I first heard about this lesson idea from the South Coast Writing Project, but I’m not sure who thought of it first. It’s all based on the following urban legend: Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a short story in fewer than 10 words. Accepting the challenge, Hemingway wrote—
“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”
According to Snopes, Hemingway probably did not actually write that story. Instead, they attribute the story to something the Ernest Hemingway character says in the one-man play, Papa.
Using the “baby shoes” memoir as a mentor text, I ask students to write their own 6 words. Sounds simple, I know, but try it yourself. It takes several drafts and sometimes days of thought to come up with a 6-word statement you can live with. Trust me.
Memoir writing is complex for student writers: To be successful, students have to be reflective about who their own identities, passions, and motivations. Students must be able to describe an experience and communicate why it was significant to them. The 6-Word Memoir activity is a way to get students started on this journey. If you are looking for inspiration, SMITH Magazine’s Say It in 6 is tailored for teen writers. Students over 13 can actually publish their own memoirs to SMITH’s forum.
The publishing opportunity is from Jen Roberts’s and Diane Neebe’s excellent book Power Up (2015, Stenhouse). Neebe and Ropberts have a tech twist for the 6-word project: Students make their 6-word memoirs into memes. When I read this idea in their book, I knew I had to try it.
What’s a meme? I think of them as the web-based images, videos, or files that get posted, favorited (or liked) and reposted over and over. Granted, my students’ first-shot at memes will likely not go viral, but we all start somewhere.
HOW TO MAKE A MEME WITH GOOGLE SLIDES:
1) First, have students create their 6-word memoirs. I used a simple Google Slide presentation (see below) to introduce the concept. This presentation includes links to a SMITH Magazine video with a montage of teen 6-word statements.
For younger students, you may want to them to write out their final 6-words before typing on Google Slides. I used the template below:
2) Give students the definition of meme. Ask them if they have seen any—possibly involving cats or other humorous elements (school appropriate, of course).
3) Show your own example. Here’s mine:
4) Ask students: What do you notice? Discuss what kinds of images, fonts, and colors might be appropriate for this assignment. Note the image citation in the corner.
5) Teach students how to find Public Domain or Creative Commons licensed images. Here are three places to look for images licensed free to reuse:
- In Google Slides, go to Insert. Select Image and Search. Google Slides only searches images licensed free to use. You can find the source (in blue) information when you press on the image you want.
6) Require that students cite the source of the image. Make a text box that says (Image: Source) My example: (Image: Klausdie from Pixabay). I find that many students love skipping this step. I don’t give them credit for the image without the citation. I feel this is a crucial skill for them to have as creators and consumers of content.
7) Give some tips for how to manipulate fonts and images on Google Slides:
- Pull the image “off the slide” so that it uses the entire space.
- Make the image transparent by pressing the image, choosing Image options, and Transparency.
- Put the image behind the writing by pressing Arrange (top menu), Order, and Send to Back.
- Make the font size big enough to fill up most of the slide.
- Choose a font style that fits the mood and tone of the 6-words.
- Choose a color for the font that allows the words to both stand out and complement the image.
VIDEO TUTORIAL FOR ADDING AN IMAGE:
Of course, the final step is for students to post their memes where other people can enjoy them. In my class, we use NEO, an LMS much like Edmodo. I asked my students to post their 6-word memes on the class discussion feed. Then, I modeled how to “like” or comment.
This assignment allowed all of my students to feel successful and to think of themselves as writers. It was a great first step for our upcoming memoir unit.
BONUS IDEA: Ask parents to write and share 6-word memoirs on back to school night. I did that this year and I loved the result.