This appeared in the "What Works For Me" section of the academic journal Teaching English In The Two Year College in Fall 2010.
Six word memoirs,
from the book Not Quite What I Was
Planning by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser, and the website that
inspired it, sum up, or condense, one’s life into a short, haiku or
aphorism-like format. The shortness of the form necessitates cutting the
‘fluff’ out of sentences, even using fragments, to make every word count. The
memoirs can range from one sentence to six, and from using commas and periods
to no punctuation at all.
I make a handout
of two pages from the book, and do a quick intro, showing them the book and
talking briefly about what normal memoirs are. Each reads a memoir out loud,
and immediately after does some free/fast writing on their reactions. Then,
they write three six word memoirs of their own. In pre-assigned groups of three
or four, they help each other decide which of their memoirs is the “best.” What
I’m actually doing though is just getting them to know each other a little bit
better, by interacting and sharing little bits of their lives. The more they
bond, the better they’ll feel about coming to class, making for a better
After ten minutes,
I’ll bring the class back together, and have someone with good handwriting put
the class name and section number at the top of a large poster-size piece of
paper. Using markers, the students write their ‘best’ six word memoir down,
with their names, and I post our memoirs somewhere public where they, and maybe
more importantly others, can see their writing.
minutes, my students have read models of a genre of writing, done some
pre-writing, written drafts, done a bit of peer review, presented their writing
to an audience, and built some class community: Everything I would want them to
experience in a more traditional writing assignment! And yes, I always write a
six word memoir too. Here’s one: started moving / couldn’t stop / kept going.
"Academic" appeared in WRITING ON THE EDGE (WOE) in Spring 2009.
for Mary Soliday
In the first stanza of this poem, I will share examples of
my thoughts on academic language, as well as how those thoughts correlate with
each of the subsequent stanzas. In stanza two I reference this list of stanza
descriptors in the first stanza, as well as look ahead to stanza three, where I
review the first and second stanzas while at the same time showing how they
scaffold on into the fourth and fifth (and final) stanzas. These fourth and
fifth stanzas take a look back at my original ideas, from which my conclusions
are based, and which return to the original thesis laid forth in this
introductory stanza, as well as the “threads” or “links” (terms I will discuss
more thoroughly later in the poem) in the middle stanzas.
In the first stanza I gave an overview of academic language
and described the main ideas of each of the stanzas of the poem. In this stanza
I will demonstrate and reflect on both the second and the fourth stanzas,
previewing my intentions for the third stanza, where I build a case for the
connection between the second stanza and the fourth stanza.
In the second stanza, I revealed my intention of reflecting
on both this, the third, stanza, as well as reviewing academic language in the
fourth stanza, and academic language in general. In the fourth stanza I will
both look back on this third stanza, and the first and second stanzas, while
also looking ahead to the fifth, and concluding stanza, in which I detail the
connections, between that stanza and the preceding stanzas of the poem, to
At this point in the poem, I feel it is important to look
back at the stanzas overall, and even more importantly, the ideas outlined behind the ideas of those stanzas
overall, to show that they do indeed clarify my main thesis, and more
importantly still, my feelings towards the subject of academic language, with
which I will conclude in the fifth and last stanza of the poem. In prior
stanzas I expanded my vision of the poem, and academic writing in general, and
referenced each of the other stanzas, with the strategy of discussing the
stanza that came before, and after, the stanza in question.
In conclusion, I feel it is necessary to return to my
original thesis, which was to demonstrate and discuss academic language, as
well as outline how the poem developed stanza by stanza, before actually
proceeding on to those stanzas, while I referred back to, and built upon, the
concept of academic language. Creating a stanza by stanza list of references in
the first paragraph created the means by which we saw the referencing of that
first stanza, while also allowing us to look ahead to the third stanza, which
itself allowed us to look both backward, and forward, so that now, in this
final stanza, we can see the poem as a web of interconnecting, and inter-linking, threads, and links, in which no
one stanza could exist without the others, and which communicates my ideas on
academic language, both specifically, and in general.