Life in six words

Everybody has a story to tell. Let's tell our stories, exchange our experience and make the world brighter with the help of the English language. Six words should not be a limitation, they can be just the start.

Life in six words

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In the 1920s, Ernst Hemingway bet ten dollars that he could write a complete story in just six words. He won the bet. He wrote, ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn’. So few words and so much sense. I was really inspired by the idea. I asked the question: ‘Is it really possible to tell one’s life story in just six words and is it possible to find some strategies of how to do it?’. Of course we lack the genius of Ernst Hemingway and his famous ‘iceberg style’, but still…

For those who have a story to tell, who are not afraid of the challenge, who are ready to tell their stories in just six words.

I found out that an American journalist Larry Smith in his online magazine used the Hemingway anecdote to inspire his readers to write their life stories in just six words, and they were overwhelmed by the thousands who took up the challenge. They published the best in a book which they gave the title of one of the submissions: ‘Not Quite What I was Planning’. Some people tried to tell a whole story of a life in six words and other times they were telling a moment in their life, right at that moment, something they were feeling right then. Having read all the stories, Larry Smith found that they had to give people parameters. And I found out that these parameters could be really helpful in a story telling process. Here they are:

1. It only works if it’s personal.
2. It’s a memoir: the story should be specific to your life.
3. Limitations force you to be creative.
4. Write a great memoir because of the six word parameter, not in spite of it.
5. Get inspired from reading other memoirs.
6. Like any other stories make revisions.
7. Put the six best words in the best order.

Being inspired by the idea I’ve decided to encourage my students to write their 6-word memoirs. I’ve decided to start with parameter № 5 ‘Get inspired from reading other memoirs’. We read the stories from Larry Smith’s book and discussed them, guessed the lives which could be hidden behind six words. I found more stories on the Net and my students chose the stories which they liked most of all and explained their choice. Then I gave them the beginnings of the stories and asked to write the endings (1 or 2 words to complete the story in their own way). Then I asked my students to find the best six words to describe famous books or fairy tales (ex, ‘Long nose, wooden body, real heart’ - Pinocchio). Then my students and I read or listened to different ‘long stories’ from our Student books and tried to transform them into six-word stories. And only after such preparatory work I asked my students to write their own stories keeping in mind parameters №1 and №2 (‘It only works if it is personal’, ‘The story should be specific to your life’).

If you take the book by Larry Smith you will see that there are not only written stories. There are photos which go with every story. The photos were chosen by the six-word-memoir authors themselves and made the stories more precise, more meaningful and even more personal. So my students were offered to meet another challenge: I asked them to find pictures which could become some sort of illustrations to their memoirs. Sometimes my students found a great picture and tried to write a six-word story to the picture.

BUT (I know that it is forbidden to start a new paragraph with this word if you write a State exam composition but still…) it was not the end of our story. Once searching the Net I came across a small video made by an American school teacher and his students where they united their six-word life stories in a small film and found a piece of music which was playing with the video track. So I’ve decided to give this idea a try. I showed this video to my students and we decided to do something similar but in a better way. We didn’t want just to find a beautiful piece of music; we wanted to find the music which could broaden the idea of our stories. And we did our best (‘Nothing Else Matters’ by Metallica in the first film and ‘We’ll meet again’ by Johnny Cash in the second film). It was really a challenge because we all spent a lot of time choosing the music and discussing which music was ideal for our stories.

So, to make a long story short, the Ernst Hemingway’s legend gave a birth to a big and serious project which was done by two different groups of students of the 11 grades of different years. The first project was called ‘Life in six words’. The second one was given the name ‘School in six words’ and was dedicated to our school 25th anniversary. Both projects were presented during the lessons of English to a big range of teachers and were really appreciated by them.

To some up, I’d like to say that it is really not the end of the story. My students still make up six-word stories on different topics. We even sometimes start the lesson with writing a short six-word story. And as you can see, life is so vivid that you can think about anything in just six words. The only thing you need is just the desire to give it a try.

EVERYONE HAS A STORY, WHAT’S YOURS?

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