There’s an oft repeated tale from the world of literature. The great Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a story in just six words. Challenge accepted. Hemingway returned with what he later said was his best work ever:
For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.
What made Hemingway’s six word story so power was not what it said (although those six words were evocative), but what it didn’t say. Readers were free to fill in the gaps with their own supposings. What baby? Who is the story about? Why weren’t the shoes worn?
Years later, I used Hemingway’s story as inspiration for a writing lesson. Smith Magazine had challenged readers to submit their own six word memoirs, telling their life’s story in exactly six words. As a middle school teacher, I knew two things about my students: They wanted to be heard, and they were daunted by lengthy writing tasks. So why not extend the six word memoir challenge to them? Challenge accepted.
Click the link above to see an original slideshow of six word memoirs written by eighth graders*. Warning: The slideshow will load slowly, so get a cuppa joe and relax. Or if you’re a busy person with no time to wait, you can check out a version of the slideshow adapted for youtube by a student who is much cleverer than me:
See– I told you they were amazing. Nearly three hundred students wrote pages of six word memoirs so real, so raw, so vibrant, and so meaningful that I will always remember it as one of my best lessons. I’m not a teacher anymore, but I still hear from former students who tell me they will never forget the experience and that they still write the memoirs. As one said, “When you know you have only six words to work with, you make sure every single word is just right and says just what you want it to. You pack a lot into those six words.” I continue to write six word memoirs as well. They’re amazingly therapeutic, especially when paired with just the right illustration.
This blog includes an ongoing collection of my own six word memoirs. Just click the tab at the top of the page, or go here:
Read them, wonder about them, comment, write your own. . . One life. Six words. What’s yours?
* This is just one slideshow showcasing a sample of six word memoirs. I made seven slideshows altogether, and each one was special in its own way.