Across The Hall
Bringing Six Words to your classroom is easy, effective, and memorable! Across the hall highlights what teachers have done with Six In Schools over the years.
Christina Mayes, a professor of a first-year “Mastering College” seminar class at the Dominican University of California, has been supporting students’ healthy transition into college life through Six-Word Memoirs for the last eight years. It’s her answer to the question: what is the importance of using varied methods and strategies in teaching. She discovered Six-Word Memoirs in 2011 through a guest speaker, who ended up leading her 101 seminar through the process of writing their own memoir in six words. The format quickly became one of the professor’s most effective teaching strategies.
Cayla Tangney, an art teacher at Minisink Valley High School, first came across Six-Word Memoirs when she and nine other teachers in her district took a “Teaching Tough Topics” professional development class. The course educated Cayla and her colleagues on speaking about topics like sexual orientation, immigration, and race and ethnicity respectively and proactively with their students. The class offered an overview of stereotypes and injustices throughout history, and how they still persist today. Since the role of teacher in developing creativity and innovation in the classroom is crucial, the Tough Topics class introduced examples of creative thinking activities and how to promote creativity in schools to have those tough conversations. Six-Word Memoirs was specifically promoted as a tool teachers could use to provoke thoughtful classroom discussion about identity and global awareness.
Cathy Dyer has used Six-Word Memoirs as a classroom tool for teachers every year since 2009: “This is the only ice breaker activity that I’ve stuck with,” she explains. As a tenth grade English teacher at McKeel Academy of Technology in Lakeland, Florida, Cathy’s first activity of the year is to write a Six-Word Memoir, accompanied by a backstory and a small illustration. These are then shared and displayed on her classroom walls.
When Catherine Dison came across Six-Word Memoirs, she knew it was something she had to introduce as a classroom activity for English students. “I loved the combination of words and image, and of course the challenge of packing as much as possible into six words,” says Catherine, an English teacher for the past 27 years at The Wellington School in Columbus, Ohio. She knew it would be a fun English activity for her 9th graders.
Caroline Carty, a 9th grade English teacher at Sunset Park High School in Brooklyn, New York, finds Six-Word Memoirs an ideal writing activity for students to explore the theme of identity.
In a partnership with the Indiana Learning Lab, Larry Smith, the founder of Six-Word Memoirs, shares his unique approach to storytelling, highlight stories from classrooms’ six-word projects, and leads workshop attendees in a “Six-Word Slam.”
We think of schooling in sequential categories—moving from first grade to second, looking forward, never back. It makes sense; preschool is vastly different from middle school. PTA members Bridget Kolb and Amy Miller of Coleridge-Taylor Montessori Elementary School in Louisville, Kentucky, managed to bridge those differences with a writing program for elementary students. They brought the grades together through an activity involving just six words.
Here at Team Six, we love to see Six-Word Memoir art and poetry project ideas. And while the six word format is most often used for reflection and to share personal stories, Betsy DiJulio - an art teacher at Princess Anne High School in Virginia Beach - challenged her students to a fun poetry activity that uses their art with a Six-Word twist.
At Arrowhead Union High School in Hartland, Wisconsin, Becca McCann’s classroom walls are covered with colorful memoirs written by her past students. The impact of Six-Word Memoirs (SWM), and using it as a creative thinking strategy for students, was already thriving in other classrooms. When she first arrived at the district, her colleagues Terri Carnell and Elizabeth Jorgenson had already been participating in SWM for more than a decade and suggested similar assignments as creativity activities for students.
The Six-Word format was introduced to Andrea Vinikoff in high school, and continued to follow her into college where she was assigned Six-Word Memoirs in some of her classes. When the English teacher began instructing sixth graders at Princess Anne Middle School in Virginia Beach - and needed to build a toolkit of writing strategies for teachers - it felt natural to embrace the versatility of Six-Words in her own classroom. “It felt like a sign that Six-Words kept coming up and was being used in all of these academic writing strategies related to the curriculum. Because I had so much fun creating Six-Word Memoirs in my formative years, I decided to find ways to incorporate them into my classroom as writing strategies for students,” she says.
How do students get on a path for success when high school graduation is in jeopardy? Mount Tom Academy in Holyoke, Massachusetts, located on the campus of Holyoke Community College, offers an alternative learning program for at-risk high school students. Barbara Cheney, Mount Tom’s lead teacher, recently discovered the value of Six-Word Memoirs as an effective tool in student engagement.
Drew’s first group of high school seniors are fittingly known as the Legacy Class because they would make history by bringing the school’s mission to fruition. As these young students worked diligently to complete high school and prepare for college, we suggested Six-Word Memoirs as a useful tool to enhance writing skills for high school students. A tool to help these students reflect on their journeys and their achievements, both academically and personally. The timing was serendipity—Drew’s graduation committee was looking for a way to showcase students in their upcoming commencement ceremony. Rachel Kaney, Drew’s Director of College and Career Readiness, believed that Six-Words, as a creative writing activity, would add value to the senior class experience.