Six-word memoir

Words pour in

“What do you love best? How can you use the things you love to represent you, to describe who you are, in just six words?”

I pause to let the fifth graders think.

“One thing that I love,” I continue, “is the sound of cicadas. Have you heard that sound?”

Hands shoot up. I nod to a girl who replies: “Those bugs that buzz really loud.”

“Yes. Every spring I look forward to hearing the cicadas again – they will buzz all summer long. They remind me of summers spent with my grandparents. The sound was deafening in the thick woods around their home. Hearing cicadas now makes me feel happy and safe, no matter what else is going on. It’s one of the things I love best. So I might try to write my six-word memoir about the sound of cicadas.”

With pencil on paper, using the document camera, I write:

Nature sings to me. I listen.

I see heads nodding.

“I might keep working these six words to see if I can make them represent me better. I might decide to work on another idea. Today you will make a list of things that you love – maybe things you love to do, or favorite objects, or even dreams you have of things you want to do or be – and think about how each thing represents you. Then we will work on capturing and hammering out those descriptions in just six words.”

Off they go around the room, to brainstorm.

I brainstorm, too. What else can I write? What’s another example I can give them?

Well, as far back as I can remember, I loved reading and writing – it’s who I am. It’s what I do. It’s why I’m in this very room this very minute, teaching it.

I think about it all night, and am ready for the next lesson.

“So, ladies and gentlemen, yesterday we brainstormed ideas for writing our six-word memoirs. We thought of things we love and how they might represent us. I thought of something else to represent me. Let me ask you: What do you think represents me? Think about what I do and what you know about me.”

A boy waves his hand: “I know! Harry Potter!”

The class giggles and a few say, “Yessss!”

I laugh. “Excellent. But think bigger than Harry Potter, if possible! Think about who I am and what I do.”

A quiet girl’s hand sneaks up. “You teach reading and writing.”

“There you go. I’ve loved reading and writing all my life. I think this idea might be a great choice for a six-word memoir. It really describes who I am. I have to think now about how to capture this idea in six words.”

With pencil, paper, and the document camera, I write:

I read, I write, I am.

Heads nod – and an image materializes in my mind just then.

A pitcher, a glass, water pouring . . . .

“I just got an idea of how to make this better!”

I write:

Words pour in. Words pour out.

The children study these words.

“What do you think this means, ladies and gentlemen?”

A boy says, “First you wrote I read, I write, I am and you said you could make it better so I think you mean that if words pour in, you’re reading, and if words pour out, you’re writing.”

Across the room, faces light up.

I smile. “Well done. For a few minutes, share your ideas with your partner and talk about possible ways to begin writing your six-word memoir. Then we’ll all write.”

I listen as the ideas flow in and out, with a hum as vibrant as that of cicadas.

(If you’re interested in reading an earlier Slice on the sound of cicadas: Cicada rhythm)

slice-of-life_individualEarly Morning Slicer

14 thoughts on “Six-word memoir

    • Thank you! I did this as an introduction to teaching memoir narrative writing, one of my favorite units. I am excited that you will try it! Your students will love it, too. It’s fun to write several six-word memoirs before choosing the one that feels like the best representation of who we are.


  1. I noticed your image at the top right away and was going to compliment it–and was even more delighted to find out you wrote/created it yourself! I love how you’ve woven your own six-word memoirs into a narrative piece and shown the power of using this with your students. I’ve seen several posts about using 6 photos/6 words to tell a story lately and I’m itching to try this strategy out!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your words are always so encouraging to me! The kids loved the activity. It’s uniquely challenging to boil the essence of oneself down to six words. I did this as an an introduction to memoir narrative writing. So happy that you enjoyed my art as well as the piece. Thank you so much.


  2. This is lovely and I like how you narrate the generation of the final 6-word memoir. Such a concise way of saying that you are involved with language and words.

    Would love to see some samples from your students.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for reading and telling me exactly what connected with you. It is so important to me that kids see and experience the real writing process, from the generation of ideas to the finished – or nearly finished – piece.


  3. I love the art, and am envious of your skills there. But more so, your ability to meld your students around the task at hand. I love reading blog as it always gives me thought for what I’m doing in my own classroom!

    Thank you for being willing to share! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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