Teacher Inquiry Workshop

Hemingway’s Six Word Memoir

Six Word Writing Reflection and Expression


Encourage students to think critically, be conscious of word choice and audience. This lesson will require lingual analysis.  The lesson is designed for college readiness; class time 75 minutes.


Digital Tool: LINO (a free cork board application) to share pictures and sticky notes. On PosterLINO I’ve posted Hemingway’s six word memoir, For Sale: baby shoes, never worn, along with other select six word memoirs.

This activity will demonstrate how word choice affects meaning and connotation. I’ll be using a pragmatic approach, noting how language has a cause and effect. This perspective raises attention to what is said versus the unsaid, syntax and meaning. The students will have to identify the vocabulary and determine the meaning as used by Hemingway. They will need contextual evidence to support their definitions furthermore students will have to be aware of commas, colons, question marks, (etc.) placement. Students will then analyze Hemingway’s memoir by changing one or two words to change the meaning. Without having a formal lesson on pragmatics or linguistics students will be conscious of vocabulary.

The goal of this practice is to spark a classroom discussion on the meaning of Hemingway’s chosen memoir. Through class discussion the students will determine the tone of the memoir, and analyze the meaning of the message. Analysis will be utilized to develop their critical thinking skills. I hope the students will engage in a discussion about theme, what the narrator is saying about the unworn shoes, or the child whom they belonged to, the subject of innocence is a possible topic. The intention is to have approximately a 20-25 minute conversation about language.

  1. For Sale: baby shoes, never worn. Does this have a positive or negative tone? What is the message the writer is trying to convey?
  2. What word or words would you change to change the meaning? How can punctuation change the meaning?
  3. What surprises/interests/like or dislike do you have about this form of writing?

Students will then develop their writing skills when asked to generate their own six word memoir. To enrich the learning experience I’ll be providing additional examples of six word memoirs taken from the book Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs written by writers.

Use-Your-Voice-webI want the students to reflect on their own lives, in order to ensure their writing is personal. I will allot 15-20 minutes for writing. While students are writing they are free to discuss ideas with classmates. I’ve prepared pre-writing questions (see handout below). The purpose of the handout is to have students consider topic choices.

Students will be asked to share their work with the class. Students with Twitter accounts will be encouraged to tweet their memoir to Smith Magazine Six Word Memoir Twitter account as form of publication for a six work (specific) audience.

Theoretical Lens:  

The learning theory and philosophy being applied for this lesson is social constructivism, students will collaborate through class discussion. Students should be able to construct the meaning and apply critical thinking and analysis practice to create an understanding of the context. In Irene Clark’s essay Concepts of Composition she discusses the importance of enhancing reading and writing abilities of first year college students furthermore, the effectiveness of collaborative learning in the classroom. Clark suggests modeling the activity by (the teacher) engaging in the activity (18).  This activity will encourage the development of the student’s personal voice.

In George Yule’s book Pragmatics, he explains language in use, “pragmatics is concerned with the study of meaning as communicated by a speaker (or writer) and interpreted by a listener (or reader)” (3). Principally, pragmatics is the analysis of meaning. The students should be able to cognitively understand the speaker or writers meaning based on the way the word/s are phrased or written. Pragmatics is the study of speaker meaning, contextual meaning, how more is communicate than said, and expression (Yule 3).  My intention for this lesson is make the students aware of lingual analysis and grammar.

Practical Lens:

Often, traditional college freshman struggle to find their academic voice which translates into their writing, fragment sentences and abbreviations are all too common in college writing. In his essay Inventing the University, David Bartholomae writes, “the student has to learn to speak our language, to speak as we do, to try on the peculiar ways of knowing, selecting, evaluating, reporting, concluding, and arguing that define the discourse of our community,” (523).  Students who test below average on college placement exams frequently demonstrate limitations in their writing. College freshmen “basic writers” often struggle to establish themselves as the authority in their writing. This six word memoir lesson is structured on the belief that students will write about themselves for themselves as the expert or authority of their memoir.

Collaborative learning engages students; stimulating conversations about writing which will enhance their overall ability. Collaboration is organized, focused, and non-directive. Kenneth Bruffee’s research on Collaborative Learning and the Conversation of Mankind looks at conversation style. It can be said that you learn by doing, students need to be engaged to ask questions, constructive questions and draw conclusions. Reflection, inquiry, and expression, is the foundation of this lesson. Similar to the research of Bartholomae, learning through doing, talking then writing, this is collaboration.


Bartholomae, David. “Inventing the University.” Cross- Talk in Comp Theory: A Reader. 3rd Ed. Victor Villanueva & Kristin Arola. Urbana: NCTE, 2001. 523-566. Print.

Bruffee, Kenneth. “Collaborative Learning and the Conversation of Mankind.” Cross- Talk in Comp Theory: A Reader. 3rd Ed. Victor Villanueva & Kristin Arola.  Urbana: NCTE, 2001. 395-414. Print.

Clark, Irene. Concepts in Composition Theory and Practice in the Teaching of Writing. 2nd Ed. New York: Routledge, 2012. 1-29. Print.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices Council of Chief State   School Officers. “English Language Arts Standards.” Common Core Content Standards. 2010. Web. 14 July 2014.

Smith Magazine. “A Teaching Guide for Six Word Memoir.” SmithMag. Smith Magazine, n.d. Web. 13 July 2014.

Yule, George. Pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996. Print


Can you tell your story in six words?


What do you want the reader to know about you?

What are some of your pitfalls?

Do you have wisdom to share? (Of course you do)

What are you most proud of, what have you accomplished?

* If you’re having trouble choosing the right words, write a paragraph about yourself (4-6) sentences, go back and select six keywords.

________  ________  ________  ________  ________   ________

Consider Punctuation…! ? & ‘. “ $”; (:) -/

Do you have a twitter account? Tweet your six word memoir and publish your story.  

Tweet @sixwords hashtag #sixwords


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s