore new ideas and spark writing. This semester I had students create six-word story posters exploring the connections between readings in their textbook and popular culture (specifically graphic novels and comic books). These six-word stories then became the springboard for their final two projects (including a long analytical essay) for the class. Not only did students enjoy this assignment and find it a helpful entry point for assignments they had been nervous to complete, but our class discussion of the posters helped them find connections among the readings that they had previously missed. (see Using comic books themes and archetypes to write about humanity) Another NWP educator Paul Oh sees six-word stories as an exercise in analyzing and interpreting not only the words written but those left out and also introduces us to the idea of using Mozilla webmaker to make something out of six-word stories.

A number of educators use six-word stories to explore concepts with students of all ages and in all content areas. I’ve read six-word memoirs created to illustrate literary figures and key historical personalities. I’ve read six-word memoirs written to explore both concrete ideas such as historical events and abstract ideas such as love. Sean Ziebarth uses six word stories to teach literature with his “Lit in 6” assignment. NWP teacher Sarah Bosch inspired this discussion of the ways to use six-word stories to book end assignments and/or the school year. There really is no limit to the ways that you can use six-word stories to engage and inspire your students. How do you use six-word stories to inspire writing and learning in your classroom? What potential do you see for the use of six-word stories in your classroom?

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