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, just 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. Bechard finds that teachers often compete against technology and other distractions, but with Six-Word Memoirs, her students were hooked.
“The concept is easy and therefore students grasp it and participate,” says Bechard.
“[Six-Word Memoirs] offers students permission and freedom to open up and write. We’re really trying to focus on getting our kids to write more and when you introduce them to ‘just write me anything about a topic in six words’ it’s not daunting for them.” Bechard is also rewarded: “It was beautiful to watch kids give themselves permission to open up because it was a community-building exercise…and they just gave it their all. They didn’t hold back.”
Since the class has been reading To Kill a Mockingbird, students also wrote Six-Word Memoirs from the perspectives of the three main characters: Atticus Finch, Scout, and Jem. “They get into the minds of characters and write from their narratives. Teaching this book during Black History Month, we’re trying to tie everything in together, and this activity fit perfectly,” she says.
Creative activities help keep her students’ attention: “It’s hard as a teacher because you can’t always reinvent the wheel, but when you’re exposed to these awesome ideas, you have to try them to be innovative in education.” Encouraging students to think outside the box is key: “We want to be innovative educators for the twenty-first century. We have the permission to try new things because that’s how learning happens.”
Six-Word Memoirs also added value to a staff meeting when Lord Dorchester’s English Department used it during a presentation on the upcoming Ontario Secondary School Literary Tests. “It’s a universal application to all subject areas,” Bechard explains, adding that she believes English and literacy should be cross-curriculum. They also had staff members write Six-Word Memoirs to connect them with the student experience: “We wanted to remind the educators that writing can be scary for kids.”
When students learned they would be featured on sixwordmemoirs.com, they asked if they were going to be famous. Bechard’s response? “You never know where the power of the words will take you.” —Amanda Gaglione
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.