Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Getting to Know Me--Six-Word Memoirs

This is the second in our series of six posts featuring back-to-school Writing Workouts especially for teachers and homeschoolers. But all you writers out there, don't touch that dial--today's Writing Workout is for you, too.

On Monday, Mary Ann shared an alternative to the all-too-familiar "What I did over my summer vacation" assignment. Today, I'd like to suggest a writing activity that will not only give students writing practice, but will also help them get to know each other. And, as an added bonus, it may give teachers some insight into their students' personalities too. The activity? Writing a six-word memoir.

"Six-word memoirs" were recently popularized by SMITH Magazine with the publication of their book Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.

According to SMITH Magazine's Six-Word Memoirs website:
"Legend has it that Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in only six words. His response? “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Starting in 2006, SMITH Magazine re-ignited the recountre by asking our readers for their own six-word memoirs. They sent in short life stories in droves, from the bittersweet (“Cursed with cancer, blessed with friends”) and poignant (“I still make coffee for two”) to the inspirational (“Business school? Bah! Pop music? Hurrah”) . . . ."
I first heard of six-word memoirs this past January, when members of the SCBWI-Illinois listserv were invited to introduce ourselves to the group via these brief bios. Here's what I wrote in response:
"I read that someone (perhaps Madeline L'Engle) once called the deep, universal truths in fiction “truth with a capital T” (as opposed to factual truth). So, I’d like to introduce myself as: 'Seeking truth with a capital T'"
Today, I am also: "Writing teacher blogging about teaching writing."

While I haven't yet tried this writing activity with children, others have, as described in this blog post and on the SMITH Magazine site. In Not Quite What I was Planning, the editors state that the "bittersweet" memoir quoted above: “Cursed with cancer, blessed with friends,” was written by a nine-year-old. The book also includes this one by a teen: "Fourteen years old, story still untold." The six-word memoirs have been so popular with teens that SMITH Magazine will soon be releasing I Can't Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous and Obscure. They have also set up a website for teens to post their six-word memoirs. (Teachers and parents take note--some of the teen bios may be inappropriate for younger children.)

See the Writing Workout below for specific suggestions on using this activity in a classroom. Or, if you're an adult writer, check out the Six-Word Memoirs website for inspiration on writing your own six-word memoir. (The site even provides a box where you can type in your memoir and have your computer automatically count your words!) When you're done, I hope you'll share your six-word memoirs here as comments to this post.

Out and About

On Saturday, August, 29, I'll be teaching the one-day workshop, "From Goodnight Moon to Harry Potter," in Oak Brook, Illinois. This class is an introduction to the children’s/​young adult writing market for those new to the field. For more information, visit my website.

Also, I'm happy to announce that my article, "What's in a Name: Maybe More than You Think," appears in the newly released 2010 edition of the Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, edited by Alice Pope. The article is in excellent company, too. To read more about this edition of the CWIM, see Alice's blog.

Writing Workout--The Six-Word Memoir
For ages 8 through adult

Objective: To engage students in thinking about their lives and to show them how to write concisely. Secondary objective: as a beginning-of-the-school-year activity, sharing these memoirs can serve as a way for students to get to know one another, and for the teacher to get to know the students.

Lesson: Begin by talking about the word "memoir," and how it has the same root as the word "memory. Then share examples of six-word memoirs. See this blog post for samples written by eight- and nine-year-olds, and this blog post for some by fourth-graders.

Instructions: Have students make lists of facts about themselves. For example: Where do they live? How many siblings do they have? What are their favorite things to do, favorite foods, etc.? Depending on the students' ages, you may want to let them work on this with a partner.

Then have the students choose six words from their list to summarize some aspect of who they are or what they like. Encourage them to use mainly nouns and verbs.

When the students have finished their memoirs, they can read them aloud to the class. Or if they have worked with partners, one partner may introduce the other to the class via the six-word memoir.


Sarah Campbell said...

I like this one a lot. I'm going to try it myself. Keep these gems coming!

Michelle Sussman said...

My 7-year-old daughter wanted to take the challenge:

"I like to draw...a lot!"

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for the feedback, Sarah. BTW, are your first two sentences intentionally six words each?

Michelle, your daughter's memoir is terrific! She may turn out to be an author-illustrator. :-) Thanks so much for sharing it.

Stacey from Two Writing Teachers said...

May we link to this post from Two Writing Teachers on an upcoming Memoir Monday? If that's okay, since we'd be doing some direct quoting, then please e-mail me by going to


Carmela Martino said...

I found even more links to the use of six-word memoirs in schools, some as audios and videos. See: