Field Note Friday: Six-Word Memoirs

I’m always on the lookout for new lessons for the first days of the school year.  I need to get to know the students and learn a little bit about their writing abilities. This year I tried the six-word memoir.

The six-word memoir has been popularized by Smith Magazine, which has also published a few collections of the memoirs that readers have submitted.

NQWIWP book cover

Here are a couple of great video introductions to the 6-word memoir:

Six Word Memoirs by Teens

Mr. Wright’s Creative Writing Six-Word Memoir Film

The original idea comes from a story about Ernest Hemingway, who was apparently challenged once to write a novel in only six words.

He wrote, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

I introduced the concept to my students on the first day of school and asked them to come up with their own six-word memoir by the end of the first week. They would then share the memoirs with the class.

We published them on our giant empty wall at the back of the classroom:

photo 1

Here are a few in a little closer perspective:


And a few more:

photo 5

Another motivation to try this form is that I’m always looking for better ways to teach word economy. Students tend to think that many words equals much meaning (or perhaps an exhausted teacher who will just give them a good grade), and that if they just keep writing, they will succeed.

However, the first major assignment we work on in my class is the college essay, an assignment which demands both economy and focus.

As students were writing their college essays, I asked them to think if their six-word memoir could act as a thesis statement of sorts. If it didn’t work, I asked them to think about how their prompt could be answered in only six words.

I would like to return to this exercise throughout the year. Some ideas I have for extending the idea are:

  1. Write a 6-word memoir for a literary character.
  2. Answer an analytical prompt in six words.
  3. Write a theme statement for a poem in six words.
  4. Summarize a day’s lesson in six words.

Have any of you used the 6-word memoir in your classes? What was your experience?

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