Monday, November 9, 2015

Teaching: Six Word Memoirs

Once asked to write a full story in six words, legends has it that novelist Ernest Hemingway responded: "For Sale: baby shoes, never worn."  Since then the six-word memoir has become a concise way for writers in all walks of life to express the story of their lives.  Recently, Smith magazine asked writers to compose and submit a six-word memoir - which the magazine turned into the book Not Quite What I Was Planning.

This year, as an introduction/first few days assignment, I had my students create six-word memoirs.  I started by reviewing the term "memoir" and then asked students to brainstorm facts and adjectives in a chart about themselves.  Next, students wrote three different ideas for a six-word memoir - using their brainstorm chart as a guide.  I also provided students with examples to use as mentor texts.

"Fifteen years since last professional haircut." Dave Eggers
"Couldn't cope so I wrote songs." Aimee Mann
"Well, I thought it was funny." Stephan Colbert
"I draw my dreams in crayon." Riley
"He left.  Mom cried.  Roller-coaster ride." - Danielle W.
"I will be a paramedic some day." - Laruen
"I fulfilled my awkwardness quota today." - Maggie A.
"Laughed at all the wrong times." - Kierra B.

Finally, for homework, students are asked to create a meme with a picture of themselves and their final memoir - the exact size as an index card.

The next day, when students bring in their memes, they become the unlined side of an index card - on the other side I have them answer the following questions:
1. What is your full name?
2. What name would you like to go by in class?
3. Why are you here?
4. List two goals that you have for this year.
5. What do you hope to accomplish in the next ten years?
6. What would you like to take away from this class?
7. What are some obstacles that might prevent you from accomplishing your goals?

Some years I vary the questions and they sound more like this:

Line 1: What name would you like to be addressed by in class? (Write this extra BIG)
Line 2: What is your name EXACTLY as it appears in Skyward?
Line 3: What are your intentions in this class?
Line 4: What are your intentions at KR?
Line 5: What are your intentions in life?
Line 6: What is going on in your life that interferes with your ability to accomplish these intentions?

I use these note-cards throughout the entire year for random grouping and with my Exit Task board - as a way to gauge students' comprehension of difficult content.  I just have them slip their memes/note-cards into the board as they exit the room and am able to very quickly get a gauge of the level of comprehension.  The images help me to literally see who is struggling.  Link to that board:

I also like to use these, because the students see them repeatedly, therefore reminding them of the goals and their intentions that they set at the very beginning of the school year.  The note-cards also help me to get to know the students and match names to faces.  As I get to know the kids better throughout the year, I find the six-word memoirs especially poignant.

Finally, I have the students present their memes and explain them to the class - this provided more insight into their character than many other activities that I have attempted into the past.

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