Our Book Graffiti Wall

graffit signAs 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.)

Here is how the book graffiti wall looked in its infancy.
graffiti wall infancy

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.

graffiti 1 quotes

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.)

graffit 2 quotes

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.

graffiti 3 quotes

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.

graffiti wall top

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.

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12 Responses to Our Book Graffiti Wall

  1. A lot of my favorite quotes are on your wall. Great idea, great way to motivate students to read closely without requiring anything!


  2. readingteach says:

    I used to have sentence strips that kids could write favorite quotes on. I like this idea better!


  3. I would do this when I was a student, but in my bedroom. I used to paint poems and lines from books on my walls. Thankfully, my mom is a creative-type and didn’t really care. Even now, all grown up, I have two quotes next to my desk. “Sincerity is the one great artistic crime. Insincerity is the second greatest.” (Pessoa) And “Do you mind if I pull down the curtain?” (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night)


  4. Glenda says:

    Gives me an idea for my Frankenstein unit. Thanks, Gary.


  5. I want to be in your class, Gary. This is fantastic.


  6. I’m inspired!!! Putting one up today. I’ll share when it’s up. Thank you for the wonderful idea!


  7. Marilyn J. Hollman says:

    Excellent blog, Gary. Give Nina my regards for her work with this project.
    I need to talk with someone about Green’s “Stars.” I seem to have much different responses than most readers, young or old. Read it last week.
    Okay, I’ll indulge one question: is this a “problem YA novel?” That question incensed a colleague/friend.


  8. Linda Baie says:

    Have been discussing reading habits in the middle school classrooms all year, will share this with the teachers, Gary. Thank you! Feels like a lot of book love going on in your classroom!


  9. Jackie says:

    I love this idea! We are in a poetry mini-unit, and I think adding lines of poetry would be wonderful too.


  10. Pingback: Sunday Salon: A Round-Up of Online Reading | the dirigible plum

  11. Joy Kirr says:

    We love ours on the ceiling, as there’s no room on the walls… I have most of them up there so far, but the kids are slowly beginning to add their own. LOVE it! Thinking of this idea next… what about those free CDs you get in the mail regarding finances or what-not… what about putting hanging them back-to-back and having kids write great song lyrics on them??? 😀


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