Graffiti Boards

Rationale

Graffiti Boards are a part of the classroom, usually a very large sheet of paper, a whiteboard or chalkboard, where students engage in a written discussion. The purpose of the Graffiti Board strategy is to help students “hear” each other’s ideas. Some benefits of this strategy are that it 1) can be implemented in 5-10 minutes, 2) provides a way for shy students to engage in a conversation, 3) provides a record of students’ ideas and questions that can be referred to at other points during the lesson (or even later in the unit or year), 4) provides space and time for students to process emotional material in the classroom and reflect on their own thoughts as well as the thoughts of others.

Graffiti Boards can be used as a preview or warm-up activity to introduce a new topic or to help students organize prior knowledge about content they are about to study. This strategy can also be used to help students share reactions to texts as preparation for a class discussion, writing assignment, or another project. If you are looking for a silent discussion activity that is structured to encourage deeper understanding and reflection, try a similar teaching strategy called "Big Paper."

Procedure

Step One: Preparation
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 other teachers 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 have one for each student. 

Step Two: Contracting
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 students 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 wall. 

Step Three: Invite Students to the 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 wall during this activity, so that they can more easily read and comment on what has been written. Writing on the graffiti board often starts out slow and then increases as the graffiti board contains more comments to elicit student response. Typically, teachers give students 5-10 minutes for silent writing on the graffiti board, but the activity can go longer if students are still writing.

Step Four: Springboard for 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.

Example

This activity is similar to the "Big Paper" teaching tip. It can be effective after a powerful, emotional conversation, video, guest speaker or reading. While Big Paper is good for emotional and intellectual processing, "Graffiti Boards" is 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.

Examples of when "Graffiti Boards" might be used in a Facing History classroom:

  • 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 their powerful story

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