At Westchester Intermediate School in Chesterton, Indiana, teachers seek innovative ways to create enthusiasm for learning in the classroom. So it’s no surprise that 6th grade ELA teacher Martha Hiestand was drawn to Six-Word Memoirs when she stumbled upon the concept on Pinterest.
When Mrs. Hiestand discovered Six Words through another teacher’s pinned post—as a “getting to know you activity” with students—she realized the exercise would work well in other areas of curriculum planning. “I showed them some examples of Six-Word Memoirs, but the ones that I found online were more were memoirs, personal stories—what we were doing in this assignment was a little bit different.”
In this case, Hiestand uses Six Words as a culminating assignment on the novel, Divergent. “The people of the story are separated into five groups. These factions have their own manifesto—a statement of what they believe in—for example, one group believes in bravery, one in honesty, another in selflessness. As we read the novel in class, I wanted them to write Six Words about their particular faction,” Hiestand explains. “We did a discussion on Padlet about the manifestos. Their assignment was to create their own six word story about the faction—boil down what the faction believes in, what represents them, into six words.
“Some students had trouble limiting themselves to six words,” Hiestand reveals with a chuckle. Yet the challenge of the limitation offered a natural segue into the revising process. Working in small groups, students reviewed each other’s memoirs and found themselves “talking about how to make it concise and using vocabulary that’s a little more accurate to create a picture in just a few words.”
Six Words is an easy way to engage students about the importance of word choice and using strong vocabulary. Hiestand explains: “It forces you to be deliberate with the words you use, since you’re limited to six words, you have to really think about the structure of the words. Vocabulary is important, too—when you only have six words, you really have to really make each word count. Some kids were nervous about it, others enjoyed the challenge of having those limitations.”
Students spent two class periods on the Six Words section. “The first part was reading over manifestos, discussing them and looking for common themes, as well as coming up with their draft the six words; the next day, we discussed them with their groups, and revised, and then students made their final representation in Google Drawings.”
Creative freedom was important to Hiestand: “I left it open to students, so they could choose images, text, whatever they needed to represent their faction and their six words. It was fun for them, they got to play around with fonts and images. We made a slideshow and reviewed their Google Drawings in class.” She adds, “Some students were creative by using colons and semi-colons, which are 6th grade curriculum standards for us, so that was useful.”
Hiestand will continue to use Six- Word Memoirs in the classroom. “I will definitely use it again before the end of the school year. After I showed the students the slideshow (posted online by another teacher whose class made Six-Word Memoirs about the end of the year), they asked: ‘Are we going to get to make them about ourselves, too?’ They’re itching to write about themselves.” Hiestand says warmly. But first, she might incorporate Six Words into a future reading assignment, possibly as an activity with another novel. These young adolescents at Westchester offer a wonderful example of how Six-Word Memoirs increases student engagement whether you use it as an icebreaker, a recap assignment, or in lesson plans throughout the year.
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.
Submit Six Words for our upcoming book! Six Words Fresh Off the Boat: Stories of Immigration, Identity, and Coming to America (Kingswell/Disney Publishing 2017) will include stories from recent immigrants, as well as others whose families have been in the U.S for generations. We all have an American journey story—a topic that has never felt more relevant. We hope this topic sparks conversations in your classrooms, as well at home around dinner tables. We’ve made a free guide for educators. For the guide and more information: bit.ly/sixfotb