Six-Word Memoirs: Teacher Tests Out New Way to Teach Writing

We’ve been challenging the Six-Word community with a new contest every month for years, but this year, New York City public school teacher Andrea Franks took the monthly model to her 4/5th grade classroom as a way of how to teach writing to elementary students. Andrea first heard of Six-Word Memoirs over the summer of 2020, after a former parent emailed her about an interesting project her kids were doing at the middle school, which helped with how to develop writing skills in students. Andrea immediately visited the Six-Word Memoirs website, dove into the memoirs, and watched founder Larry Smith’s TEDx talk.

In the fall of 2020, Andrea introduced Six-Word Memoirs to her students in the same way she had explored it herself; then the students completed guided writing worksheets to help get their creative juices flowing. Andrea’s strategy for developing writing skills was composed of asking her students to identify four memories, and use the six-word format to write about them. Once their memoirs were written, each student chose one to feature on the classroom bulletin board.

Andrea then decided to make Six-Word Memoirs a monthly project because, as she says, “It’s really fun. They love it. They’re constantly coming up with them, which sends them running for their notebooks to jot down ideas before they forget.” This writing strategy for students worked, and worked in a big way.

As months passed, Andrea’s lesson plan for teaching writing skills continued to evolve. In the second month, her students decorated the memoir they wanted to display on the board. In month three, each student brought in a photo from home that represented a memory they wanted to write about. Month Four? Her students' memoirs were based on a theme: January’s theme was resolutions, and February’s, love.

“My jungle may become a room.”
“No more new stuff, only appreciating.”
“I liked a boy, one day.”
“Strong bonds, finding truth, staying strong.”
“It’s just me, myself, and I.”
“Wrote love stories, never found it.”

In order to share all her students' brilliant work, the class held a “publishing party” for their parents - a great parent engagement strategy. First, the students gave a presentation introducing Six-Word Memoirs, and explained how founder, Larry Smith, was inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s legendary six-word story (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”). Second, every student shared two of their written memoirs. Lastly, they turned the tables and gave each parent an index card, asking them to write a memoir of their own. “Of course, they all wrote about how fabulous their kid is,” says Andrea.

“As a teaching writing strategy, Six-Word Memoirs is accessible to all kids: to both the kid that has an easy time writing as well as the kid that has a hard time writing,” says Andrea. “They can all write six words.”

Pandemic Update:
Now that Andrea’ classroom has moved to virtual lessons in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, she is getting creative with her daily attendance check-in. It’s a tricky time for everyone, and once a month memoirs weren’t enough to teach writing to students! So, now, each day starts with something familiar - a Six-Word Memoir - to which each student responds with their own. In trying times, capturing joy is important and her students are finding exactly that in writing and sharing a Six-Word Memoir every day.