Six In Schools: A Special Project-based Learning Lesson Plan for Struggling Students

Here's a classroom at Essex Street Academy in NYC, a school that prides itself on its project-based learning ideas for writing and learning, as well as a personalized approach to education. The ninth and tenth graders taking a creative writing course with teachers Jenny Platow and Caitlin Thomas were asked to write Six-Word Memoirs after thoroughly analyzing the book, I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure, found in the school library.

The students were encouraged to notice not just the words used in the memoirs but also the positioning of the words on the page and the book’s overall design. The class then went on to explore the Six-Word Memoir format as a greater movement by checking out some YouTube video compilations, celebrity six-worders and memoirs from teenagers just like them.

Several of the students have Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and struggle with reading and writing in some capacity; still, as we’ve so often found, project-based learning lesson plans like the Six-Word Memoir format is accessible for everyone. Although the main focus of their creative writing course this semester was dramatic writing, students took the creative liberty to mix things up by incorporating other forms of project-based learning examples for creative writing into the curriculum as well. Each student was required to create three to four memoirs of their own, whether funny, sad, serious or random.

“We quickly saw that while some of our students used the format as a way to just express their creativity and silliness, others quickly gravitated towards revealing more serious and sad anecdotes from their life experiences,” Jenny says.

The memoirs were then used as a jumping off point to talk about grammar and punctuation, from the importance of comma placement, to the true use of a semicolon. Finally, the project-based learning activities for English were proudly hung on a wall on the first floor in a high traffic area.

Jenny adds: “We hope it will be a conversation piece for other students in the school who are learning a lot in only six words about their peers.” Here’s a look at some of the wonderful English project-based learning ideas from Essex Street Academy.

   “Chaotic is my real middle name.” -Zane
   “Lost my mind, now I’m here.” -Steven
   “Dreams won’t happen till you’ve spoken.” -Elsa
   “I love you; Stop doing drugs.” -Aaron

“Six-Word Memoirs taught us a lot about our students and also taught the kids that efficiency of language can be a powerful way to make a point or share something poignant about themselves,” Jenny says. A big SMITH Magazine thanks to everyone at Essex Street Academy who shared their Six-Word memoir experiences with us!