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Tip of the Week – 6 Word Memoirs

I’m always looking for a good way to help kids organize and review information. Graphic organizers are great for that. But sometimes you just need a quick tool that provides not just a way for kids to cement learning but something that helps you measure learning.

A few months ago, I ran across something called a Six-Word Memoir. Developed by the online SMITH magazine, Six-Word Memoirs are a lifetime compressed into six little words. The project became so successful, the magazine published several books full of the miniature bios. Others, including the AARP site, also began publishing Six-Word Memoirs and the New Yorker has an interesting article on the process.

Some samples from people you might know:

  • Stephen Colbert
    “Well, I thought it was funny”
  • Joyce Carol Oates
    “Revenge is living well without you”
  • Aimee Mann
    “Couldn’t cope so I wrote songs”
  • Terry McMillan
    “I have to constantly reinvent myself”
  • Dave Eggers
    “Fifteen years since last professional haircut”
  • Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli
    “Xenophile escapist tumbleweed globetrots, finds self.”

Some from people you probably don’t:

  • Went to market, found a wife
  • Paris at eighteen: Enchanted for life
  • Omaha Beach: 52 years after Dad
  • North Pole cold, fellow travelers warm

I think you could have kids do the same thing with people that they are studying. And while people would be easier I’m betting your kids would come up with some great Six-Word Memoirs for places and events as well. By forcing kids to summarize a person’s life (or the “life” of a place or event), you help them focus on the big picture.

Possible history examples?

  • Abraham Lincoln
    “Split wood, split country, saved it”
  • Ghandi
    “Lost battle, won war, was hungry”
  • Abigail Adams
    “Six words!? Must have more letters!”

When students are finished, have them share and explain their six words with others. You could use this as a very informal sort of assessment during and at the end of learning. But I might even try this as a more formal type of test by asking kids to write a Six-Word Memoir and then having them write an essay type answer explaining why they selected those six words. I might also ask them to describe those words that they choose to leave out of their memoir.

Have fun!

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Glenn it’s great to meet you and read your work. Might I interview you for the book I’m working on? I’m looking at the inquiry practices in different professional domains, drawing parallels to edu.

    June 11, 2010
  2. History Student #

    We’re doing this in my AP Euro class now that the exam is over. So far the best has been for Marie Antoinette: They wanted her head, not cake.

    May 23, 2011

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