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Six-Word Memoir Self Portraits

School: Downtown Denver Expeditionary Learning School

City/State: Denver, CO

Grade(s): 2

Format(s): Poetry

Subject(s): English Language Arts, Visual Arts

Project Overview

Students at Downtown Denver Expeditionary Learning School in Denver, Colorado created these six-word memoir self-portraits in second grade crew.  This project started with a written memoir and each individual painting includes text pulled from that memoir.

Students began the process of writing their memoirs by collecting moments from their lives in multiple categories: first times, important people, special places, stories of a photograph, etc.  Then, using When I Was Young In The Mountains by Cynthia Rylant as a mentor text, students grouped their memories in different thematic collections (memories tied together by a person, a place, or a time in their lives.)

After a series of revision lessons, a round of peer critique, and a descriptive teacher feedback, students published one of their thematically connected groups of memories in a memoir.

Next, students selected one memory to use in tandem with their self-portraits in art. They circled all the words that evoke images in their minds. After studying the 6-word memoirs of other kids, they used their own words to verbally rehearse several possible options with a peer. They then settled on one that they felt truly embodied the spirit of the memory they chose.

In the art studio, students studied mentor artist, Theresa Perez, an artist from Creativity Explored, a supportive studio environment for artist with developmental disabilities in San Francisco, CA. Students analyzed the work of their mentor artist and generated criteria based on her art. Through a series of workshops, students applied those criteria to their own creations including using realistic colors and details. They also focused on creating a background to their self-portraits incorporating imagery from their writing. 

See other examples of self-portrait projects in Models of Excellence here, here and here

How This Project Can Be Useful

  • A creative way for students to learn about their peers and to build crew
  • Teaches observation skills and drawing technique as well as how to visually express a concept or idea
  • A unique combination of a cross-disciplinary project including writing and painting
  • Exemplifies the power of visual images in a project related to identity

Relevant Resources

Common Core State Standards

Standard Long Term Learning Target
  • With support, I can strengthen my writing through editing.
  • I can answer questions about things I’ve done or learned about.
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