Memoir in Six Words

Ever since I discovered the book Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure, I have been rolling ideas around in my head. I love them. I think they're perfect for use in the classroom, and I alwasy get new ideas about how to adapt them to different situations.

The idea for six words comes from a story that is told of Ernest Hemingway who was supposedly challenged to write a story in six words. He was known for being succinct and straightforward with his prose, but he really hit the ball out of the park with this story:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

THAT is a story! There's so much nuance suggested and implied that the reader can create the "story" in his head without the words to guide him there.

For my students, I knew this would feel like something they could manage. It's only six words and they didn't have to include every detail. Although, after their frustration with writing 20 Word Gist Statements, some of them were wary about this new foray into writing.

We read through some examples (not all of the memoirs in the book are appropriate for my group of kids!), we discussed how the stories worked, what was implied, and how focused they were. We even found two on the list that DIRECTLY RELATED TO THE STORIES WE HAD JUST READ! (I tried to pretend like I planned it, but I for SURE didn't...)

Example for "Eleven": Taking a lifetime to grow up. --Mirona Iliescu

Example for "My Name": People always pronounce my name incorrectly. --Laurie Hensley

Next, I had the kids try some of their own. I told them to just write as many as they could think of. Some of the memoirs were more like life highlights and weren't as exciting as I would have hoped (we worked on those), but one of my students' memoirs were very Hemingway-esque and I have to share them with you:

I never saw that cat again.

She was a very good friend.

I'm never going there ever again.

I think what I discovered while teaching these memoirs that the best ones have mystery. There's a story captured that you want to know more about. I think the next time I teach this, I will focus on that aspect so that when we develop them into longer pieces of writing, there's something to look forward to.

Here are the ideas that have come out of these Six Word Memoirs that I have loved:

1. Start with your own Six Word Memoir and develop it into a long-form (not too long!) Personal Narrative and use the memoir as the title. (This is what I'll be doing with my students on this activity.)

2. Start with an example Six Word Memoir and write a Creative Narrative that goes along with that memoir.

3. Adapt a Six Word Memoir into a screenplay and produce a Digital Story/Movie. I've done this before and it was really rewarding. There's a lot of good that can come of Digital Storytelling and I'm a big proponent. I may talk more on that later, but for now, GOOD IDEA!

4. Write your Six Word Memoirs as your Legacy Statement. What do you want to live up to and have others remember about you? This would be a great way to introduce some SEL elements and get the kids thinking about consequences and their affect on others.

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