Six in Schools is a Simplistic Creative Thinking Strategy for Students

At the Arrowhead Union High School in Hartland, Wisconsin, Becca McCann’s classroom walls are covered with colorful memoirs written by her past students. The impact of Six-Word Memoirs (SWM), and using it as a creative thinking strategy for students, was already thriving in other classrooms. When she first arrived at the district, her colleagues Terri Carnell and Elizabeth Jorgenson had already been participating in SWM for more than a decade and suggested similar assignments as creativity activities for students.

For the past six years, Becca has utilized SWM, a model of critical and creative thinking, as an icebreaker project to 11th and 12th graders as a perfect opportunity to learn about her students. She introduced the format to her students by showing a SWM video and a New Yorker article, which inspired SWM in other classrooms. And, in a critical thinking strategy, she asked the class to discuss and analyze the articles.

As with many other schools in the world, Covid-19 divides the Arrowhead Union High School students into physical and virtual classrooms. Becca, however, searched for online writing tools for students and found a technological alternative to still showcase her students’ memoirs through Padlet. The online app allows students to publish their works on a virtual bulletin board.


Creativity in education comes from Becca’s type of ingenuity and creativity in teaching. For her Six-Word project, she decided to adapt Padlet in a way that would allow students to publish their memoirs with an added image. These images could be gifs, memes, or their own art, as long as it related to their memoir. “They could create an image and pair it with their memoir,” Becca says, “These kinds of creative activities for students really allow creativity in the classroom to shine through; something that we desperately miss in our virtual situation.”

With the challenging six word limit, students must brainstorm and consider if each selected word is useful, and what kind of message it conveys. “We talk about experimenting with different punctuation,” Becca says. Six in Schools is a great way to show how to develop skills in students, especially in students who are hesitant or new to expressive writing. It helps them take creative risks and try something new.

Becca also noted that students appear to understand and appreciate the importance of being able to publish their work for both their classmates and the internet via student publishing sites. In fact, one of her students’ stories was recently selected as the Memoir of the Day on the SWM website. Becca reflects that, just as the memoirs taped to her classroom walls last well after her students graduate, work published online is also sustained through time, just in a different, digital sort of way.

At the end of the icebreaker project, Becca had her students reflect on the overall experience of SWM. Her students saw it as a lesson in the importance of creative thinking, and noted that they now had a greater understanding of the different parts of the writing process: brainstorming, pre-writing, and revision. Luckily for them, these learned writing skills will only benefit their future projects. “I think [SWM] is an exercise that creates a little more critical thinking than meets the eye,” says Becca.