The Night Community in the Walmart Parking Lots

“As night falls, the motels and R.V. parks along America’s highways begin to fill up with travelers needing a place for the night. But to untold thousands of motorists each year — some with a sense of adventure, others looking to save a buck, still more with no other place to go — Walmart is often a willing host for overnight guests.” The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

R.V.’s are welcome to spend the night at Walmarts like this one in Pooler, Ga. Credit George Etheredge for The New York Times


Excerpt: Overnight in Walmart Parking Lots: Silence, Solace and Refuge

“It’s not pretty: no pine trees, no bubbling brook, no ocean beach,’ Chuck Woodbury, the editor of, said in a tutorial video intended for casual travelers. ‘The idea of staying at Walmart is to park for the night, to get some sleep and then move on.’

Walmart parking lot in Yukon

Walmart’s practice of letting people populate many of its parking lots has made the retail giant’s stores a reliable, if somewhat improvised, destination and a place where an informal culture emerges before and after dark.

This summer, two photographers, Mike Belleme and George Etheredge, spent several nights in Walmart parking lots in the South. The men, who are longtime friends, slept in the back of a cargo van and talked with people who stopped at Walmarts. Here are some of the people they met, and things they saw, along the way.

Oftentimes, lunch, even something as simple as a peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwich, can be a balancing act. Credit Mike Belleme for The New York Times

There are standards of etiquette — do not, for instance, sit in the parking lot in lawn chairs — and also online rosters of no-go Walmarts. There is an expectation that you should buy something, but there is no parking fee.

Basic hygiene can require a bit of improvisation. Credit Mike Belleme for The New York Times


Statesville, N.C. Credit George Etheredge for The New York Times

There is a measure of solitary privacy, even in a place that is deliberately accessible. Still that doesn’t prevent some people from leaving skid marks in the parking lot.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Walmart’s parking lots do not have pine trees or  bubbling brooks.
  2. A lot of travelers stay in their R.V.’s and don’t interact with other people in the parking lot.
  3. People populate many of its parking lots.
  4. Walmart is a reliable destination.
  5. There are standards of etiquette.
  6. Some people have made staying in the parking part of their routine.
  7. Some travelers sleep in the back of a cargo van.
  8. The parking lots provide a measure of solitary privacy.
  9. Some visitors leave skid marks in the parking lot.
  10. The parking lots are always accessible.

Reading Comprehension

True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading.  If  a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they  mark  it F and provide the correct answer. 

  1. People spend afternoons in Walmart’s parking lots.
  2. The parking lots are pretty scenic areas. 
  3. Mike Belleme and George Etheredge  are photographers.
  4. There are standards of etiquette in the parking lots.
  5. People are allowed to sit in the parking lot in lawn chairs.
  6. Walmart employees also spend nights in the lots. (NA)
  7. Many travelers interact with other people in the parking lot.
  8. Sometimes, people end up in a Walmart’s parking lot because they cannot think of anywhere else to go.
  9. Almost everyone spending the night has a story to tell.
  10. New England is not a popular destination for travelers in the fall.

Grammar Focus: Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

Almost everyone/everybody spending the knight/night has a story/stories to tell. They are traveling across the country/county, or visiting a particular spot. New England is a popular destiny/destination for travelers in the fall. And spending the night sometimes means getting a little creative/create.

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Discussion for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups  and  have each group compose 3 questions they would ask travelers who spend nights in Walmart parking lots. Share the letters as a class.

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class. 


Category: Culture