4 Simple Methods to Perfect Personal Narrative for Students
In January 2022, a classroom of 5th graders at Maplewood Elementary School in MO, looked themselves in the metaphorical mirror to discover their true identity — and those of their peers. This two-day activity inspired 5th grade core teacher, Lexi Sinnett, to launch her first ever English class memoir unit with Six-Word Memoirs . Now, Sinnett is confident that the concept will continue to be a part of the Maplewood Elementary family.
Sinnett discovered Six-Word Memoirs while looking for ways to begin her full-length memoir unit for the semester. The brevity of the concept inspired her to do so through a “vignette memoir” assignment, where students were to describe themselves at their core in six words. Before the class dipped their hands in, Sinnett introduced the Six-Word concept by showing them creations posted online by other classrooms and fun narrative writing prompts. She also wrote her own Six-Word Memoir as an example that demonstrated the amount of personal narrative topics the students would be required to establish. “I told them, ‘Really zoom in and pick the thing that stands out the most. What matters to you the most right now?’ I zoomed in on what really matters the most to me, [which is] being a teacher and focusing on the kids within my four walls.”
After reviewing creative writing prompts, the class began by journaling ideas. Then the students were paired up to brainstorm their short story ideas in progress. Sinnett felt that partnering the students to brainstorm and choose their memoirs would allow them more creative agency without an adult influence. “I wanted to reflect them as kids,” she says. Once the students found a memoir that spoke to them, they would have to combine their memoir with a suitable illustration that would visualize the memoir, on a ready-made writing prompt worksheets that Sinnett provided.
The illustration piece of the lesson helped some students decide which memoir they wanted to choose based on how difficult it would be to draw out their unique creations. Sinnett felt that the illustration aspect would also be a refreshing first for the class, as visual art is uncommon in the fifth grade writing curriculum.
Looking at the finished pieces, Sinnett was met with some pleasant reminders and revelations: “I love that their Six-Word Memoirs clearly painted that the building I work in is one that has established an environment of equity, and freedom, and creativity.” Sinnett noted that this equity was also present in her students’ academic levels, and that the freedom to express their identities leveled the creative playing field for many. “It was one of those days when I went home and was reminded, ‘Okay, this is why I wanted to be a teacher!’” Especially considering the fact that most of the student examples she was able to show her students were by older, secondary school students.
Sinnett was also surprised by the wisdom and maturity her students injected into their pieces. She says she saw LGBTQ flags on her students’ work; the complex dilemma of choosing between sports and academics; and uplifting motivational messages about life and goals. “That’s heavy for ten, so most importantly it solidified my why I’m here as an educator, and it showed us how brave these kids can be at such a young age when we just let them!”
Once they’d perfected their six word personal narratives, the students presented their memoirs out loud to the class, and if they were comfortable, also had the opportunity to expand on the meaning behind the six words. Sinnett felt that her students handled the challenges of brevity quite well, considering their initial apprehension towards the tight word limit.
Pleased with the success of this flagship project, Sinnett plans to continue her Six-Word Memoir journey as a way to integrate an element of creativity free from the confines of research and structure in writing. And above all, she notes, embark on the endeavor of self-discovery with them.