Graffiti Grammar: A Four Skills Activity

I recently read that “sitting is the new smoking,” or, in other words, that a sedentary lifestyle is a serious and under-appreciated health hazard. With this in mind, I have recently made a conscious effort to incorporate activities that regularly give my adult ELLs the opportunity to stand and move around the classroom.

I call one of these activities “graffiti grammar,” and I used it recently to help students practice the use of gerunds after certain verbs to express an opinion or to comment on certain actions. But the model is flexible, and could be adapted to practice any grammar, vocabulary, or pronunciation concept.

Here’s how it works. Before the students arrive, I tape eight blank flip chart pages to the walls of the classroom. On each page, I write a different expression that calls for the use of a gerund, such as:

  • Would you mind . . . . .
  • I’m not sure about this, but I’m considering . . . .
  • Please stop . . . . .
  • I can’t talk to you now. I haven’t finished . . . .
  • I have never enjoyed . . . .
  • I am so annoyed! I keep . . . . .
  • I miss . . . .
  • I enjoy . . . .

To scaffold this activity, I first write one or two of these expressions (“Please stop . . . .” or “Would you mind . . . .”) on the board for all to consider together. I ask my students to think of a public figure of their choice. I then ask them to imagine a conversation involving that public figure that uses one of the expressions on the board. Working with a partner, they came up with ideas like:

  • I would want to ask Donald Trump to please stop making stupid generalizations about immigrants.
  • I think that President Obama would want to ask President Putin to please stop messing [sic] his last term in office.

I then put my students into pairs and invite them to begin to circulate around the room, looking at each of the blank pages on the wall and working with their partner to think of a new way to complete the sentence using a gerund. They then write their idea on the paper on the wall (whence the idea of “graffiti”), and move on to the next posted piece of paper (which features a different expression that calls for a gerund).  At each stop along the way, students have the opportunity to read and review (and if necessary, correct) what was written by their classmates, before adding their own idea to the list.

So, for example, on the flip chart labeled, “I’m not sure about this yet, but I’m considering . . . . .”, students wrote:

I’m considering having a baby.

I’m considering renting a bigger apartment.

I’m considering changing my car for a new model.

By the end of the activity, everyone has had a chance both to practice each expression and to evaluate how their classmates responded to the same challenge. It provides a lot more speaking, listening, reading, and writing practice than just working at a desk with one partner would, and it gets everyone’s blood flowing!


About Alexandra Lowe

Alexandra Lowe
Alexandra is an ESL instructor at SUNY Westchester Community College, where she has taught Speaking & Listening in the Intensive English Program, English for Academic Purposes, Business English, Accent on Fluency and a wide range of ESL levels. She has also served as a consultant to the Community College Consortium on Immigrant Education, which is based at Westchester Community College. Her primary interests are bringing authentic materials into the ESL classroom, connecting ESL students to the supportive resources available at many community colleges, and promoting self-directed learning strategies that ESL students can use outside of the classroom to accelerate their learning and enhance their speaking skills.
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2 Responses to Graffiti Grammar: A Four Skills Activity

  1. Terry says:

    Thanks Alexandra – I’ve recently started teaching English in Shanghai to grade 7-10 students and am looking for speaking and listening exercises I can use with them in class.

  2. Valerie S. Jakar says:

    Thank you Alexandria. This is an exciting way to keep people activated in a meaningful manner. My community of practice colleagues really value this. The basic pronciple of the activity is certainly adaptable to any level of language lesson and any level of learners; as long as it is organized and introduced clearly and efficiently. The scaffoldong is of prime importance . VSJ

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