Good Teaching

Creating Six-Word Memoirs

six-word memoirs
Written by Miguel Guhlin

Student creation of six-word memoirs can help form powerful connections to learning. Discover some technology resources to help them.

“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn” wrote Ernest Hemingway. This six word memoir‘s brevity hints at a deeper tale. In my fifth grade Writers’ Workshop, helping students focus on one aspect of their lives could be challenging. Memoirs can be powerful when reduced to their essence. Let’s take a look at some ways six-word memoirs might find a place in teaching, learning, and leading.

Six-Word Memoirs in the Classroom

Memoirs are more than sad stories.  One teacher describes the assignment for students:

My students had just finished a unit on the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution. I asked my students to create six-word memoirs for the leading thinkers of the Enlightenment. If people like VoltaireNewton and Diderot only had six words, how would they describe their accomplishments? I made the project and requirements simple (source:Jonathan Olsen).

Jenny Rich (@jdrich219) suggests five ways to use six-word memoirs in the classroom. These include ways students can use them to:

  1. Introduce themselves
  2. Capture a fictional (or non-fictional) character’s perspective
  3. Memorialize key aspects of a character
  4. Summarize critical concepts in a lesson
  5. Describe media (e.g. song, art, film)
  6. Reflect on learning experiences

Let’s blend a few examples of technology use with the six-word memoir sentence structure (a.k.a. six-word structure) in the classroom that Jenny and Jonathan suggest.

#1 – Six-Word Blog Entries

“Memoir involves the whittling away of a whole lot of stuff that you have lived and a focusing on one slim section, full of power, that demands to be told,” says Lisa Dale Norton. Writing a blog entry is about whittling away the unnecessary. The writer plays the part of  a marble sculptor, cutting towards his mental vision of perfection. Students can learn to write short, summarizing key concepts for a chapter or unit of study using the six-word structure. One way to publish summaries is in a classroom blog.

Some blog platforms that you may find useful:

  1. KidBlog
  2. Write About
  3. Edublogs
  4. Seesaw Class Blog (view sample blog)


Growing up reading textbooks in class, I soon developed the ability to focus on the essential ideas. What would I ask a question about on a test? What nugget of information was worth picking up? As a result, my grades improved. Writing blog entries in brief can become a game. Who can best capture the main ideas in brief?

#2 – Six-Word Memoir Music-Enhanced Images

Combine stirring images with six-word memoirs. See examples below:

You can create a slide show with music using Google Slides and a screencasting tool of choice, such as: PowerPoint with Office Mix add-in, Animoto, or Shadow Puppet EDU (iOS). You can find many examples of six-word memoirs as music-enhanced slideshows. Here’s one more from eighth grade students, the class of 2024:

#3 – SketchNote That Six-Word Memoir

Sketchnotes are “…rich visual notes created from a mix of handwriting, drawings, hand-drawn typography, shapes, and visual elements like arrows, boxes, and lines,” says  Mike Rohde, author of The Sketchnote Handbook

Learn more about sketchnoting. Check out these TCEA presentations at the upcoming 2018 Convention & ExpositionSketchnotes for Non-Artists (Vanessa Perez), The Art of Paying Attention with Sketchnotes (Peggy Reimers), as well as this premier resource, Sketchnoting for Beginners (Sylvia Duckworth).

Another fun idea includes sketchnoting the six-word memoir using a tool like Microsoft OneNote. See some more ideas about sketchnoting to assist student’s development of their memoirs.

Wrap Up

In this blog entry, we’ve taken a look at a variety of technologies you can use to create six-word memoirs, among them, blogs, audio/video apps, and digital drawings known as sketchnotes. How are you blending technology into six-word memoirs?


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About the author

Miguel Guhlin

Director of Professional Development at TCEA
A former director of technology, Miguel brings a unique perspective to TCEA’s professional development team. He specializes in Microsoft’s educational products and has extensive instructional technology experience. A prolific writer, Miguel blogs at Around the Corner and for TCEA’s TechNotes Blog. Miguel earned both his Master’s degree in Bicultural/Bilingual Studies with an ESL Concentration and his B.A. at University of Texas, San Antonio.

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