“Student dedicated every day, student driven in every way.”
The teachers at Ozark High School in Ozark, Missouri, work hard to fulfill their school’s motto. One such educator, Sandi Criswell, was quick to adopt the six-word form as a tool to drive home the school’s mission, and get to know her students better along the way.
Mrs. Criswell, who teaches Honors English to sophomore and juniors, has used Six-Word Memoirs with great success in her classroom ever since she discovered Six Words on Twitter a few years ago; Six-Word Memoirs proved to be the perfect way to open her unit on Ernest Hemingway.
She begins by relaying the legendary challenge posed to Hemingway: Write a novel in six words. His answer? “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Students are engaged from the beginning. Mrs. Criswell explains: “I recite that story from memory and they are hooked instantly.”
As this teacher talks to her captive audience, “about how hard it is to capture something in six words,” she shows examples from prominent sources, beginning with O Magazine’s feature about Six-Word Memoirs.
She then introduces them to @sixwords, the official Six Words feed on Twitter. Criswell advises: “It’s usually very acceptable for viewing with students, but, of course, I preview it first to be sure.”
“The students really love reading them [others’ memoirs],” says Mrs. Criswell, “it gets them so excited for the Hemingway unit,” which typically lasts one week. They have the first two days to craft their own Six-Word Memoir, “one that really captures their essence,” Criswell emphasizes, “so I learn things about them.”
The students eagerly take on the challenge of writing their own memoir, which is accompanied by original artwork. The pieces are then displayed in the classroom for all to see. Some of these high schoolers have not shown their artistic side until this assignment: “It’s really exciting for me to see their artwork,” she reveals, “I get to know my students better.”
“Through Six-Word Memoirs, the students also become more focused writers.” adds Criswell: “They start to work on being more concise writers, which is so important in this day and age.”
Ozark High School is a one-to-one learning environment, meaning every student is provided their own school-issued laptop. “We really embrace technology, and try to utilize it in our lessons.”
Mrs. Criswell encourages students to tweet out their memoir. However, Mrs. Criswell explains, this step of the unit is optional since Twitter is typically blocked on these laptops. Regardless, tweeting their work intrigues students.
“I tell students that they can keep this as a classroom assignment, by creating your Six-Word Memoir and decorating it, to be displayed on our board. Or, if you choose, you can elevate this and have an authentic audience and reach people across the world. It’s completely optional that they tweet it, but I have found that that’s what gets them excited.”
Tweeting their Six-Word Memoirs offers an enticing opportunity, as students could connect with what Mrs. Criswell calls a “genuine, authentic audience.” She instructs students to tag @sixwords and use the hashtag #sixwords, suggesting that they could “use this as a channel” to engage with others worldwide. This year, more Ozark High School students tweeted their memoirs than ever before.
The tweets range from comical and confessional. One reads: “Beached whale trying to survive land,” while another reveals “Cracked and broken but not fragile.” Some students broadcast their approval for the project while showcasing their creativity with the assignment, such as “You brought inner-tubes to my waves.”
Mrs. Criswell hopes to incorporate Six-Word Memoirs elsewhere in the curriculum: “The kids likes Six Words so much, that they asked to do more, so I’m looking at ways to use it next year,” she says. As with the success of this Hemingway unit, Six-Word Memoirs offers a natural convergence between curriculum, technology, and creativity for teachers and students alike.
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.