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speech bubbles with differently arranged six blocks representing words

Start Meaningful Conversations with Six Words

Mon Nov 4, 2019 at 07:30 AM

In many courses where we must teach a wide range of skills, we often note a disconnect between the topics we have to cover and the important issues in the wider society. Short exercises in class can prompt deeper connections while allowing students to practice new or developing skills. 

The six-word memoir or six-word stories can be implemented in a wide variety of settings, as the Huffington Post suggests and others demonstrates, including in training seminars and other meetings when participants reflected on their training careers. Some at Oakland University have prompted students to reflect on their identity and still others on students’ stories of diversity. (Nursing faculty Ellen Gajewski shared how she implemented this format in her teaching tip: Six-Word Story.)

How to Facilitate Six-Word Reflections

Either as an ice-breaker in the beginning of the semester or at any point during the course, prompt students to reflect in six words on a topic that is meaningful and related to the purpose of the class.

  • Use an index card or ask students to write on a sheet of paper or in their notebooks.
  • Prompt with something meaningful. For example, you can say, “In exactly six words, reflect on:
    • Your identity. Who are you? What would you say about you in six words to someone who is meeting you for the first time?
    • Your diversity. What aspects of diversity describe you? What different communities do you identify with?
    • A moment in your life that has been meaningful to you.
    • A moment of learning. When is the last time you failed and what have you learned from it?
    • What inspires you? What makes you pick up and keep going during challenging times?”
  • Alternatively, you can ask students to reflect (in six words) on topics related to the class content. For instance:
    • What do you hope to achieve in this class? How will you get there?
    • What is something you read about that sparked an interesting thought - maybe something new to you, something you didn’t expect, something that surprised you, etc.?
    • What is something you still hope to learn or find out about after going through this week’s course materials?

Processing the stories and reflections can take a variety of ways, and be useful to the course curriculum in different ways. Here are some ideas:

  • Ask students to share their stories with a partner and report back to the class on the experience. Alternatively, they could blog or share on social media about the experience, using hashtags relevant to your course and/or the topic of reflection.
  • Collect and shuffle the cards in the classroom to ensure someone different reads each card; sharing the reflections anonymously can spark honest discussion and allow people to reflect empathetically on others’ experiences.
  • Collect the cards/papers and debrief on the themes during the following class meeting.

Give it a try. If you assign the activity on a meaningful topic and want to have a platform to share the experience, please get in touch - I’m happy to include the results on the website that tells stories of diversity and inclusion (and meaningful connection) at Oakland University.

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

About the Author

Dr. Adina Schneeweis is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication, Journalism, and Public Relations. Her research examines representations of race and ethnicity in intercultural and international media and advocacy contexts. She teaches visual journalism and news writing skills, all the while accompanying students to tell stories of diversity to diverse audiences. Adina also quilts and knits, and loves to hike.

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