What’s a six-word memoir?
Writing in six words is an imaginative way to catalyze communication, spark creativity and bring big ideas down to students’ realities. Six-word memoirs are an effective tool to discuss significant ideas and a beautiful way for individuals to break the ice.
Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in just six words. He came up with: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” This spawned the concept of six-word memoirs.
Using this idea I gave my students an assignment:
Write a story about your life during the coronavirus pandemic in six words (no more, no less). Your story does not have to be a complete sentence. Use powerful words, mainly nouns and verbs. The most important thing is to be honest and to be yourself.
1. What does social isolation feel like?
2. How has your family life changed?
3. What do you miss the most or least about school?
4. What have you discovered?
5. Describe a new book, show, podcast, recipe.
6. What advice do you have for your parents or caretaker?
7. How do you think life will change when this is over?
Make your story visual
Option 1: Write or type your six-word memoir. Be visually creative. Use different sizes/styles of handwriting and fonts.
Option 2: Create a Google slide with your six-word memoir and an original photograph or drawing.
Option 3: Draw a postcard-sized picture (at least 3.5 x 5 in., or larger) with your six-word memoir written on the back.
The author is a humanities educator based in Mumbai. She is currently a teacher in Garodia International Centre for Learning, Mumbai. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More six-word ideas for the classroom
Here are some ideas to use this same activity in a variety of situations.
Introduction – Students bring to class different life experiences, cultures, habits, etc. Six-word memoirs allow students a reliable way to share a small piece of who they are and what signifies them.
Language – Each student can be asked to write a six-word memoir for a character in a book. It will be fascinating to see how students describe the character uniquely. They could even write six-word memoirs of these characters at different points in the story, showing their growth over time in the story.
Social science – Ask students to compose a historical figure’s memoir.
Arts – The six-word composition could be used to describe what a song or piece of music makes one feel, or a dance, or any other performance. The crispness of the six-word structure makes it an exemplary form for this type of review.
Reflection – We can ask students in school to reflect upon the type of learners they have become over a school year. They can be goofy or serious, rational or driven.
Exploring real-world issues – Students can be asked to write about political truths and process real-world trauma.
The six-word formation is also a wonderful way for the teacher to check how much of what he/she has taught has been imbibed by the students.