Students adding post-it notes to a white board.
Teaching Strategy

Graffiti Boards

Help students process their thoughts and emotions on a topic by engaging them in a written conversation with their classmates.

Published:

At a Glance

Teaching Strategy

Language

English — US

Subject

  • Advisory
  • English & Language Arts
  • History
  • Social Studies

Grade

6–12

Overview

About This Teaching Strategy

Graffiti Boards are a shared writing space (e.g., a large sheet of paper or whiteboard) where students record their comments and questions about a topic. The purpose of this strategy is to help students “hear” each other’s ideas. Some benefits of this strategy include that it can be implemented in five to ten minutes, it provides a way for shy students to engage in the conversation, it creates a record of students’ ideas and questions that can be referred to at a later point, and it gives students space and time to process emotional material. You can use the Graffiti Boards strategy as a preview activity by introducing a new topic and helping students to organize any existing knowledge about that topic. You can also use this strategy to prepare for a class discussion or writing assignment about a text by asking students to share their reactions to the text on the Graffiti Board.

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Lesson Plans

Steps for Implementation

You will need a large space in your room where several students (the more the better) can write at the same time. Some teachers cover a section of the wall with butcher or chart paper, while others use a whiteboard or chalkboard. You will also need plenty of pens and markers. For this activity, markers work better than pens or pencils because they allow students’ comments to be read from a distance. It is best if you supply one for each student.

Before the activity begins, contract with the students in terms of what an appropriate response is and how to express one's discomfort with something in an appropriate way. Students should be told that they are to remain silent during this activity. Make sure students know that several of them can write at once. Students can write their own response to the prompt as well as respond to the questions and ideas that other students have written. They should draw lines connecting their comments to those of other students. Some teachers require all students to post at least one question or comment to the Graffiti Board.

Students are invited to write comments and questions on the Graffiti Board. It is typical for most students to be standing near the Graffiti Board during this activity so that they can more easily read and comment on what has been written. Writing on the board often starts out slow and then increases as the board comes to contain more comments that elicit student response. Typically, teachers give students five to ten minutes for silent writing on the Graffiti Board, but the activity can go longer if students are still writing.

The ideas on the Graffiti Board make an effective springboard for a discussion. You could begin a conversation by asking students to summarize what they see on the board or what they notice about areas of agreement and disagreement.

Variations

Like the Big Paper strategy, the Graffiti Board strategy can be effective after a powerful, emotional conversation, video, guest speaker, or reading. While the Big Paper strategy is good for emotional and intellectual processing, Graffiti Boards are better for debriefing something that has really shaken up the students. It can be a helpful technique when you want to avoid analytical or intellectual discussions and allow students to process emotion. This strategy might be useful in situations such as these:

  • After watching a politician give a speech
  • After seeing graphic footage
  • After hearing from a witness to violence or a survivor
  • After hearing hate speech After having someone share a powerful personal story

Virtual Graffiti Boards are a shared writing space (such as Google Docs, Google Jamboard, Padlet, Flipgrid, or VoiceThread) where students can write comments or questions during a synchronous session or during a defined asynchronous time. The purpose of this strategy is to help students “hear” each other’s ideas. Virtual Graffiti Boards create a record of students’ ideas and questions that can be referred to at a later point, and give students space and time to process emotional material. Students’ responses can give you insight into what they are thinking and feeling about a topic and provide a springboard for both synchronous and asynchronous discussions.

The following questions can help you plan to use a virtual Graffiti Board:

  1. What collaborative digital tool(s) do I want to use for the virtual Graffiti Board?
  2. How am I going to deliver instructions to students about completing the activity?
  3. How often am I going to monitor the discussion?
  4. If teaching asynchronously, what is the defined time period I want to set for completing the activity?
  1. Prepare Students
    Determine how you want to introduce your students to the activity (through video or written instructions or during a synchronous meeting). Share a text, image, or questions for students to respond to. If you are focusing on a topic that may be controversial or spark emotional responses in students, revisit your Remote Learning Contract before beginning the activity.
  2. Create the Virtual Graffiti Board
    Create the virtual space where your students will respond, for example, a GoogleDoc, Google Jamboard, or Padlet.
  3. Students Comment on Graffiti Board
    Invite students to add their questions or comments to the virtual Graffiti Board during a synchronous session or asynchronously during a defined period of time. Some teachers require each student to add at least one comment to the board. During a synchronous session, give students five to ten minutes for silent writing on the Graffiti Board (one to two days if students are commenting asynchronously).
  4. Hold a Group Discussion
    The ideas on the virtual Graffiti Board can be an effective springboard for a discussion. You could ask students to summarize what they see on the board or what they notice about areas of agreement and disagreement, during synchronous small-group or full-class sessions.
    For asynchronous learning, ask your students to review the virtual Graffiti Board after everyone has finished commenting and to reflect on what they notice about it. They can share their reflections directly with the teacher in an exit card or post them to a forum or document shared by the full class.
    The following questions can help guide a synchronous discussion or an asynchronous reflection:
    • What common themes do you notice among the comments and questions?
    • What are the areas of disagreement?
    • How does reading your classmates’ comments influence how you think or feel about this topic?

Example

In a Graffiti Board activity, several students write their questions and comments about a topic on a shared space.

Credit:
Facing History and Ourselves

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