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Yearbook Class: What to Teach the First Six Weeks

You thought yearbook class was just putting pictures on pages. Then a roster arrived. Then the expectations to meet state and national standards for ELA, CTE, and 21st Century Learning. Cue migraine.

The yearbook heroes at TreeRing know the difficulties new advisers face (shameless plug: that’s why we’ve created a contract-free, flexible yearbook solution) and we’ve created six weeks worth of material for your yearbook class. Spoiler alert: bonus yearbook class management tools just-for-advisers are at the bottom.

If it’s your first year advising, select one or two areas on which to focus. As your program develops, deepen those areas and add a new growth target.

For example, year one, you may want to focus on theme development and photography. Year two, expand those areas and add storytelling captions. Year three, further develop your writers with feature stories. Repeat after me, “I won’t do it all! I won’t do it all!”

Week 1 Goal: Build a Mission-Centered Yearbook Staff

Teambuilding

Every day, do something to help your team grow in familiarity with one another. Start with something simple, such as Birthday Lineup followed by some cake. To reinforce all the new names, Hero-Shambo is a raucous way to inspire team spirit while putting names to the faces.

Spend some time understanding personalities as well. Free online tests can provide discussion start points. Debrief either by grouping students who scored similarly and have them discuss what resonated with them and potential misconceptions. Groups could even create a poster or mood board reflecting their strengths.

Theme Development

As your year, and your book, should be focused on telling the story, theme development is top priority. Start with a SWOT analysis. Then list all the changes, new initiatives, and differences that make this school year stand out from the last five. Are you doing a building project? Did you add an international program? Is there new leadership? Did you merge with another school? Is this the first senior class that’s gone all the way through from kindergarten?

Listing the strengths, weakness, and opportunities is a launch pad for yearbook theme development.
A yearbook SWOT analysis focuses on existing strengths and creates opportunities from weaknesses.

How can you convey this story this year?

Many times, our students come up with a catch phrase and want it to dictate the content. Your story—whether you have a visually strong, photographic book, or a journalistic yearbook full of features—should lead your look. Our Yearbook Theme Curriculum Module can help.

Photography

There are three beginning photo exercises in TreeRing’s free yearbook curriculum. Spend some time getting to know your team’s cameras before jumping in. This may also be time to involve the editorial staff: assign an exercise for each to learn and facilitate.

Reporting

Start asking your yearbook students a question of the day. (If you have a large class, you may want to poll 3-5 students each period for time.) Before the next class, your yearbook students should ask that same question to three other students (no repeats). If you have 12 yearbook students, that’s 36 student quotes you can include in a sidebar each day, 180 each week! Use a Google form to input responses and track respondents. This not only increases coverage possibilities, but it warms up your student body to be pursued and peppered by your yearbook students!

Week 2 Goal: Set and Slay Yearbook Goals

Photography and Design

Begin the week with a photo scavenger hunt. Use the results to introduce your procedures for file naming conventions, uploading, and tagging. Model how to design a spread with their snaps.

Introduce yearbook vocabulary then grab some magazines to play a grown-up version of show and tell. Reward students who can find eyelines, ledes, and serif vs. san serifs fonts!

Further demonstrate the principles of design and get in your yearbook software to recreate some of the layouts you loved in the magazines. You should be in your design application 2/3 of the week so you staff gets comfortable.

Teambuilding

Since focus this week is on goal-setting, use communication games such as Blind Polygon or adapt Minefield for your classroom. In both scenarios, identify the goal and evaluate what worked and what didn’t when you are finished. 

Revisit the personality profiles from week one—what effect did they have on students’ problem-solving and communication?

Theme Development

It’s also time to revisit your SWOT and story-of-the-year brainstorm. Think of your senses: how does it feel, sound, smell, and look? (Don’t worry, we’re not going to encourage tasting your yearbook!)

Determine tangible ways to convey the story of your year. In the Design Module, starting on slide 20, we talk about color and fonts. Both are two key visuals to harness the essence of your theme.

For example, If your yearbook theme is Move Mountains, you are going to want to use colors and fonts that are bold, signifying strength.

Reporting

Continue your question of the week, and evaluate the process. Where are students struggling? 
If fear is a hindrance, watch Jia Jiang: What I learned from 100 days of rejection. If it’s procrastination, watch Tim Urban: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator. In your debrief, develop concrete strategies such as a few scripted lines or a schedule.

Marketing

Make it a point to consistently market your book and your program. It’s possible to plant proverbial seeds for next year’s staff in September!

Week 3 Goal: Build your Team’s Toolbox

Yearbook students bond during a teambuilding exercise.
When you teach and model communication skills for your yearbook team, you build rapport and trust.

Teambuilding

Begin holding weekly staff meetings. In these meetings, discuss event and photo assignments for the week, when your next deadline is, and have every staff member give a 15-second update of their work. A simple, “Here’s what I’m doing, and here’s what I need to do” will keep it focused. You’re building a culture of a accountability.

Editors can also lead meeting by using the first 15 minutes of class to developing a skill: shooting in classrooms with fluorescent lights, sharpening images in Photoshop, cropping images, etc.

Reporting

Evaluate the question of the day. Have students put last week’s action plan into play? What percentage of the student body has been asked? Discuss with your staff where you will begin incorporating these quotes and what questions you can ask to tie-in with your yearbook theme.

Start a word graveyard: on a prominent bulletin board, list “dead” words and phrases. Have a reason why you’re dumping one: for example, many athletes will say their team is a “family” as will ASB, the dance company, the math department, etc. Teach interview skills to develop this: what drives your bond? Tell me a way a teammate was dependable. What traditions do you have that make you like a family? Get the story.

Design

Go to slide 46 of the Design Module in TreeRing’s free-to-all curriculum. Develop your style guide and decide which elements (e.g. bleed, color overlays) will enhance the story you are telling this year. Your editorial staff should begin building templates in your design software. By the end of the third week, your entire team should be comfortable doing basic tasks in your design platform.

Week 4 Goal: Progress!

Teambuilding

Using comics or stock photos, create Comic Creations. Then, with a partner, students should list three questions they could have asked to get the quote. Use your word graveyard and our Yearbook Storytelling Module as needed to build stronger questions.

Teach the expanded caption using the Comic Creations quotes. You may want to first show NSPA’s Terrible Leads as a non-example before modeling your own yearbook gold.

Theme Development and Design

Evaluate your style guide and templates using NSPA’s design checklist; adjust as necessary. This is a good time to pause and remember our mantra: “I won’t do it all! I won’t do it all!”

Use an idiom dictionary to create spin offs for your theme. Let’s return to our Move Mountains theme. For recurring modules, you could use:

  • On the Move (field trips, grade promotions, new students)
  • Movers and Shakers (profiles of students active in the community, dance team)
  • What’s Your Mountain? (fears, great achievements, feature stories of students and staff overcoming and obstacle)
  • Bust a Move (how to throw a fastball, do a trending TikTok dance, roll your “rr” in Spanish)

Photography

By now, your students should be photographing class activities, school events, and sports practices and competitions regularly. Have your editorial team select some photos of the month to show on a projector. Discuss, as a group, what made the photographs standout in their composition and storytelling. Elicit advice from the photographer. Share top photos on social media with a call to action: “Want to see more? Buy a Yearbook!

Instagram is a great way to showcase your student photographers while promoting yearbook sales.
Social media serves a double purpose: market your program and your yearbook!

Marketing

Create a social media calendar and assign posts to students. Each post should be approved, in writing, by an editor and another student before going live. You may want to utilize a group messaging system or a shared document to track approval and content.

Week 5 Goal: Momentum

Teambuilding

Before this week’s staff meeting, ask an editor and a staff member to each select a Yearbook Hero to celebrate. Share the love on social.

Introduce peer evaluation by partnering two students, equipping them with a rubric, and asking them to evaluate a strong example of design. Because it’s “easy” to critique something weak, this forces students to understand why a layout works. 

Allow students to sign up for one-on-one sessions with you, and possibly your editor in chief,  during class where they can have undivided coaching.

Theme

During your next editorial meeting, ask the team to brainstorm theme-related

  • Photo shoots for your yearbook group photo
  • Deadline parties
  • Service opportunities
  • Gifts

Photography, Design, and Reporting

After your weekly staff meetings, you should have a good idea of the the page statuses for the yearbook. Your team will continuously be in a cycle of photographing-reporting-designing. Monitor progress by continuing to set and track goals. Break up the monotony by adding in relevant skill-building lessons and—dare I say it—nothing. Sometimes, a study hall so your students can catch up is a great way to show you value their time and commitment to all things yearbook.

Week 6 Goal: Establish Routine

Rest assured you created consistency and accountability with a weekly team meeting. Because of this, students know their weekly assignments such as social media posts and photo shoots. All of your yearbook team is trained on your software, and with peer editing, a safe dialogue and pre-disclosed standards will refine areas of growth. Is it perfect? No. Will it ever be? No. And that’s OK!

Remember your role: advise

Yearbook students will appreciate both a work flow and structure as they learn to be project managers, designers, social media marketers, and journalists.

BONUS Resources for Yearbook Advisers

  1. Create a policy manual including 
    1. Program mission and vision
    2. Key tenets of your program
    3. Code of conduct for staff members
    4. Grading sheet
    5. AP Style Cheat Sheet
    6. Staff contract and org chart
    7. Any account info
    8. How-to: check out equipment, conduct/schedule an interview, create a QR code, post (appropriately) on social media
    9. Day-to-day: file naming conventions, work flows, project management tips
    10. Current year style guide
    11. Special cases: retirements, obituaries 
    12. Structure your staff 
  2. Spell out your expectations on your syllabus 
  3. Create a year-long calendar and coverage planner 
  4. Get professional help; yearbook events such as JEA’s annual convention are a mainstay 
  5. Student Press Law Center 

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