Graffiti Wall – 30 Days, 10 Minutes to a More Literate Classroom

Graffiti Walls are a fun way to connect readers and get them buzzing about books in writing! This is another idea that I’ve implemented from Donalyn Miller. If you haven’t read her books, I highly recommend “The Book Whisperer”. You will come away feeling like you’ve made a new teacher bestie!

The idea is simple. First, you have to decide if you want a physical Graffiti Wall or a digital one. If you have a physical bulletin board, make sure it is easily accessible to kids and that you can store Sharpie markers nearby. The benefit of a physical wall is kids love to use the special markers (and you have to make sure they understand the markers are ONLY for the Graffiti Wall!) It is also really good to have the wall right there where kids can see it every day and be inspired by their friends’ quotes. However, it is pretty easy to fill the Graffiti Wall up, and I have never been good at changing the paper, which means my students run out of room on the Wall and then the momentum slows down while they wait for me to put new butcher paper.

The benefit of a Digital Graffiti Wall is that you never have to change the background. I used a Google Slide last year, and this year I am considering going digital with Padlet. More on that later (and be sure to watch the video!) The down side of a digital Wall is that you have to project it each day or somehow remind students that it is there, so it can lose its spontaneity.

Once you have chosen digital or physical, launching it with your class is critical. If you just tell them it’s a Graffiti Wall, you are likely to get lots of junk – little drawings, quotes that don’t make sense, crossing out and a big mess!

I launch the Graffiti Wall slowly, over several short lessons. First, I read a picture book that I think my students will love. One of my favorite books for Back to School is Odd Velvet. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend that you grab it! It is a simple picture book, and takes just about 10 minutes to read. I have used it in classrooms from kindergarten to fifth grade, and students always understand the message – Be Yourself. It’s a great message to send at the beginning of the school year. What makes it perfect for launching a Graffiti Wall is that it is chock full of lovely language that makes great quotes.

“…my father told me that, on the day I was born, the sun was just rising over the mountains, and outside it looked as though the world had been covered with a blanket of smooth, soft, lavender velvet.”

Odd Velvet

“Sure enough, with just her eight crayons, Velvet had drawn the most beautiful apple the children had ever seen.”

Odd Velvet

“Velvet was different. But maybe she wasn’t so odd after all.”

Odd Velvet

After I read the book, I put these three quotes on the board and ask the students which quote they think would be the most powerful to write on the Graffiti Wall. The first quote is powerful because of the poetic language. The second quote is powerful because it is the turning point in the book. The final quote is powerful because it is the message of the book. We talk about why each quote is powerful. Then, I tell the kids that any of those quotes would be great on the Graffiti Wall. Any of those three are reasons why they might write a quote on the Graffiti Wall. Together, we choose one and I have a student write it on the wall.

The next day, we review the three reasons you might include a quote on the Wall.

  • Poetic language
  • An important moment in the book
  • A quote that tells the message/theme

For the second lesson, I ask the students to think of other reasons they might include a quote. They brainstorm a bit, and then I ask them to grab a partner and a picture book and see if they can find a good quote for the Wall. They usually come up with ideas like:

  • Amazing facts from non-fiction
  • Funny sayings or events
  • A quote that would convince another reader to pick up the book
  • Something surprising (that doesn’t give away the ending)

After a few minutes we usually have some quotes. But BEFORE I let anyone wrote a quote on the Wall, we have a class conversation about length. Some kids can’t narrow it down, and want to write half of the novel on the Wall. As a class, we set some limits – usually landing from 20 – 30 words. Then, I give a few kids some markers, and they write quotes from the picture books that they read on the Wall. After two days of about 10 minutes each, we usually have 5-7 quotes on the wall.

The next day, before Independent Reading, I give each student a sticky note. I ask them to write one quote (but not their name) from their Independent Reading book on the sticky note. At the end of class, I gather the notes and stick them under the document camera. Because I am displaying them publicly and we will discuss the quotes as a class, I let the kids be anonymous. The students read the quotes on the doc camera (and there will likely be 12 – 15 quotes). We classify each quote – one pile for the quotes with poetic language, another pile for quotes about surprising events, etc. Then, I give feedback on a few of the quotes. Generally, students forget to include the title of the book on the sticky note, so I give that feedback. I might also need to remind students that spelling and handwriting are important. If someone can’t read your quote, they are not likely to read the book! Finally, I leave the sticky notes on the document camera, but I let the kids know that, if they want to, they can grab their sticky note from the doc camera and copy it onto the Graffiti Wall. Most of the kids choose to do that.

So, in three days, about 10 minutes a day, you have launched a Graffiti Wall. To maintain it over the course of the year, be sure to revisit it as a class periodically. If you notice that you are not getting many new quotes, give everyone a sticky note and ask them to contribute. Sometimes, kids just need the reminder.

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