Getting Started

Amplifying SEL with Six Words

In our classrooms, students learn new words, new skills, and new facts about our world. They also learn how to interact with others, make wise and responsible choices, engage with people who are unlike them, set and achieve goals, and manage their emotions. This kind of learning is absolutely essential, but can be challenging to facilitate. Through our interactions with teachers across the country, we’ve discovered that the six word format can help teachers proactively create SEL experiences for their students.

How does that happen?

Six-Word Memoirs help students surface significant ideas. They challenge them to boil big thoughts down to their essence. This makes Six-Word Memoirs an ideal SEL tool. The six word format has enabled students to speak more plainly about their experiences, more accurately about their emotions, and more openly about their challenges. It’s also brought students together by encouraging them to connect with one another through honest dialogue.

Here’s what it looks like in action.

When students both write and share their memoir, classmates learn about one another. They discover common interests, notice similarities between challenges they’ve overcome, and experience the thrill of being better understood by those around them.

In one classroom, a sixth-grade student shared a challenge she hoped to overcome in six words. She wrote:

      Sometimes, I just can’t stop myself.

When her teacher asked her to elaborate on these words, she acknowledged that her temper can get the best of her. “I get angry when people get in my way,” she said.

Immediately, students across the room said “Me too.”

As a result, the class had the opportunity to briefly discuss the shared experience of feeling frustration when goals are blocked, and to brainstorm healthy ways to process and respond to those feelings.

How to use Six-Word Memoirs to amplify SEL in your classroom?

Here are three ways that you can use the six word format to facilitate SEL with your students.

1. Six-Words about Us

Invite your students to brainstorm six words that they would like to define your classroom environment. This brainstorming can take place collectively, in pairs, or individually. Ask students to reflect upon the words that have been generated, and to name themes that emerge.

Many times, students articulate similar desires.

They want to be part of a class that values bravery, safety, responsibility and kindness.

This exercise can be used at the beginning of the year to set expectations. Or throughout the year to revisit goals and invite realignment from students.

2. Six-Word Check-In 

At the beginning of a class session, ask students to check-in with themselves and write six words about their current feelings.

Often, students express that they’re tired, or angry about a conversation in the hallway, or excited about what awaits after the school day ends.

Invite students to share what surfaced during their check-in as they feel comfortable.

This exercise is an excellent way for teachers to establish a personal connection with students, and for students to become more in touch with their emotions.

3. Six-Word Strengths and Growth Areas

“Making a mistake is not a mistake.” What remarkable six word wisdom from a fifth grader in Massachusetts!

We all have things we do well, and areas where we can grow.

Invite your students to reflect on their own development. What have they mastered - academically, relationally, emotionally?

And where do they have opportunity to improve?

Self-assessment is the first step towards self-improvement. This exercise helps students take an honest look at their growth and to determine where they’d like to set some goals for growth.

Moving Forward

Six-Word Memoirs have the power to amplify SEL in a classroom, making students curious about themselves and their classmates.

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