Thursday, October 6th, 2011
The mission of High Tech High in San Diego, CA is to create an environment where students can get passionate about learning in a hands-on, project based way. Twelfth-grade English teacher Skye Walden is clearly an advocate for these principles, exhibited in the innovative way she teaches her students. Among her methods has been to develop a lesson plan that utilizes the Six-Word Memoir format. At the beginning of the semester, Walden asks each of her students to write a Six-Word Memoir. Then she asks them to open up the words into a 600-word personal narrative, with the title of the essay remaining the original six words.
Students also create an image to accompany each Six-Word Memoir, which are then collated to become the Six-Word Memoir class film (as you can see above—it’s amazing). Hearing about all of this is (almost) enough to make me want to go back to high-school—or at least attend Walden’s English class.
Walden says she uses the Six Word, personal narrative format as a method to diagnosis her students’ writing styles and abilities, and also as a creative way to get to know them. “The limitation of only six words helps them to realize the importance and power of word choice,” she explains. As so many teachers have found, the form is similar to writing poetry; the fewer words you have, the more each and every word counts. Walden must be doing something right: her students’ six words burst with a kind of structured self-expression; channeled thoughts and feelings that become stories seemingly steeped in literary prowess.
“It’s a great way to start the semester,” she says. “It works especially well in the fall when the seniors are writing their college essays. They often struggle with where to begin, and this assignment gets them writing about themselves and reflecting on their life experiences.”
Here are a few Six-Word Memoirs from this semester’s new students—more in the video, above.
The bluntly straightforward: “Music is more interesting than people.”
The painfully questioning: “Surgery: Will I play the same?”
The appropriately exasperated: “No. It’s spelled Chuy, not Chewy.”
The hilariously self-aware: “Appetite as big as my hair.”
The sardonically sad: “Thanks for the birth deformity, Mom.”
Note: With the generous support of our publisher, Harper Perennial, we’ve created two Six-Word Memoir lesson plans, one for our first book, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, as well as one for our teen book, I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure. Download a free PDF of either or both below. In return, all we ask is that you let us know how six words works in your class. We love sharing your stories with the rest of the SMITH community.