As I’ve written before. I love six word stories and regularly use them in my classes for a variety of purposes (ice breakers, for example). Many teachers are familiar with the concept of six word memoirs, but have only used them for personal writing. I do enjoy using six word stories for personal expression; however, I love using them to support content knowledge as well.
When I help my students build larger projects or papers, I frequently use a series of six word stories to help them review what we have discussed in class, summarize readings, clarify ideas, and identify questions. These six word stories can help them organize their ideas and/or their sources as well as the paper they are writing.
For example, in my project-based classes the groundwork always includes sharing a variety of source material including readings and videos then crowd-sourcing our class research with each student adding additional sources to our collection. My students will create paper trails (my answer to the annotated bibliography) summarizing these sources, but first they must create six word stories. The power of the six word story is evident when we craft them before we write summaries. Their brevity forces students to distill the words to focus only on the essential message. There is no room for opinion or extraneous comments.
We then create six word stories making connections across/between/among our sources – looking at the big picture ideas. See my blog post Inspiring Writing, Learning in Six Words. We have lots of conversations about these six word stories and students write about them as well. The six word stories are launching pads for a lot of in-depth thinking about these ideas.
Most of my lower level classes center around comic book themes (because I like them and I think it is easy to find lots of accessible ways to think about some pretty heavy duty humanities ideas using comics). Therefore, our next round of six word stories to inspire class discussion and writing includes making connections between the big ideas they identified from the sources with comics and other weighty popular culture sources (ie. Lord of the Rings).
By the time my students are ready to propose the topic and approach they plan to take for their projects, they have written 750 or more words about these ideas and have spent time thinking, talking, and writing on micro and macro levels about these ideas. By the time my students actually write their papers and create their projects, they have even more time doing so.
The projects in my class (mileage varies for each class and its purpose/requirements) include both a formal argument paper and a digital product of some sort. These are major projects worth a large percentage of the grade for the semester, but students are rarely intimidated by the time it comes to write the paper (although for most it is the longest paper they have ever attempted in college) because we have spent several classes writing six word stories and small chunks of text about those stories. The digital products are more stressful because that is unfamiliar territory, but the ideas are familiar and comfortable because we have spent so much time with them.
How do you break up large papers and projects to make the process more manageable for students?