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Turning Inspiration Into Next-Generation Curricula

A conversation with Larry Smith, Founder of, about how a Hemingway quote, Twitter, and a global pandemic could ultimately transform classroom literacy.

See what I did right there? With the headline? And the first sentence? Six words. It’s a fun exercise. Take a thought and keep it short. Six words short exactly.

For 15 years, Larry Smith has been inspiring, collecting, and sharing these brief thoughts from millions of people across the planet. His Six-Word Memoir project has gone from a Twitter meme into a bestselling book series, featured in hundreds of media outlets from NPR to The New Yorker, covered on tens of thousands of blogs, and even found inside 1 million Honest Tea bottle caps.

Unsurprisingly, the project, elegant in its simplicity, resonates in classrooms no matter the age. Smith’s most recent initiative, the Six In Schools Pilot Program, helps educators with lesson plans and resources for students to create their own concise masterpieces.

Attention curriculum and software developers: These are the techniques that need to be baked into future literacy apps. Give a listen and scroll down for some highlights:

On the Six-Word Memoir phenomenon:
”It turns out self-expression is a form of therapy. And to release a story, to think about your story and let that out, does something to you. It actually changes your chemistry. And now people through the wonders of social media and podcasts, and all the other platforms, can catch that story. And when you read something like “Cursed with cancer, blessed with friends,” and someone is next to you in a classroom or just reads that on social media, and they have that sort of, “Yeah, me too, I feel you.” That is very powerful. And if six words is a start to all that—teachers, parents, students themselves—they take it so many other places.”

On Six Words as a teaching tool:
You can play the “How well do you know your classmates?” game. It's super fun because you didn't know that Jackson had a ferret. Or that Olivia clawed her way out of Tennessee. So the students are the content creators.

Once I saw how excited kids were to be in a book, I teamed up with a publishing company to what I like to call the “Ted-Xing” of six words to really open it up in a new way. So now any classroom can go through a pretty simple process to make their own six-word memoir book. And you can follow a lesson plan. Some of the books for the younger kids, you illustrate your memoir and then you do an about me mad libs style page.

On using six-words as a Social-Emotional Learning tool:
The best part of any event, whether it's for third graders on a Zoom or a middle school out in a courtyard or even adults at a professional learning program, is do a a six-word slam where we zip around the room and everyone shares six word memoirs on their life.

And when you're in an all-girls middle school, and one of the girls gets up—we have wireless mics—and she says, My six-word memoir is “Drake is my boyfriend, not yours.” I mean, come on!

Or more inspirational, a few years ago— “Obama did it. Now, so can I.” You know what happens when that auditorium applauds? Yeah. That kid put his feet down. He owned his aspiration and he got affirmation by his peers. And there's nothing better than that.

The Hogan Report (THR)
The Hogan Report (THR)