Graffiti Boards

Rationale

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.

Procedure

  1. Prepare the Space
    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.
  2. Contract with Students
    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.
  3. Students Comment on 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.
  4. Hold a Group Discussion
    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

  • Processing Powerful Content: 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

Example

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

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