Six-Word Memoirs Publishes Students' Authentic Six Word Stories

"From the Navy to the U.S."

SSix-Word founder, Larry Smith, and Bay-Area colleague, Allie Wollner, visited Berkeley High School (BHS) in California - famously known for its activism - to talk about Six-Word Memoirs’ book on immigration Fresh Off the Boat. After explaining the premise, Larry and Allie offered the students the chance at student publishing and to have their memoirs featured in the book. From freshman to seniors, students jumped enthusiastically at the opportunity to publish student writing, and started crafting their six word immigration stories of coming to America.

English teacher Carl Rogers heard about Six-Words through Allie Wollner. He loved the concept and invited Team Six to visit BHS. “Given the diverse population of students who are engaged in current events,” says Larry, “it was the perfect time to visit Berkeley High and invite their students to participate in our upcoming book.” (Six Words Fresh Off the Boat was published in fall 2017).

“The students brought vibrancy to the project,” Allie added. “It’s always a pleasure and a shot of life to run Six-Word workshops in high school classrooms.”

Larry and Allie spent the entire day at Berkeley High, which gave them the opportunity to introduce the Six-Word Memoirs format to teachers and hundreds of students across campus. In addition to Carl’s students, English teachers Karen Zapata, Dagny Dingman, Amanda Moreno, Madalyn Theodore, and Amanda Marini all hosted Larry and Allie in their classrooms to teach their students the Six-Word Memoir form. “Allie and Larry introduced the whole concept in a series of workshops held in classrooms all over the school,” Carl explained. He added that class book publishing added a whole new dimension to their writing.

The results were diverse, clever, powerful, and poetic. Here are a few examples showing a cross-section of American identity and coming to America stories penned by insightful teens:

Iraqi Jew escaping World War Two. —Claire
No, I don’t speak any Arabic. —Aamna
Sacrificed education making soap for money. —Tenaya
British and Icelandic, talk about white. —Will
Oh, where’s your name from, exactly? —Chloe
Hard for parents, easy for me. —Jakob
Three families sharing one small apartment. —Estefania
Two cultures, two languages, one girl. —Daphne
Crepes over cereal; never tasted Cocoa Puffs. —Sophie (seven words, but so good!)

With all these Six-Word Memoirs came creativity in the classroom and in expression. “I put these Six-Word Memoirs up on the bulletin board and parents were able to see them at our yearly open house, which is a great parent engagement strategy. I got so much positive feedback about the beauty and simplicity of the assignment,” says English teacher, Karen Zapata.

“I really appreciated the visit by the folks from Six-Word Memoirs because it allowed us to continue the very important work of building community in my classroom,” Karen explained. “We do a lot of writing about identity and our experiences, but connecting so directly to our family’s origin story is something I have not been able to quite make it to. In a very short period of time, and with this creative way to publish student writing, our classroom opened up to root experiences with immigration. Students were able to connect across Difference, which is so important in these times.”

Carl, Karen, and all of the BHS teachers are delighted that they could use Six-Word Memoirs in the classroom and offer their students an opportunity for student book publishing. “It’s a great writing exercise,” says Carl, “and it gives our students a voice and platform to tell their immigration stories. I love that all students can easily participate. Both the students and teachers who participated in the workshops found it empowering.”