Climate Change Champions:
6 Words Make Students Powerful Environmental Advocates

Earlier this month, Team Six had the delightful experience of meeting with Ann Zivotsky and Janis Jones to discuss their very unique Six-Word project: 6 Words for the Environment.

In addition to working together for the Oceanside Unified School District, both Ann and Janis know each other from their mutual participation in The San Diego Area Writing Project, where they were recently re-introduced to Six-Word Memoirs. That’s where inspiration took root! Ann, with the help of Janis - who is a teacher on special assignment - introduced the six word concept to Ann’s 5th Grade class at Del Rio Elementary School this past spring.

Ann’s research-based writing program for elementary school went so well that she presented her Six-Word writing curriculum, step-by-step, to her San Diego Area Writing Project cohort. Here’s what she said about 6 Words for the Environment:

“We’re a small school, in a low income area. All of our students receive free lunches. We have a large population of English Learners…my purpose was to help my students learn they can be advocates for what they believe in, regardless of their situation.”

At face value, 6 Words for the Environment was a research-based elementary writing program on climate change. But in actuality, this evidence-based writing curriculum was a disguise for a project in student advocacy: fifth graders advocating for what they believed would stop climate change. 

Climate Change

Here are the steps that Ann and Janis followed to build their Six-Word stories about the environment:

One. Ann started by introducing Six-Word Memoirs and its origin - Ernest Hemingway - to her students.

Two. To write about global warming and climate change, one must first begin to understand it. So, Ann and Janis set the groundwork by asking and answering the following questions:

   1. What is climate change?
   2. What are the causes?
   3. What are the effects?
   4. How can we stop it?
   5. Who is leading the movement? (e.g. Greta Thunberg)

Three. Because many of Ann’s students are in need of reading acceleration, it was essential to identify accessible resources for them (noted below). Janis added an extra dimension to the project by showing the students a video created by UNICEF featuring teens working to change the devastating effects of global climate change and environmental impact on their countries.

Six-Words for the Environment

Four. Once the students' essays were written, Ann provided writing prompt worksheets – a grid of 4x7 – for students to brainstorm words related to the environment.

Five. Each student was then asked to write at least three Six-Word Memoirs, or stories, related to the environment. Ann supplied guided writing worksheets with a 3x2 table to help students visualize all six of their words.

Six. The students were then asked to pick their favorite memoir and illustrate it with original art or photographs. Ta Da! The students' final product was loaded into Google Slides!

See what Ann had to say about this research-based writing curriculum on environmental justice and literacy on her blog! It includes the research resources she used and a step-by-step of how she led the project in her class. It also includes the link to Janis’ UNICEF video inclusion.

Both teachers were pleased with the student’s Six-Word stories. Janis noted that the students really met the challenge of “distilling a large, complex concept down to six words.”

Ann’s favorite part? “The students’ Six-Word stories turned out to be just as powerful as their full essays, and, of course, the students liked it better,” she said, chuckling. “I have one student who is not a worker, and even he produced a great memoir. He just might have even enjoyed it.”

Team Six has had the privilege of seeing the Six-Word Memoir format used in all sorts of classrooms in all kinds of ways! But Ann and Janis’ particular writing program for elementary school - advocating for the environment - felt completely new and unique! We continue to be amazed by the versatility of the Six-Word Memoir format!

P.S. Remember Ann's presentation? Here are some of the Six-Word Memoirs participating teachers wrote about the environment: