Six Word Stories: A Black History Month Project

The six word story is popularly attributed to author Ernest Hemingway. He purportedly bet a table of people ten dollars that he could craft an entire story in six words (his creation: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”). Since then, the six word story has served as a challenge and inspiration to writers of all stripes. More recently, the six word story has popped up on Twitter, Reddit, and Tumblr. As you will see here, it can also serve as a great way for students to reflect on new learning.

A few years ago, our building diversity committee decided that we wanted to organize a schoolwide project for Black History Month. We determined that each classroom would select a different individual and learn about their life and contribution to American history. Our school librarian pulled biographies at various reading levels from which teachers could choose. We encouraged teachers to look at people with whom their students might not already be familiar. Most students know the story of Rosa Parks, which they should, but they should also not see Black history as limited to a few people. I chose abolitionist Sojourner Truth, while my teaching partners selected astronaut Mae Jemison and poet Langston Hughes.

Upon reading the biography and after any further study of the person they chose to do, each classroom wrote six word stories about them. It looked different at each level. Our kindergarteners wrote theirs as a class. Primary students worked in groups. Intermediate students wrote theirs independently, and their peers voted on their favorites. Each classroom was given brightly colored sentence strips onto which they wrote the stories they wanted featured at the school level.

One teacher’s class volunteered to search the Internet for pictures of our featured figures. They printed, cut, and mounted them on colored paper. We then created a display of all the pictures and sentence strips on the bulletin board outside the library. We invited teachers to bring their classes by for a “museum walk.” Students also had something to read as they waited in line outside the library for the previous class to exit. Each student got to be an expert on an important person in American history and also learned about others from their schoolmates in an easy to understand format.

I think our project was a success partly because our students already knew about six word stories. For Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, our students responded to a play that they saw about Dr. King at an assembly. Teachers handed out index cards, and students wrote their stories and placed them in the principal’s inbox. He featured a few every day in his morning announcements. He did a similar project where he asked students to reflect on our character education program by describing “The Thunderbird Way” in six words.

Six word stories are a great way for students to process new information. This project would work just as well for Women’s History Month, Native American Heritage Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, etc. If you can’t get your whole school on board, you can do it with small groups in your classroom like a Jigsaw lesson. I think you’ll find your students enjoy the challenge and quickly become adept at six word stories.

I’ll leave you with my own story: “Sometimes so little holds so much.”