The Six-Word Memoir Blog

Classroom of the Week: Essex Street Academy

Monday, April 29th, 2013

By Liz Crowder

This week’s featured classroom attends Essex Street Academy in NYC, a school that prides itself on its project-based focus on learning and personalized approach to education. The ninth and tenth graders taking a creative writing course with teachers Jenny Platow and Caitlin Thomas were asked to write Six-Word Memoirs after thoroughly analyzing the book, I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure, found in the school library.

The students were encouraged to notice not just the words used in the memoirs but also the positioning of the words on the page and the book’s overall design. The class then went on to explore the Six-Word Memoir project as a greater movement by checking out some YouTube video compilations, celebrity six-worders and memoirs from teenagers just like them.

Several of the students have IEP’s (Individual Education Plan) and struggle with reading and writing in some capacity; still, as we’ve so often found, the Six-Word Memoir format is for everyone. Although the main focus of their creative writing course this semester was dramatic writing, students took the creative liberty to mix things up by incorporating other forms of creative writing into the curriculum as well. Each student was required to create three to four memoirs of her own, whether funny, sad, serious or random.

“We quickly saw that while some of our students used the format as a way to just express their creativity and silliness others quickly gravitated towards revealing more serious and sad anecdotes from their life experiences,” Platow says.

The memoirs were then used as a jumping off point to talk about grammar and punctuation, from the importance of comma placement to the true use of a semicolon. Finally, the memoirs were proudly hung on a wall on the first floor in an a high traffic area.

Platow adds: “We hope it will be a conversation piece for other students in the school who are learning a lot in only six words about their peers.” Here’s a look at some of the wonderful Six-Word Memoirs from Essex Street Academy.

“Chaotic is my real middle name.” -Zane

“Lost my mind, now I’m here.” -Steven

“Dreams won’t happen till you’ve spoken.” -Elsa

“I love you; Stop doing drugs.” -Aaron

“Six-Word Memoirs taught us a lot about our students and also taught the kids that efficiency of language can be a powerful way to make a point or share something poignant about themselves,” Platow says. A big SMITH Magazine thanks to everyone at Essex Street Academy who shared their Six-Word memoir experiences with us!


Note: With the 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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