Saturday, December 12, 2015

Using Six Word Memoirs As Icebreaker and Intro To The Writing Process

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 learning environment.
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.
In forty-five 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.

Works Cited
Smith Magazine. Magsmith, LLC. 2008. Web. 4 September 2009
Smith, Larry and Rachel Fershleiser. Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. New York: Harper Perennial 2008. 
 The Six Word Memoirs website.

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