“It All Starts at the Table”: Six Words on Hunger with the Mid-Ohio Foodbank

Food for Thought: Members of the Mid-Ohio Food Bank's staff and board holding up their "Six Words on Hunger"

Food for Thought: Members of Mid-Ohio Food Bank’s Agency Council and staff holding up their “Six Words on Hunger”

At heart, Six-Word Memoirs is an uncomplicated concept: a tool for boiling down anything to its essence. But I like to call Six Words “deceptively simple.” I say that because it’s often hard to define the essence of who you are and what matters most in your home life, work life, faith, and more in just six words. What’s more, on a personal level, the world of Six Words often has my head spinning—as my grandmother used to say, “I’m in sixes and sevens!” In a given week I might be editing a book, visiting a classroom, coaching a performer for a live “backstory” show, working with my team on the web site or newsletter, or leading a workshop at a company or nonprofit. It can all be a bit dizzying. Yet when I occasionally slow down and take in what’s in front of me, I am reminded of what Six-Word Memoirs has become and where it has taken me. Recently, one such moment was at the Mid-Ohio Foodbank in Columbus, Ohio.

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Top Six Words for Stress Relief


Everyone needs a break from the daily grind. As we get caught up in our busy lives, it’s easy to forget how to de-stress. For SixContest #96, in honor of Stress Awareness month, we asked for your six words on relieving stress. Your suggestions include cutting yourself some slack (“Tell Miss Perfect she’s good enough.” —womanathequill) and finding those mindful moments (“Stop what you’re doing and breathe.” —Amanda Cuda Swavy). Sometimes unwinding involves finding your groove (“Bourbon with a splash of funk.” —@amiwriteJK). Introducing the Top Six ways for getting that stress release:

6. “Two clenched fists. One punching bag.” — Shayal 

5. “Drive to the shore. Sit there.” —nsbpoet

4. “YOU know (wink) what relieves stress!” —JoC.

3. “Bowl of popcorn and stand-up comedy.” —Neesha101

2. “Taxes done; return received; retail therapy.” —notyouraveragegirl

And finally, the surefire way to let that stress go:

1. “Talk to the dog. He understands.” —Kharis

Congratulations, Kharis! And thanks to everyone who joined in the fun! Whether in our SixContests, on FacebookInstagramTwitterTumblr or at sixwordmemoirs.com—keep on Sixing!

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Classroom of the Month: Professor Merwin’s Advanced English Students at Universidad Panamericana in Guadalajara, Mexico

luisLindy Merwin focuses on creativity and critical thinking skills in her advanced English college course at Universidad Panamericana in Guadalajara, Mexico. Six-Word Memoirs has been especially useful as she helps students navigate the differences in writing styles between Spanish and English.

Merwin explains that she teaches a different kind of English as a second language class at the university. She doesn’t focus just on grammar, vocabulary, punctuation, and other basic structures that many associate with language teaching. “Using the six-word stories has helped with that. Our students generally perform at the same level or better than the control groups on these tests,” says Merwin proudly. “It’s more fun for them as well.”

“The sentence structure in Spanish is much longer than in English,” adds Merwin, “so I started using Six-Word Memoirs as a way to teach shortening sentences. Then I’ve adapted it over time to include using a thesaurus and dictionary to develop vocabulary.” Her college students “get the idea that things can be expressed in shorter contexts,” she says. “You don’t have to read a novel to get a big picture of something, and you can visualize something from just a few words.” IMG_2372The professor of advanced English and linguistic strategy sometimes uses Six-Word Memoirs right at the beginning of class to switch them into English mode. What’s more, the short form of personal expression helps create community in the classroom. “Especially in a second-language classroom, the students need to feel comfortable to express themselves,” says Merwin.

Merwin’s main project using Six-Word Memoirs urged her students to think about innovation. “I introduced this semester with defining creativity and invention,” said Merwin, “so they all came up with their definitions of this idea in six words.” The result was a glimpse into how Merwin’s students thought of creativity in their own individual ways. Examples include: “Thinking out of your comfort zone,” “A unique way to be rare,” and “New solutions, new perspectives with inspiration.”

Ernest Hemingway is one of Merwin’s favorite writers, which led her to introduce the six-word story concept to her students a few years ago, although she didn’t discover Six-Word Memoirs until recently. While at her friend’s yoga studio in Columbus—her hometown—Merwin saw one of Six-Word Memoirs’ books on a table and thought, “Oh my gosh—I do this with my students!” She soon met the creator of Six-Word Memoirs (and fellow yoga enthusiast) Larry Smith and chatted about the project.

Merwin explains that her use of stories in the classroom has been impacted by her meeting with the creator of Six-Word Memoirs. While many of her students weren’t familiar with Hemingway, “Knowing Larry and his project makes it more personal and relevant to them.” Merwin adds, “I can see a bit of a difference in the way that my students have been relating to it. Now they have something to connect it to; it’s part of a bigger picture.” —Amanda GaglioneIMG_2365

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. Contact us (concierge AT smithmag DOT net) if you would like a copy of our free teacher’s guide.


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Memoirist of the Month—April 2017: Lisa Kothe

“Way back in 2008, I heard an NPR piece on Six-Word Memoirs. I remember buying the book, Not Quite What I was Planning, for the library and loved it. It’s a peaceful, creative alternative to social media.”


Name: Lisa Kothe
Place: Safety Harbor, Florida
SMITH Member Since: October 2008

Lisa Kothe’s first Six-Word Memoir reflects her appreciation for defining moments: “Mom used to dance the hustle.” With nearly 400 memoirs to date, LisaK has taken us on her personal journey of loss (“The number you reached is disconnected…”) and remembrance (“Running is part of my DNA”). A keen storyteller, Lisa finds the beauty in serendipity (“Kismet happened at the book sale”) and family memories (“Grandma’s pocketbook was filled with magic…”). Congratulations to Lisa Kothe as our Memoirist of the Month for April 2017. Learn more about what makes her a natural historian as she answers our Six Questions:

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Top Six Memoirs on Spring Cleaning


On the heels of Daylight Saving Time comes the tradition of spring cleaning. For SixContest #95 we asked you to add three words and complete the phrase “My Spring Cleaning.” With nearly 500 entries on SixWordMemoirs.com and Twitter, you are ready to clean house. Some plan to tackle self-care (“My Spring Cleaning: Neti Pot regularly.” —@dean6805) and practical endeavors (“My Spring Cleaning: Taxes come first.” —connecticatsor), while others seek cleaning with deeper meaning (“My Spring Cleaning: Mind, Body, Soul.” —mototaa). Here are the Top Six recommendations to help you start anew:

6. “My Spring Cleaning: Focus on goals.” —heathrodstrom

5. “My Spring Cleaning: Getting a colonoscopy.” —JRE23

4. “My Spring Cleaning: Purging the freezer.” —GrimmWasTaken

3. “My Spring Cleaning: Cabernet to Chardonnay.” —FKA_Liza

2. “My Spring Cleaning: Wiping out debt.” —JAD

And introducing the memoir that will help you tidy up personal loose ends…

1. “My Spring Cleaning: Scrubbing contact list.” —notyouraveragegirl

Congratulations, notyouraveragegirl, and thanks to everyone who joined in the fun! Whether in our SixContests, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr or at sixwordmemoirs.com—keep on Sixing!

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Classroom of the Month: Ms. Bechard’s English Classes At Lord Dorchester Secondary School In Ontario, Canada


“Give your voice value with writing”

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

Bechard discovered Six-Word Memoirs via her learning coordinator and introduced the concept to her ninth and tenth grade English classrooms in February: “I always try to do something fun on Fridays with them and end the week on a positive note,” says Bechard. She first introduced Six-Word Memoirs in an exercise on free writing: “No topics, no marks assigned to it, no evaluations, IMG_2798just getting them writing 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.” Bechard 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.

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Top Six Most Creative Six-Word Excuses


Spring fever is spreading and the improving weather makes everyone want to ditch a few responsibilities. Anticipating the need for extra play time, for SixContest #94 we asked for your most creative excuses in six words. Some offered timeless excuses (“I have let the dog out.” –LisaK ), while others were unconventional yet convincing (“Psychiatrist prescribed play for inner child.” –Kharis). Whatever your obligation, we hope these six-word alibis work for you.

Introducing the Top Six Excuses…

6. “The cloud ate my homework again. –@OneofJennifer

5. “The magic 8-ball told me to.” –J3nny

4. “I was too busy retweeting memes.” –@kim_ann1

3. “I kneaded to bake away grief.” –@KathrynDiPasqua

2. “Born breech. Backwards from day one.” –enginethatcould

And introducing the excuse we all want to use from time to time…

1. “Please, do not disturb. I’m introverting” –@TaraParay (via Twitter)

Congratulations, @TaraParay, and thanks to all who participated! Whether in our SixContests, on FacebookInstagramTwitterTumblr or at sixwordmemoirs.com—keep on Sixing!

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Memoirist of the Month—March 2017: Talitha Rae Degraff

I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets immediately caught my attention because I literally struggle to keep my own secrets. I was completely enthralled and read the book from front to back. I found the other Six-Word Memoir books and read them all—that was when I fell in love with Six Words and SMITH Magazine.”


Name: Talitha Rae Degraff
Place: Atlanta, Georgia
SMITH Member Since: March 2013

Talitha Rae Degraff is a compelling young writer who knows no bounds (“Writers get to break the rules.”) With nearly 3,000 Six-Word Memoirs since joining us in 2013, her voice is filled with power and purpose (“‘Honey, those walls won’t protect you’”). Posting as torturedbutterfly, Talitha’s bravery is revealed in her poetry (“My skin will tell many stories”) and in the cadence of her spoken word (“They’re my wings. And I’m flying.”). Despite overwhelming challenges (“The winds have weathered my soul”), her resilience is impressive (“Creating characters who will save me”). Learn how Talitha transitioned from SMITHTeens to Six-Word Memoirist of the Month for March 2017 as she answers our Six Questions:

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And the #PitchAMovieIn6Words Award Goes to…


Lights! Camera! Six Words! For SixContest #93, we challenged you to sit in the producer’s chair and #PitchAMovieIn6Words. Some of you presented intriguing plot lines inspired by fan favorites (“Something’s Gotta Give Me a Break” –canadafreeze), while others combined two existing movies to create a compelling story (“Snow White and The Seven Samurai.” –ksan). Many of your pitches were Oscar-worthy, but only six were able to stay off the cutting room floor.

Introducing the Top Six Movie Pitches…

6. “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? Me.” –JAD

5. “Hidden Tiger Figures, Crouching Dragon Tattoo.” –Stella_Matutina

4. “Feminist “Grease”: Sandy flies away alone.” –@taradublinrocks

3. “Ferris Bueller gets promotion. Wall Street.” –DynamicDbytheC

2. “One Flew Back to the Future.” –JoC.

And the one that wins top billing…

1. The Perks of Being a Wizard” –TheatreGeek

Congratulations, TheatreGeek, and thanks to all who participated! Whether in our SixContests, on FacebookInstagramTwitterTumblr or at sixwordmemoirs.com—keep on Sixing!

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Classroom of the Month: Berkeley High School in Berkeley, California

Berkeley High Jan 13- Allie teaching

This Classroom of the Month could easily be called School of the Month. This January, Six-Word founder Larry Smith and Bay-Area colleague Allie Wollner visited the famously activist Berkeley High School in Berkeley, California to explain what Six Words Fresh Off the Boat is all about. From freshman to seniors, students jumped enthusiastically on board to craft six-word immigration stories of coming to America.   

English teacher Carl Rogers heard about Six Words through 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 Smith, “it was a perfect time to visit Berkeley High and invite their students to participate in our upcoming book.” (Six Words Fresh Off the Boat: Stories of Immigration, Identity, and Coming to America publishes this fall).

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

Smith and Wollner spent the entire day at Berkeley High, which gave them the opportunity to introduce the Six-Word Memoir Project to teachers and hundreds of students across campus. In addition to Rogers’ students, English teachers Karen Zapata, Dagny Dingman, Amanda Moreno, Madalyn Theodore, and Amanda Marini all hosted Smith and Wollner 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,” explains Rogers.

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


With all these Six-Word Memoirs came creativity in expression around the classroom. “I put these Six-Word Memoirs up on the bulletin board and parents were able to see them at our yearly open house. 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,” Zapata explains. “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, our classroom opened up to root experiences with immigration. Students were able to connect across difference, which is so important in these times.”


Rogers, Zapata, and all of the teachers are delighted they could use Six-Word Memoirs in the classroom and offer their students an opportunity to be published. “It’s a great writing exercise,” says Rogers, “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.”

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. Contact us (concierge AT smithmag DOT net) if you would like a copy of our free teacher’s guide.

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