“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!”
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)