Six-Word Memoirs: The 'American Haiku' Easily Transforms Students' Writing

At Ashe County Middle School in Warrensville, NC, more than 400 students created Six-Word Memoirs for a unique multimedia, poetry in the classroom project. Julie Taylor, curriculum director for the Ashe County Schools, has been a fan of the Six-Word Memoir format since she first discovered our teen book, I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets. “As a teaching literacy specialist of 25 years, I have seen the many powerful ways that this ‘American Haiku’ format - and teaching poetry activities - can unlock students’ creativity,” says Julie.

Using the simplicity of the six-word format, Julie conducted a range of lessons on the power of words. When asked which skills can be enhanced by teaching poetry, Julie immediately responded that syntax, diction, and connotations were essential learning tools for students who wrote memoirs about their middle school experience. Julie noted that once her students got the six-word bug, some students didn’t want to stop after their first Six-Word Memoir and kept writing.

   “Was I an introvert? PROBABLY NOT!” — Casey, age 12
   “COVID-online misery filled my days.” — Juan, age 13
   “I feel like I’m already tired tomorrow.” — Jada C. age 14
   “Is boredom a symptom of Covid?” — Isaac F. age 14
   “Dissatisfaction has been the greatest teacher.” — Ben, age 14

Several students referred to the fateful March 13, the last in-person school day before the state government ordered school closures for COVID-19.

   “Friday the 13th—-Joke’s on you.” — Savannah R., age 14
   “March 13th , the last normal day.” — Solomon S. age 13

Julie, thinking through how to present a poem in class, decided to compile the memoirs into a Six in Schools published book and a video project called Pandemic 2020: Caught in the Middle. In addition to their six words, students selected images to accompany the memoir. Julie described the video as powerful and engaging, and humorous and touching at the same time. Once Julie receives her published class book from Team Six, she hopes to place it in circulation among the Ashe County schools’ libraries.

Per her poetry lesson plan, Julie sees the purpose of poetry more than ever. The middle school students, she reports, feel accomplished and motivated to share their personal experiences due to the nature of the project. “When you can make them a published author—‘cause that’s what we told them now, ‘You know, you’re going to be a published author’—that makes the kids feel good, and makes their work feel so much more relevant.”

Speaking of being a published author, we are delighted to feature many of Mrs. Julie’s students in our new book, A Terrible Horrible, No Good Year: Six-Word Stories On the Pandemic by Teachers, Students, and Parents, out in October, 2021. Check out page 146 for more on Julie’s own experience teaching Six-Word Memoirs and dozens of stories by her students.

Julie’s colleagues are enthusiastic to incorporate more Six-Word Memoir projects in their lesson plans. The form’s versatile nature appeals to students of all grades, and can be relevant in history as well as language arts. “Six-Word Memoirs have been an important part of my ELA classes throughout the years; I have used them in so many ways in multiple content areas,” Julie says. “As I thought of ways to help students express how they felt during the pandemic, I knew Six-Word Memoirs would provide a cathartic means of expression for our middle school students. The book we created of how they felt being ‘Caught in the Middle’ during the pandemic will serve as an important piece of history in our school library to remind future generations how it felt to be a middle school-aged student during the 2020 COVID-19 struggles.”