Friday, March 27, 2009

Six Word Memoirs by Mrs. Barth's 4th graders

I am completely enthralled by a book that I read recently. It is entitled, "Not Quite What I was Planning: 6-word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure." The memoirs were compiled by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser.

The concept of the 6-word memoir was inspired by a legend that Hemingway was once challenged to write a complete memoir using only six words. His work: "For sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn."

In 2006, Smith Magazine challenged its readers to submit their own 6-word memoirs. Thousands of entries poured in. Several hundred of those were published in the book noted above.

Intrigued by the book, I recently explored the Smith Magazine/6 word memoir website.
Click here:

Many, many people have submitted their own 6 word stories to this website. I have discovered that once a person starts thinking in 6 words, it's difficult to stop. Here are some of my own submissions:

  • Thank God. I'm not my mother.
  • Man's Best Friend ate my stir-fry! (Hannah's)
  • Lost dental insurance...inspired to floss
  • They lied to me about Santa.
  • Fat pants far outnumber skinny pants.
  • thing I've ever done.
I polled some friends and they come up with these:
  • Love life and those so dear.
  • Live fully, live forward, live purposeful.
  • Been there. Done that. Didn't work.
There is an electronic booklet on the website that contains the 6-word memoirs of a 3rd grade class. I so enjoyed reading the children's thoughts. My favorite submission was, "Eight years old. Combed hair twice."

Perusing the children's memoirs online, inspired me to take the project into my daughter's 4th grade class to have them attempt to pen their own stories. Oh, what fun we had!

On the day of our Writer's Workshop, I explained the concept of the 6 word memoir. I started by providing them with a definition of the word "memoir," as an account of one's life. I told them that they had six words to tell their entire life story. Having always written stories in their academic life that didn't have a number limit, they seemed a bit concerned. I reminded them that their teacher has perpetually emphasized the use of "juicy words," in their writing. Therefore, writing a six word memoir was a way to utilize juicy words and to make every word count. (literally)

I then provided them with some examples from the book, as well as sample memoirs that I'd written. I shared two about their classmate and my daughter, Hannah. To describe her, I had written, "So many books, too little time," and "Math was invented to torture me." Hannah is known as a book lover who loathes Math, so many students nodded their heads in agreement. I also shared a mushy one about her, "My daughter: the sun and moon."

Armed with an explanation and the examples, we kicked off the project.

Some kids struggled to start.

"Can it be 7 words?" No.

"Is this "right?" There is no "right."

"I don't know what to write." (which happens to be one of my own 6-word memoirs!)

Others jumped right in. Normally verbose children entered contemplative modes. After a bit of writing, they wandered amongst each other, comparing life stories. There was much laughter and loads of excited energy.

The kids described writing 6-word memoirs with words like, "challenging," "hard," and "frustrating. My daughter, Hannah, reflected on the experience. "It's hard to put your whole life into six words." Colin Duffy echoed that sentiment, as well. Ally DeSpirito added, "It's hard but somehow the most important words pop out very strongly in your mind and in your heart."

But the word used most often to describe the experience was "fun." Connor Reefe explained, "It is a fun way to exercise your brain!"

Owen Frazier said, "I learned that a memoir can be funny, personal, and so much more."

And, what did I learn? As usual, I found that some of the greatest life lessons have been taught to me by children. This 6-word memoir experience was no exception. I learned that everyone has a story, and that you don't have to be old to have a life story. Children surprised me with their depth and their whimsy. Some memoirs made me smile with their wit. Still others made me pause to ponder their truth. Quiet, reserved kids often have heavy things to say.

While one can say a lot with 6 words, I also learned that sometimes six words just aren't enough. Some memoirs left me longing to know more of a child's story. The six words offered glimpses, but not complete insights into the authors. And, sometimes memoirs, like personalized vanity plates, are esoteric...only understood by the author.

Despite what we read in the newspapers, this generation is not a bunch of egotistical, loud-music-listening troublemakers. This generation of children deeply loves their family, even their annoying siblings. They care about Mother Earth and all of her animal inhabitants. Most importantly, their memoirs show that they are, above all other things, optimistic. In spite of the chaos near and far in our world, they are positive and hopeful for the future. One young lady summed up this prevailing optimism in one of her memoirs, "My glass is always half full."

As adults, we should be inclined to incorporate that half-fullness into our own lives.

The complete list of memoirs:

Aleaha Martinez

One life… it’s like a rollercoaster.

Math does not work with me.

Dogs: they’re more than great, awesome

My mom rocks, just like dad.

Math is like my brother, annoying.

There are brothers then there’s Caleb.

Alyssa DeSpirito

Take care of the world ,EVERYONE!

Why can’t vegetables taste like dessert ?

I love almost every single animal.

Can’t live without them ,my family.

Friends are the best, keep them.

Still waiting for a dog, “please?”

Austin Zellner

I love and hate yellow bugs

I love the Bucky Buckaroo hamster

I love animals from outer mars

Inventing to get my sister extinct

Can not live without b-ball games

My cousin wants to be a tiger

Blake Smithback

I don’t know why night comes?

My fish was very, very awesome.

Can’t live without them, my sisters.

Math was invented to KILL me!

Expert hornet killers: Blake and Jack.

Brayden Johnson

I really, really, really hate math.

My family is very, very cool.

I like vegetables; no not really.

Colin Duffy

Good athlete, good student, GO COLTS!

Got jabbed, in nose, didn’t bleed



Connor Reefe

I like my dad’s potato soup.

I wish I were a monkey.

We adopted my sister Valentine’s Day.

Dylan Wischhoff

Can not live without my sports.

My brother’s dream job: A dog.

Can’t live without them: My dogs.

I love my mom and dad.

Haley Werlein

Live, laugh, love… all day long

Can’t live without them: mom & Dad

Can’t live without MY pepperoni pizza

Hanna Thomas

I love polar bear a lot!

Daddy, I love you so much!

I wish boney was here today!

I love my mommy so much!

Hannah Nies

Wish I could go to Aunt’s.

Why is math an hour long?

Allergic to cats, but love them.

My baking mom is my sunshine.

Dog broke in to my take-out!

Man’s best friend ate my stir-fry!

Jack Kratcha

I really, really, really like sports.

MATH was invented to be fun.

My favorite pet is a dog.

Professional hornet hunters: Jack and Blake.

My favorite athlete is Peyton Manning.

I have two Colts football jerseys.

Jessica Bymers

I am my brother’s punching bag

I love all of the animals

Natalia lives in Sao Paolo Brazil

I like dogs better than cats

Lexa Buechner

My family, dogs…important to me

I clean my brother’s diapers…gross!

I like horses, dogs and cats

I love my brother very much

I will always protect my brother.

Love every color in the world.

Otto Clifcorn

I am nice to my friends.

I wish I were a monkey.

My Brother: really funny, a lot.

Owen Frazier

I love to climb huge trees.

I act just like a chimp.

Chimps are the best animals ever.

He is the best, my brother.

Rachel Tuschl

Family, friends, candy… life is good

Why can’t candy be really healthy?

I love puppies, yes I do

Helpful, happy, that’s what dads are

Obsessed with Deb’s yummy chocolate cake.

Colorful rainbows make me so happy

Tesa Benisch