Six-Word Memoirs about Hurricane Irma Go Viral After Sharing on Social Media

When natural disasters strike, schools are impacted, too. How do you restore normalcy in the classroom when your region is dealing with recovery? Teacher Jon Mundorf recognized the power of Six Words to help students process their experiences outside of school and refocus on classroom learning with ways to publish student writing.

Jon first discovered the six-word concept as a graduate student at University of Florida, and again during his doctoral studies. A seventh grade National Board-certified ELA teacher at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School—a K-12 school at the University of Florida in Gainesville—he introduces Six-Words into his classroom each year as an instant way to engage students. However, when Hurricane Irma approached Florida just a few weeks into the school year, Jon had not yet shared the concept with his students.

A State of Emergency had been declared for the entire state of Florida, which meant that schools statewide were closed effective September 7. P.K Yonge’s students come from more than 30 towns and communities across Florida, and when the school dismissed their students, there was no expectation that Irma would threaten their area. But, the hurricane shifted course and the eye of the storm crossed their region; a terrifying event for everyone in the storm’s path.

As students and teachers returned to school the following week, Jon knew it was the ideal time to introduce the Six-Words concept to his students—a student writing opportunity and transitional activity to address the storms’ impact and promote healing. “Emotions are such a critical component of cognition,” Jon explains. “If we’re not acknowledging and thinking about emotions, then it doesn’t matter much what happens next, because it won’t stick, it’s not lasting. Knowing that some of our students would’ve had really challenging hurricane experiences, I wanted to make sure they could name and address them, and then move forward.”

With 110 ELA students in 7th grade—five classes with 22 students each—it was particularly important in the aftermath of this traumatic event to engage every student, and what better way to do that than to provide places to publish student writing: “As educators we have to consider a variety of methods to celebrate the voices and experiences of all students. Six-Word stories became a method that allowed us to do that, and publish online.” 

After Jon introduced the concept, students were given five minutes to write their memoirs on Post-Its. They then deployed a collaborative classroom method, breaking into small mixed-pair share groups and later coming together as a classroom to discuss their stories. Once all of the students had crafted six words about Irma, the Post-Its were displayed on Jon’s classroom door—more than 100 in total. The response was momentous, but nothing compared to the real-world response when Jon shared this classroom experience on social media - a creative way to publish student writing.

The students’ Six-Word stories about hurricane Irma quickly went viral. P.K. Yonge’s English department first shared their success via Twitter, then Jon shared it on his personal Facebook page - social media being a great way for students to share their writing online. Minutes later, after many of his followers asked to share it with their networks, his post went viral on the online writing websites. The students’ memoirs quickly caught the attention of Love What Matters, who shared the story with their 7 million followers. Within days, it went global when their six word stories were highlighted by the likes of The Daily Mail and Jon was featured in his Northeast Ohio hometown newspaper. What better writing celebration idea could there be?

When asked for his own Six-Word Memoir about the storm, Jon replied: “Irma raged, friends evacuated, fellowship ensued.”

Given the scope of Hurricane Irma on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, and the poignancy of these simple-yet-powerful Six-Word Memoirs, it’s no surprise that these meaningful, bit-sized stories generated such an overwhelming response. Jon emphasizes the importance of authentic connections via online writing websites and student publishing sites: “When we share messages of hope that are genuine, people really connect with those. Who would’ve thought that a tweet of four Post-It notes would grow into this? A few students said they would’ve worked a little harder on their initial stories if they’d realized this was going to be such a big deal,” he chuckles.

Jon, unsurprisingly, has a number of teachers among his followers. After this post, many planned to use Six-Word Memoirs with their students, and educator Debra Asmuth Fillingim proclaimed: “I love Six-Word Memoirs. I loved doing them with my students as well. No matter how young, their words are usually pretty profound.”

Giving every student a voice is a top priority for Jon: “Trying to understand other peoples’ stories gets us out of that space of looking for one correct answer but rather valuing the richness of the individuals. We have a sign on our door: ‘Your story matters. Tell your story.’ Giving people space and time to tell their story is so important. Once told, we must honor their stories—not getting into comparisons of whose story is better; rather, everyone’s story has value.”

When you consider Six-Word Memoir’s motto: “Everyone has a story. What’s yours™”—it’s clear that Six Words is a perfect fit in Jon Jon’s dynamic classroom, showcasing education and Six-Word Memoirs at their best.