My 6-word memoir test run

After reading Hana’s post the other day on using six-word stories or memoirs, I decided I would do that as an icebreaker when my new class starts next week.  Fortunately, though, I tried it out yesterday with my current class.  What I learned is what I already knew:  there is a difference between reading about a lesson plan or idea and actually making it your own.  That difference is what makes the activity successful or not.

Now, the idea of 6-word stories wasn’t a new one to me.  I remember when they first became popular maybe 10 years ago.  I used them with my students then.  But I haven’t thought about them in a long time.  So when I read Hana’s post I didn’t think it would be too difficult to pull this activity off.  And it wasn’t, really.  But I hadn’t taken time to really think of how I would frame it for my students.  And that is where my problem was.

Now, in my defense, yesterday was a crazy day.  Unannounced, they came to do teacher evaluations.  So my plan was thrown off.  The evals took about 30 minutes — one fourth of the class.  So when I got back into the room and started teaching, I felt rushed and off kilter.  But I was determined to try the activity, so I did.

And really, it went pretty well.  But it was a struggle rather than a fun activity.  And that was my fault entirely.

I presented the basic idea to the students and wrote a couple example on the board.  Then I passed out index cards and asked them to put their names on them and then write their own six-word stories.  They were confused.  I had used both a “sentence” example (Helps other people, needs help herself) and a word example (teacher, wife, mother, friend, daughter, sister) but they seriously didn’t get the sentence example.  They wanted to write sentences, with each sentence presenting one word that described them: I like to cook.  I like to clean. I am a good mother. I am a good worker.  I like to visit my children.  I am a nice person.  So there were a lot of erasures on the cards before we got what I was looking for.  But we got it.

Then I had them work with a partner and exchange cards.  The idea was to have them ask one or two questions based on what the card said.  So for instance, if someone had my card with teacher, wife, mother, friend, daughter, sister on it, they might have said, “You are a mother.  How many children do you have?” This part actually worked well.  They had good conversations.

Now these students are beginners at the end of a 90 hour course.  They all work together and know each other well.  My new students will be at about the same level but at the beginning of the course.  And they will largely be strangers to each other.  So I know I have to change this up a bit.

What I plan to do is just present the 6 word example.  I think this will be easier to explain to new students.  And it will make the conversation part easier.  Even most beginners will be able to ask that kind of question.  I hope.  At the end of the activity I will collect the cards.  This will give me some basic information about the students that I can use later on as I am talking to them.

I had explained to my class yesterday that they were going to be my guinea pigs.  (And then, of course, I had to explain what that meant!)  And I am glad they were.  They didn’t hesitate to tell me when they didn’t understand, and I could easily tell them that I didn’t want six complete sentences.  Neither of those would happen with a brand new class on the first day.  I learned a lot during this test run.  The lesson is truly mine now.

I’ll let you know how it goes next week!


2 thoughts on “My 6-word memoir test run

  1. A great post, Nancy. I do it too – I sometimes run into the classroom, eager to share a new idea only to find out that it’s not the right time for it. Under the circumstances you describe, it’s likely that even a great plan falls through to a certain extent. It’s happened to me many times. But it’s great you tried it out. Next time, you’ll definitely be wiser.

    By the way, I think it was really brave of you to introduce the activity to a class of beginners. Hats off! I was planning to do it with a class of B1 students first, but now I think it might work with young learners too; they’re more open to creative ideas like this and less embarrassed or intimidated by potential errors.

    Thanks for sharing your experiment and mentioning my post here!

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