6 Word Memoir: Teaching Ideas for ELA

There seems to be some controversy about whether the six word memoir genre did or didn’t originate with Ernest Hemingway writing, “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” But whether he did or he didn’t, there’s no question that it’s a unique creative genre worth exploring with students. There are so many ways to experiment with six word memoirs in class, so today I’m going to give you a whirlwind tour of ideas.

#1 Personal Memoirs

Six word memoirs can be a great way for students to experiment with writing without a lot of pressure. You can use them to get to know your students better at the beginning of the year, or to reflect on the school year at the end. Or you can use them during a narrative writing unit, first asking them to craft a narrative about a moment or event in their lives, then inviting them to transform it into a six word story. You can even use it in combination with multimedia, asking them to create a layered six word memoir, with a one-pager style reflection of who they are in the background, and then their six key words laid out boldly on top. You may be surprised by how much you learn about your students through identity memoir, moment memoirs, or layered memoirs like these.

#2 Character Memoirs

Another great option, once you’ve introduced the concept of a six word memoir, is to have students write them for characters. Start by guiding them to think about their chosen character. How would they describe that character? What story does the character tell about themselves? What secret stories do they feel the character keeps buried? How can they combine everything they know into one vivid line?

#3 Research Memoirs

If you’re trying to create some context for a book or a unit, and you’d like students to spend a day researching information on a person before reporting back to the class, a six word memoir can provide a great final product. Let students know how many sources you’d like them to dive into and give them some guiding questions for their research. Then have them take what they learned and put it into a six word memoir. Save some time at the end for each student to briefly report back, or do a gallery walk with the memoirs displayed with the research questions, side by side.

#4 Community Memoirs

Once your students have written their own six word memoirs and perhaps experimented with character or research memoirs as well, this project is a great way to connect your classroom to your community. Set up a table at lunch or in the library to invite faculty, staff, administrators, and students to contribute six word memoirs to a community wall reflecting the diverse beauty of experiences at your school. Or set up at a local farmer’s market, community event, or public library. Display student work as examples, and provide templates and colored markers or pencils for the guest writers.

OK, ready to get started? You can grab the beautiful templates shown in this post right here on Google Drive, or you can find my complete six word memoir unit on TPT right here. (If you’re a member of The Lighthouse, this unit will be part of your June materials!).

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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!

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