This is Mike Cassidy here. Dr. Love attended a conference this weekend and left me in charge of Real Talk. I taught a lesson that linked graffiti to storytelling, descriptive language, and community.

To capture the students’ interest we watched Grandmaster Melle Mel’s “Beat Street Breakdown” (First 1:30 of video).

We then moved into our afternoon cypher. The greeting of the day was a “Two Time!” handshake. Some of the students showed off their personal handshakes with one another. Referencing the Beat Street video, we discussed what graffiti is and why people do it. This led us to our message of the day: “Express Yourself!”

We transitioned back to our seats and I showed them a quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “I was, after the fashion of humanity, in love with my name, and, as young educated people commonly do, I wrote it everywhere.” The students confessed writing their names in places they were not suppose like in their textbooks or on walls. The conversation continued on about how we are all writers in one form or another.

Next, we watched the first 2:30 of Out for the Fame (Rueben’s video) by KRS-One.

After the video, the students compared and contrasted what they saw in the video and what they heard in the song. They first noticed all of the different places the writers tagged and were able to explain why they choose those locations. We discussed how graffiti could be considered vandalism and an illegal act, but also how there are public spaces that allow us to express ourselves legally. Students pointed out that the Egyptians were the first graffiti writers by using hieroglyphics. We connected how the Egyptians told their stories through drawing to the Griots’ storytelling.

Later, I showed them pictures of tags, throw-ups, and murals from various locations in Atlanta: Krog Street Tunnel, the Beltline, and Edgewood. The conversation shifted to the types of letters (bubble and block) in the tags, the murals painted, and how these graffiti writers used great detail in their artwork. We connected this to their descriptive writing and how they need to “spice up” or “tier up” their words.

Next, the students moved into four different stations: the graffiti wall, knowledge of self board, knowledge of community paper, and poetry canvases. The students were instructed to “spice up” their words for their tags and draw symbols to represent themselves, their community, and the poems they read. The graffiti wall provided a space for the students to create a descriptive tag while using a silly string spray can. On the knowledge of self board, the students created a tag or symbol to describe themselves. The students illustrated and tagged their favorite things about Atlanta on the knowledge of community paper. The poetry canvas station allowed students to symbolize the themes of various poems. I used popular rap instrumentals as the timer for each station.

After stations, we came back together to do a group project. Inspired by Candy Chang’s work, we created a poster stating, “In school I wish ________.” The students wrote down their wishes on Post-its and stuck them on the poster. The wishes ranged from wanting more cake in the cafeteria to being the student body president.

5th grade Common Core Standards covered:


2. Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text.

Speaking and Listening

2. Summarize a written text in a read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

5. Include multimedia components (i.e. graphics, sounds) and visual displays in presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.

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