As a big believer in the power of choice in nurturing young independent readers, I’m always looking for interesting ways to activate and motivate students in that direction. Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2014) gave me quite a few ideas. One I’ve especially enjoyed is book graffiti. It’s a pretty simple idea: Provide a place for “selecting and sharing the lines and words from our books that stood out as remarkable or special to us” (Miller 114).
Although the pictures here show the story pretty well, I’d like to tell about the book graffiti wall in room 231. In the early days of second semester, I explained this idea to my student intern Nina. (You will quickly understand that Nina is indispensable.) Nina rounded up some light-colored construction paper and covered a large bulletin board in the classroom. We added some bookish posters that I had laying around. Then Nina and her boyfriend Danny made a cool Book Graffiti sign. Then Nina bought a bucket of markers to hang on the wall. On her graffiti wall Donalyn Miller added, “May the odds be ever in your favor” from The Hunger Games to spark student contributions. I used “Our thoughts are stars we cannot fathom into constellations” from John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars as the seed for our wall. (Actually, Nina wrote that quote on the graffiti wall so that it would legible.)
Then I explained to the class that they were welcome to add any sentences they found in their books that they liked for any reason. And the quotes started to appear.
The graffiti wall has now been active for more than twelve weeks, and I have never once seen anyone write on the wall, but the quotes and artwork are there. (We share classrooms in our school, so it’s not uncommon for students to arrive in the room before I do.)
After #engchat a few weeks ago I added a few QR codes linked to various movie trailers or other bookish sites. I was also delighted when one of the other teachers assigned to room 231 asked if her students could contribute to the wall.
If I were re-doing this, I would like to have a bulletin board that is not behind the students. That would be difficult with the room’s configuration, but there is probably a way to make it happen. If we need more room to write graffiti, I can remove the posters. Because we started this halfway through the school year, that might not be necessary before the end of this school year, but if we need the room, it’s easy to do.
What I like best about this wall is the intellectual mini-voyage behind each contribution. Before a quote goes on the wall, a reader must say, “This–this right here–is a sentence that resonates with me. This is a big idea, or at least a funny idea. It must be shared.” In order to add an idea, a reader must respond authentically to something in a book, note its linguistic parameters, and then choose to share it communally. From individual response to communal contribution–that’s the kind of activity and attitude that strengthens independent readers.
I hope anyone else with a book graffiti wall like this will post a link so that we can see other variations on this idea.
Thanks for reading.