Students at Auburn Middle School in Auburn, Maine are greeted by this six-word slogan: “AMS is rooted in Core Values.” These tenants are also captured in six words: “Honesty, compassion, responsibility, respect, fairness, courage.” So it makes perfect sense that Six Words would be easily incorporated into AMS’ Gifted and Talented curriculum for English Language Arts (ELA) students.
Auburn teacher Ms. DeBlois first discovered Six-Word Memoirs in two of our books Not Quite What I Was Planning and I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets (which she borrowed from a fellow teacher). From there she was lead to the Six-Word Memoirs website, and soon was immersed in the world of Six Words. Ms. DeBlois was struck by the power of the six-word form, noting that many memoirs “were very poignant and brought about a lot of emotion.”
Ms. DeBlois used her own Six-Word Memoir to capture the attention of her seventh- and eighth-grade ELA students. “Older, but still gets kiddie menu,” she read. The backstory to her memoir drew them in: “I had graduated from high school and was out to eat with all of my friends. Every single one of them was handed the adult menu, while I was given the kiddie menu.” The reaction of her students? “They couldn’t stop laughing. They loved it.”
Since Ms. DeBlois teaches these gifted ELA students just once a week, Six-Word Memoirs makes an ideal one-class lesson plan. “It was perfect for what I wanted to do,” which was focus on word choice, punctuation and imagery. Additionally, she wanted students to represent themselves in their writing. “This has to be about you, I told them. And no one knows you better than you do.”
Ms. DeBlois began the assignment by giving her students time to brainstorm. “I gave them three minutes to write down—as fast as they could—everything about themselves. It helped to warm them up.” From there, they were asked to write six memoirs, one of which they would share with their classmates. Backstories were also shared during a class discussion.
Though the assignment initially seemed intimidating, the students quickly found their stride. “A lot of my students wrote more than the required six memoirs. At first they thought it was difficult. But once they got going, and they heard what others were writing, they wrote more and more,” says Ms. DeBlois.
This is the first time Ms. DeBlois has used Six-Word Memoirs in the classroom: “I wish I would’ve found this gem earlier.” The depth of their memoirs is remarkable. “No father, yet I live joyous,” writes one student. “Trump becomes president. *Moves to Canada*” proclaims another. What is most inspiring, says DeBlois, is the way Six-Word Memoirs encourages self-awareness. Introspection shines through, from “An empath who knew too much,” to the confessional, “If I’m mean, I really care.” An illustration makes this memoir particularly poignant:
Her students’ memoirs are posted in our Teens section under Ms. DeBlois’ teacher account, with team names noted on each memoir. At a relatively young age, these middle school students also show an awareness of self in a much greater context. One student philosophically poses, “Paradox: What if you didn’t exist?” while another insightfully declares, “Thinking is for those with time.” A sense of empowerment is undeniable: “I’m me, the Changer of Worlds.”
Everyone gained from this rewarding assignment: “I learned a lot—about my students,” says Ms. DeBlois. “Kids don’t do a lot of self-reflection. They don’t realize how much they’ve grown or changed.” When students do examine themselves while writing Sixes, “they start to value things for intrinsic reasons. They adopt a growth mindset. And that’s what you want them to be able to do, for the rest of their lives — reflect on who they are and the choices they’re making.” —Emma Arace
Teachers! Since we first launched the Six-Word Memoir project, educators across the spectrum have found Six Words to be a terrific classroom assignment and catalyst for self-expression. At our Six in Schools section we celebrate students’ work from classrooms around the world.