Easily Use Six-Words to Build an Inclusive Creative Writing Curriculum

Aly Chatham, Kendra Wnuk, & Kelsey Joyce

What’s at the heart of Blackstone Valley Prep (BVP) Mayoral Academy charter schools in Central Falls, Rhode Island? PRIDE. “Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Discipline, and Enthusiasm” are the core values that guide their students who are proudly referred to as scholars.

Aly Chatham, Kelsey Joyce, and Kendra Volpe (now Kendra Wnuk) are a trio of dynamic co-teachers leading BVP’s 6th grade English Language Arts (ELA) team at Middle School. They were introduced to Six-Word Memoirs through a creative writing curriculum guide distributed by the school’s administration: “Six-Word Memoirs were included in a creative writing unit plan compiled by our curriculum director,” Kelsey explained.

Part of what makes BVP successful is setting the standard for students from the top down. Joy Souza, Head of School for BVP’s Middle School, involved teachers in her quest of how to teach creative writing by challenging them to write “Six Word Stories about BVP Scholars.” Their responses reflect school pride (“Hardest working students in Rhode Island.”) as well as what compels them to teach (“Dream chasers, change makers, future leaders.”).

The “100th day of school” is famously celebrated in classrooms nationwide. BVP showed their creative thinking as they commemorated the occasion by compiling 100 six-word stories by teachers. The prompts about BVP, teaching, or school choice produced gems like “Your path to success begins here,” “Inventive laboratories for public school reform,” “Zip code does not determine destiny” and “Dedicated staff, enthusiastic students, true learning!”

The creative writing lessons of Six-Words even helped teachers and students connect during those unavoidable snow days, as Kendra shared with the Twittersphere:

When students were first introduced to Six-Word Memoirs, the in-road to the form was simple: Write a Six-Word Memoir about yourself and create a visual to go with it. BVP immediately realized how easy it was to engage students with the format, which became an enduring writing curriculum for struggling writers. Additional activities to teach creative writing using Six-Words were created the following school year.

I would have, you never asked. | Larry Smith | TEDxColumbusWomen

This year’s detailed lesson plan in creative writing began with a viewing of “I would have, you never asked.” — a TEDx Talk by Larry Smith, founder of the Six-Word Memoir Project. “That TED talk was wonderful” explains Kelsey, “It really showed us how evocative Six-Word Memoirs can be.” As the classes explored writing personal narratives, teachers realized that, “Six-Words pairs well with another part of our ELA curriculum, William Zinsser’s How to Write a Memoir. It helped students connect to Zinsser’s advice: ‘Think small and write about the significance of an event to get to the deeper meaning.’” Kelsey said the key was that “students learn how valuable it can be when you capture emotions in just Six-Words.”

Students covered their classroom walls with compelling memoirs, including “I will go beyond all expectations” and “Trapped: Escape route is my daydreams.”

Sixth graders began by writing Six-Word Memoirs about themselves, then explored perspective by writing from the point-of-view of someone else. They could pick any voice, including characters from their readings. A favorite was Ponyboy from S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders: “Johnny and Dally die Ponyboy’s heroes.”

Kelsey is enthusiastic about the benefits of the six-word form: “It made it easy for students to share a piece of themselves. Not only could they express themselves, they had the choice to represent themselves however they wanted. Six-Word Memoirs also challenged them to think about themes and how they could develop longer narrative responses.”

The six-word motto at BVP lets students know the expectations are high and so are their abilities: “Today we learn. Tomorrow we lead.” Six-Word Memoirs is an effective tool to engage students — as Blackstone Valley Prep demonstrates, if you make learning fun, you will create lifelong learners.