Six-Word Memoirs is Proven to Help Students Find Their Own Way to Write

At Lord Dorchester Secondary School in Ontario, Canada, Six-Word Memoirs teaching writing activities help secondary school students open up to writing, and offers an easy and engaging extension of their classroom. English teacher Jamie Bechard adorns her classroom walls with this six-word tenet: “Give your voice value with writing.”

Jamie discovered Six-Word Memoirs via her learning coordinator and introduced the concept to her ninth and tenth grade English classrooms in the spring semester: “I always try to do something fun with them on Fridays. End the week on a positive note,” says Jamie. She first introduced Six-Word Memoirs in a creative writing activity on free writing: “No topics, no marks assigned to it, no evaluations, just giving them activities for writing skills because all too often they get too consumed with, ‘How much is this worth? Am I getting graded on it?’…it takes away the fun from writing.” As a pre writing activity example, Jamie put chart paper around the classroom and had each student write a Six-Word Memoir. “They started responding to each other anonymously, and it became conversations in a sense,” she explains.

They felt like home to me.
But home never turns me away.

Jamie finds that teachers often compete against technology and other distractions, but with this Six-Word Memoir writing activity example, her students were hooked.

“The concept is easy and therefore students grasp it and participate,” says Jamie. “As a writing activity for students, Six-Word Memoirs offers students permission and freedom to open up and write. We’re really trying to focus on getting our kids to write more and when you introduce them to ‘just write me anything about a topic in six words’ it’s not daunting for them.” Jamie is also rewarded: “It was beautiful to watch kids give themselves permission to open up because it was a community-building exercise…and they just gave it their all. They didn’t hold back.”

As a creative writing activity for high school, and since the class has been reading To Kill a Mockingbird, students were also asked to write Six-Word Memoirs from the perspective of the book’s three main characters: Atticus Finch, Scout, and Jem. “They get into the minds of characters and write from their narratives. Teaching this book during Black History Month, we’re trying to tie everything in together, and this activity fit perfectly,” she says.

5 minute creative writing exercises help keep her students’ attention: “It’s hard as a teacher because you can’t always reinvent the wheel, but when you’re exposed to these awesome ideas, you have to try them to be innovative in education.” Encouraging students to think outside the box is key: “We want to be innovative educators for the twenty-first century. We have the permission to try new things because that’s how learning happens.”

Six-Word Memoirs also added value to a staff meeting when Lord Dorchester’s English Department used it during a presentation on the upcoming Ontario Secondary School Literary Tests. “It’s a universal application to all subject areas,” Jamie explains, adding that she believes English and literacy should be cross-curriculum. They also had staff members write Six-Word Memoirs to connect them with the student experience: “We wanted to remind the educators that writing can be scary for kids.”

When students learned they would be featured on, they asked if they were going to be famous. Jamie’s response? “You never know where the power of the words will take you.”