Six In Schools Facilitates Challenging Conversations in the Classroom

At High Point Academy in Aurora, Colorado, eighth grade English Language Arts teacher Emily DelRoss hoped to have a conversation with her students about police brutality. After police officer Rusten Sheskey brutally shot Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, in September 2020, and the story gained national coverage and upset. But when Emily checked in with her students to ask how they were feeling, she realized that she needed a writing strategy for middle schoolers.

“It was clear to me immediately that my 13 and 14-year-old students didn’t know how to talk about it or didn’t want to,” Emily said. So she offered them an assignment to work out their thoughts and feelings. If they weren’t able to share out loud, perhaps they could express themselves through reflective writing prompts for middle school. 

Emily had discovered Six-Word Memoirs while searching for ELA project based learning lesson plans about a year earlier. She recalled Six-Words suitability for concise yet powerful expression and knew she needed it in her class this year. She even used the Six-Word Memoirs guided writing worksheets in her lesson.

Students who had a tough time expressing themselves in class discussion picked up on the assignment quickly. “Using Six-Word Memoirs allowed my students to share their thoughts and feelings at a time when they were unsure of how to use their voices. It surprises me how often they missed the six-word target. The success came through in very powerful statements,” Emily explained of the writing strategy example.

Finding a new avenue for students to express themselves when a spoken discussion wasn’t working? The value of Six-Words as an easy writing curriculum strategy was clear. Students who weren’t able to speak up in class wrote insightful Six-Word memoirs about structural racism and police brutality. “Six-Word Memoirs allowed my students to voice their thoughts and feelings during a time when they didn’t feel like they could talk about the issues,” Emily reflected. “Honestly, Six-Word Memoirs helped my students make sense of an intense issue . . . they chose their words very carefully, a critical strategy for developing writing skills.”

After the students completed their Six-Word Memoirs, the results were displayed in a presentation that was emailed to staff, parents, shared on the school’s Facebook page, and on Emily's classroom website. And the impact of the lesson went even further. High Point Academy’s charter contract is up for renewal this year, and eighth-grade students at the school were asked to participate in a focus group with the state of Colorado’s charter school authorizer. “The focus group discussed the Six-Word Memoir project as a piece of writing curriculum for schools in our on-going focus on equity,” says Emily.

High Point Academy’s experience demonstrates how Six-Word Memoirs can play a valuable role in facilitating classroom discussions about intense socio-structural issues, encouraging empathetic critical thinking, and working toward equity. Here at Six-Word Memoirs, we are so glad this form of personal expression helps students find a voice on complex issues in intense times.