Risa Gluskin

Risa Gluskin has been teaching at York Mills C.I. in Toronto for the past 13 years. She is Assistant Curriculum Leader of Canadian and World Studies. Her favourite courses are grade 11 World History covering everything from Paleolithic times to the Middle Ages in Europe, grade 12 World History, covering everything else from the Renaissance on, and Challenge and Change in Society, a social science course that studies fascinating issues through the lenses of psychology, sociology and anthropology. 


After having students take brief notes on the two rebellions in the French colony of St. Domingue that ultimately led to the independence of Haiti, I gave them some additional input about the social structure of the society and on the fact that the imperial powers of France, Britain and Spain were all defeated by the slave rebels. Students then did a brief “graffiti” exercise in which they recorded evidence of various historical thinking concepts related to the topic they had just learned about.


For about half of the period students gathered information about the two Haitian Revolutions from their textbook and from some additional information I provided. I then told them they would be responsible for relating the information they had just learned to various historical thinking concepts. Around the room I had placed five sheets of paper with pre-printed headings. Students were to travel to all five “stations” and record their answers, or graffiti.

To make the exercise flow relatively quickly since I was in a time pinch, I had carefully selected not just the overall historical concept but a specific sub-point I wanted them to focus on at each station; I chose these from the guideposts and criteria for each HTC. For example, rather than just identify general cause and consequence relationships, they were asked to specify the roles of historical actors and conditions in change, which I further broke down to include the specific role of Toussaint L’Ouverture, as well as social, economic and political conditions.  At another station students focused on the unintended consequences of the Haitian Revolution; I further prompted students to refer back to the social structure diagram I had shown them at the start of the class so that they could be very specific when addressing who was most affected by the unintended consequences. The guideposts and criteria are extremely helpful for scaffolding students in the process of critical thinking.

By having students go to all of the stations rather than only a few they definitely noticed similarities between their answers at some of the stations. When students start to recognize the overlap between HTCs it generally means they are getting familiar with them: events are significant because they cause change; changes are products of cause and effect.

The students were very productive; everyone managed to visit each station. With a test coming up in the next few days efficiency was required. After the lesson I typed out some of the graffiti responses and posted them on my blog, which facilitated studying for the upcoming test. I always have a short answer section on cause-consequence relationships on my grade 12 history tests.

What I Would Do Differently

Though I was very pleased with the results recorded on the graffiti sheets, they weren’t really graffiti in a graphic sense. I was still happy that so much of substance had been achieved in such a short period of time. If I could do it again I would emphasize that answers didn’t necessarily have to be written; they could be drawn, sketched, graphed, or mind-mapped. I would provide chart paper if I were to do this again so that students could more easily see each others’ answers while they were travelling around.

Adaptations for Other Courses

A graffiti exercise is worthwhile because it is heavily student-centred. It is easy for the teacher to focus on the most relevant HTCs and break them down by criteria and/or guideposts. Teachers of younger students would definitely want to make the activity more visual, therefore personal, for their students. Students of any age can doodle, draw, cartoon, even jot down their reactions to whatever the prompts are. Obviously for cause-consequence relationships there would be a lot of arrows drawn. Teachers inclined toward drama might even have students turn their graffiti into dramatic scenes or tableaux.