Six other notable sixes

Things are beginning to wind down here at Six Things headquarters. My classes have finished and I’m getting ready for the summer. It is also getting extremely HOT in my office, which has caused a few strange flights of fancy. The latest one resulted in this list, a collection of other notable sixes!

1. Number Six – The codename given to the character in the cult British television show of the sixties The Prisoner (image above). I loved (and still love) this show – although I have serious doubts about the remake they are threatening to do this November. Anyway, the main character is an unnamed prisoner in a model village and is referred to by the authorities simply as “Number Six”. This was the show that coined the phrase: I am not a number, I am a free man! What does this have to do with English teaching? Nothing. But it’s a favourite “six”, and I’m feeling self-indulgent, so it goes in.

2. Six word memoirs – A fantastic premise for creative writing. There is a legend that Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a story in six words and he came up with this: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. There are books of these, or check out the website. Now this DOES have potential in the language classroom.

3. Scott Thornbury’s “Six” talks – Scott Thornbury was using lists in his talks well before this blog was started, and some of them included the number six (most notably, Six Things beginning with R – a fantastic talk I saw at IATEFL). See abstracts and powerpoints of some these talks here. I can feel good about this one too on my blog as it is completely ELT related.

4. Six degrees of separation – The six degrees of separation theory states everyone is at most six steps away from anyone else on the planet. For example, I am three degrees away from the Canadian singer Alanis Morrisette (a friend of a friend dated her in high school), two degrees away from the Queen of England (I met her husband at Buckingham Palace) and… well I could go on name-dropping horrendously but maybe we’ll keep that for the comments below. Relation to English language teaching? Well, it could provide gist for some interesting conversation with students!

5. Six-pack – Yes, I may be grabbing at straws but this was another one that jumped to mind on a very hot afternoon. A very Canadian thing, the six-pack of beer was a staple of my university days since it was cheap entertainment for an evening in at a friend’s place. I don’t know if it has the same cultural cachet in other places. Maybe you can tell me? A six-pack can also refer to very well-defined stomach muscles but let’s not even go there. Relation to English language teaching? None whatsoever (although the Tefl Tradesman may beg to differ!).

6. Sixth sense – This is not, as one student suggested, the ability to speak with ghosts but rather a special ability to feel or see things without using the other five senses. Good teachers have a sixth sense, I think, for what works in the classroom with their students.

Published in: on June 14, 2009 at 6:28 pm  Comments (14)  
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  1. Another six spring to mind:

    1 A six-shooter – a gun used in cowboy films (although they seemed to be able to fire about 27 times before running out of bullets)

    2 A six-pointer – a soccer game between two teams close together in a relegation of promotion battle. With three points for a win, the idea is that if Team A is playing Team B and Team A has 3 points more than Team B before the game, at the end of the game, they could be level or Team A could be six points ahead.

    3 The Birmingham Six – Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Joseph Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker, who were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975 in the UK for the Birmingham pub bombings. Their convictions were declared unsafe and overturned by the Court of Appeal on 14 March 1991.

    4 The Six-Million Dollar Man – a 1970s American television series starring Lee Majors as a cyborg working for the Office of Scientific Intelligence. The show was based on the novel Cyborg by Martin Caidin.

    5 The Six Pillars of Character – ethical values to guide our choices. The six are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. Made famous in Michael Josephson’s book ‘Making Ethical Decisions’. Pretty useful values for a teacher, huh?

    6 And finally, of course… the Six Wives of Henry the Eighth! Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Kathryn Howard, Katherine Parr. Does anyone know the simple rhyme which tells you what happened to them??

    • Flipping heck Ken! as you English would say. That’s a lot of sixes! Great stuff, thanks! The 6 Million Dollar Man, how could I forget him?! And the six pillars of character, another shameful oversight. To think I put a six-pack of beer there… oh well. It was the heat and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

    • Thanks for posting the Six Pillars!

  2. All good. Don’t regret the 6pack Lindsay. I think many a teacher (like me) goes home to one so I can relate.

    How about:

    6 feet under. Meaning dead and buried (not the TV show though that might be worthy of a mention)

    6 string guitar. Many a song used in TEFL composed on one.

    The devil’s mark, 666, can round of my 3 sixes because I can’t think of anything else this late

  3. Six packs ruin a six pack. Sixy aphorisms – the trend starts here.

  4. My enduring association with six is negative, I’m afraid: “six of the best” was the number of strokes of the cane you received on your backside for committing a misdemeanour at school (in NZ in the 60s). Also, there were six runs in an “over” of cricket – for someone like me who was athletically-challenged, those six runs were an eternity!

    • Not six RUNS an over, Scott – six BALLS. If you were, as you say, athletically challenged, then, like me, you would never have managed six runs off those six balls.

      I’ll stop talking ‘balls’ now and get on with some work.

  5. The rhyme about Henry VIII’s six wives is:-

    “Divorced, beheaded, died,
    Divorced, beheaded, survived”

    • Yesssssss! Go the top of the class.

  6. Hi Lindsay – your mention of the six word story by Hemingway reminded me of the challenge Wired magazine set a group of sci-fi, horror and fantasy writers – to do the same thing as Hemingway (you can see it here:

    Here are my favourite six:

    1) Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so. – Joss Whedon
    2) Longed for him. Got him. Shit. – Margaret Atwood
    3) We kissed. She melted. Mop please! – James Patrick Kelly
    4) Lie detector eyeglasses perfected: Civilization collapses. – Richard Powers
    5) TIME MACHINE REACHES FUTURE!!! … nobody there … – Harry Harrison
    6) Leia: “Baby’s yours.” Luke: “Bad news…” – Steven Meretzky

    There are also lots more here, and yes, they work a treat with advanced students:

    • Fantastic stuff, thanks a lot Graham! I like 2 and 5 especially.

  7. Fun topic!

    A trivial fact but The Prisoner was filmed in Portmerion (, Wales – also famous for sheep and pottery… I used to live in Snowdonia, so there lies my 6 degrees of seperation thingy on that one.

    Now what can I add to the “six” list?

    Well, followers of the Bible would say that 6 days is how long it took for the earth to be created.

    The Six Day War. resorts and spas – holidays that teaching won’t pay for (though there was once a tefl job going here and still can’t remember why I DIDN’T apply)

    6 is the first “perfect” number!

    I haven’t come up with anything much very tefl related, actually nothing tefl related at all…

  8. …ah ha… a tefl one:
    I quote from the Trinity CertTESOL course content (

    “All trainees will complete a minimum of:
    • six hours’ teaching practice with genuine classes of no fewer than six learners, observed and
    assessed by experienced tutors”

    …as you were…

  9. No, the Tefl Tradesman does not disagree – or at least, I don’t think so! Actually, I’ve always thought that beer from cans tastes like a certain body-liquid emitted by a camel (actually, it tastes slightly worse, but let’s not go there, either!). So I would plump for six bottles of Old Speckled Hen.

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