The Power of Only Six Words

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So the legend goes that Hemingway was once challenged while sitting at the bar to write a story using only six words.  After pondering for a few minutes, he said, “Baby shoes. For sale. Never worn.” I have challenged my students over the years to tell their stories using only six words. Some it really hard to sum up their sixteen years in only one six words, while others are grateful not to have to expand.  After introducing a teacher from another district to the six word memoirs, I sent her some examples from my students to inspire hers.  Her students, who look like me and not the students in my classroom, were surprised at how sad my students’ lives seemed to be.  But they are right; many of my students chose to write about their hardships and challenges, lost fathers, depression, teenage motherhood, violence, fear of the unknown, fear of the past.  I’m not sure why most did this.  Maybe their hopes and dreams could simply not be expressed in six, small words.

Following are some examples of my students’ six word memoirs.  While some technically aren’t stories in six words, they are still full of emotion, and there is s story somewhere in there waiting to be told.  What stories can you learn beyond what they are telling us in their six words?

I’m waiting to forget and forgive.   ~Keyonna
If I mess up, everyone’s mad!  ~Briana
Fight back and you might win.  ~Brielle
Constricting snake of sadness of me.  ~Brielle
Waging multiple wars inside my head.  ~Brielle
So hurt, how can I heal?  ~Cierra
So much despair, where to start?  ~Cierra
Like a stress ball, squeeze me.  ~Jazzmin
A crime is committed, but is overlooked.  ~Alteeka
Crushed by choice; destroyed by decision.  ~Brandon
Thanks for leaving.  I totally understand.  ~Alteeka
I feel forgotten.  Dad, come back.  ~Alteeka
Adopted, why did you leave me?  ~Alteeka
Everyone patiently awaits my success tonight.  ~Antony
What is the world coming to?  ~Jazzmen
Death can get you anytime awake.  ~Sierra
Once you’re gone, no coming back.  ~Michelle
Thinking you are coming back…Not!  ~Michelle
Violence means no more of you.  ~Michelle
Smiling on the outside, crying on the inside. ~Michelle
Not ready to tell you good-bye.  ~Michelle
The worst situation was the best.  ~Alisha
Why do you make life hard?  ~Geralysse
Why do you bring us down?  ~Geralysse
Prison has taken her; call 911.  ~Lestacia
She was guilty until proven innocent.  ~Lestacia
Life without Mom…life without hope.  ~Lestacia
Not enough strength to forget you.  ~Lestacia
Best friend, mother…I need her back.  ~Lestacia
Thought this was over.  Apparently NOT!  ~Ryan
Wake up, school, sleeping…dreaming big.  ~Ryan
I need the key to college.  ~Martez
Thinking about college…ahh…brain freeze.  ~Martez
Love and trust…all I know!  Shakela
Loving me is to know me.  ~Jasmine
Maybe I was born this way.  ~Talpha
Waiting for change…it’s not coming.  ~Talpha
Protection is not what it seems.  ~Tikisha
Self-protection:  a very addictive habit.  ~Tikisha
Searching for compassion, received a companion.  ~Sheaness
Emotions cringe…I foresee the future.  ~Justin
Confiding doubtful emotions causes future facades.  ~Justin
Hold on, a change will come.  ~Jasmine
I hate the way you are.  ~Gabrielle
The father who was never there.  ~Gabrielle
He will never be forgotten.  ~Jasmin
He will stay in my heart.  ~Jasmin
Can’t get him back.  Big headache.  ~Jessica
Can’t get him back.  Outrageous heartache.  ~Jessica
Painful thoughts racing in my brain.  ~Darrin
I’m tired of you coming back.  ~Darrin
A huge bomb blowing me up.  ~Darrin
Ruined my life.  Nobody cares.  Why?  ~Sharonda
I realize he had to go.  ~Je’rae
Why am I the only victim?  ~Je’rae
So many questions, so little time.  ~DeMetrius
Moving on is nearly almost impossible.  ~DeMetrius
My winning is always a loss.  ~Dauntae
Why did I listen to you?  ~Adenia
Failure is in my vocabulary now.  ~Adenia
Caution…beware of what will happen.  ~Adenia

To learn more about six word memoirs, visit…

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18768430

http://blog.ted.com/2012/12/20/the-evocative-world-of-the-six-word-memoir-a-qa-with-new-ted-ebook-author-larry-smith/

http://www.smithmag.net/sixwords/

I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure- a collection of six word memoirs -

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6251070-i-can-t-keep-my-own-secrets

Hysterical slide show illustrating some 6 word memoirs…some probably not appropriate for students, but they made me lough out loud! http://www.npr.org/programs/totn/features/2008/02/memoir/gallery/

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2 responses »

  1. These are so powerful, Jenn. So many of them are heartbreaking too. I’m curious: how do your students share these with each other? What happens as a result of sharing them?

    Thank you for posting this.

    • Hi Tiffany, I have always worked very hard to build a safe and nurturing classroom environment, which isn’t always easy in an urban setting where many of my students have had negative school experiences. I have been very lucky in that most of my students have felt comfortable sharing their memoirs on our class blog, and sharing them aloud with the class. I can honestly say that I never had students be disrespectful to other students when they are sharing things that are personal. I have found that sharing their stories helps to create, and then strengthen, the positive classroom environment I strive to create! It’s not always perfect, and I have had to teach some students how to respond more respectfully and gently. I have found that students who choose not to share their personal writings in class orally will often feel freer doing so on the class blog. It has been a wonderful vehicle for students to express themselves and share their voices. :) Jennifer

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