The Six-Word Memoir Blog

Classroom of the Week: Open Window School in Bellevue, WA

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

By Adriana Widdoes

My pencil is a magic wand.
I read, thus I can fly.
Sorry Mom, I have gone wild.

OWS 4th grader poses behind his (other) favorite book.

OWS 4th grader poses behind his (other) favorite book.

With unrelenting heat waves and the familiar melodies of ice cream trucks now upon us, there’s no question that summer is officially here. Schools across the country recessed for summer vacation just last month, and SMITH Magazine was once again delighted to see more and more teachers integrating Six-Word Memoirs into their end-of-the-year lesson plans.

Laura Simeon is one of those teachers. For the past nine years, Simeon has been a librarian at Open Window School, a small, private K-8 for gifted children set atop scenic Cougar Mountain in Bellevue, WA. This year was the first that Laura used Six-Word Memoirs in the classroom, assigning all fifty of her fourth grade students the task of writing six mini-life stories each. Laura first heard of SMITH Magazine’s Six-Word Memoir Project a few years ago when a friend’s daughter was published in SMITH’s fourth compilation, It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure. With the end of the school year coming up, Laura knew she wanted to finish with something fun yet thought provoking and quickly remembered SMITH’s popular short memoir form. “There are some kids who are big readers, and then there are some who aren’t as confident—maybe their writing isn’t as fast or fluent. I thought this would be great because it’s six words,” Simeon explains. “It’s attainable, and it would get them to think.”

The lesson plan was simple: Simeon first shared a few examples with her students using the SMITHTeen collection, I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets. Then, she set the students loose, curious to see what they would come up with given this chance to express themselves. “Some expressed ideas that were really surprising. They were really, really honest with the things they shared,” she said. These ideas included, among others, writing openly about the commonly felt pressure among gifted students to perform highly in school.

Here are some selections from Laura Simeon’s fourth-grade class:

Technology is a bad human miracle.
Feeding a zoo. Cats, dogs, family.
Hamster bungee diving, I’m in trouble.
Making ninja stars for my protection.
My pencil is a magic wand.
I don’t believe in fairy tales.
Am I the sea god’s daughter?
Crazy monkey brothers make me laugh.
Dark thoughts in my head; scared.
Beware! Mood swings possible from me.
I read, thus I can fly.
Sorry Mom, I have gone wild.
What if’s sadly mean no sleep.
Fast forward. That is my speed.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of Simeon’s job at Open Window School is matching up young, academically advanced students with lessons that are emotionally appropriate and yet still challenging. Luckily, Simeon felt Six-Word Memoirs fit the bill just right. And this innovative teacher’s own Six-Word Memoir? “Right kid, right book, job done.”

You can read more Six-Word Memoirs by the Open Window School fourth grade class on the OWS/Vista Library Blog.

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Note: With the generous support of our publisher, Harper Perennial, we’ve created two free 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 PDF of either or both below. All we ask in return is this: let us know how six words works in your class. We love sharing your stories with the rest of the SMITH community.

Teacher’s Guide: First Six-Word Memoir book (click to download)
Teacher’s Guide: Teen Six-Word Memoir book (click to download)

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One response

  1. Jebcrg says:

    Wow. That’s all I can say.
    Pretty heady stuff from fourth graders.
    I raised a gifted child too.
    The greatest challenge of my life.
    He starts college in 38 days.

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