Six-Word Memoirs - A Way to Encourage Creativity in Sixth Graders

Running too fast through six years.

Six words have taken me (Larry Smith, founder of Six-Word Memoirs) as far as the Cayman Islands to lead a corporate workshop and as close as down the street to do a storytelling workshop with kids at an after-school program in Brooklyn, NY. One summer Six-Words even took me home where I got to see, first hand, creativity in education and the importance of creativity for students.

A few months ago Kristy Redford from the LBI Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to arts and science, contacted me and asked if I had planned on being in the area this summer. LBI stands for Long Beach Island, a barrier island just eighteen miles long that inspires a special devotion by those who know it. Make a right off “The Causeway” onto LBI and you’ll eventually end up in Beach Haven, the Jersey shore beach of my youth, home to many friends who are like family, and a place nothing like the Jersey Shore seen on TV. Make a left and in a few miles you’ll arrive in a town called Loveladies, where the Foundation has offered classes, exhibits and talks since 1948 (including to my own beloved Bubbie back in her day). In other words: I was very happy to make a left and talk six.

Jessica Gomez, an art teacher at the nearby Stafford Intermediate School, heard about the talk and decided to try her hand while addressing the question: how to encourage creativity in students? She asked her students to take the Six-Word Memoir into entirely new territory, offering up a creative task idea. For weeks her sixth graders worked on their creativity skills through mixed-media six-word “memory boxes.” The idea behind this example of a creative thinking activity, she said, was for these boxes “to become a place to store memorable moments of their past, little trinkets or words jotted down of the present, future thoughts and dreams. Hopefully the project will build that essential bridge for them between art and literacy.”

Making the night extra special (and a little nerve-wracking) was having many family and friends in the audience, including my nephew Noah (“Soccer plus camp equals life’s good”). It was Noah’s third-grade classroom—in the same school I attended in South Jersey—where I did my first talk about storytelling and writing Six-Word Memoirs. A few rows behind Noah was a woman who many people in the house will always know as Ms. Bechdel, a teacher with a style and spirit that sticks with you forever. Having Ms. B (now Mrs. C) there was one of my best moments on a wild SMITH Magazine journey.

Check out some of the students’ memory boxes found throughout this post, and below are some Six-Word Memoirs from our audience “slam.”

Six-Word Memoirs from the LBI Foundation Audience:

   Breaking loose at 72; about time.
   Breast cancer, thanks for the mammaries.
   Fast life, slow down, enjoy family.
   Fun is all that I remember.
   What the f*ck it’s morning already?
   Soccer plus camp equals life’s good.
   A little cranky without a workout.
   Mini-golf is the best game ever.
   Too many words, all blank pages.
   Always dream in sand, surf, sun.
   Lost 165 pounds. Divorced my husband.
   Forty years teaching while still learning.
   Gave up gluten. Not sure why.
   Six decades down. Done with counting.

Thanks to everyone who came out! - Larry Smith