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Teaching Yearbook Theme Development

written by: Jessica Cook • edited by: Laurie Patsalides • updated: 1/17/2012

If you are a yearbook adviser, you may be wondering how to teach students the skills needed to produce a high-quality publication. Help your yearbook staff create a memorable yearbook with these tips and lesson plan ideas for yearbook theme development.

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    What is a theme?

    In a yearbook, the theme is the idea that will express the story of the school year. The theme is carried out through the text, photos, and layout designs on every page of the yearbook. Think of it as the thesis statement for the yearbook; every page created relates back to the thesis in some way.

    A theme should be specific to one year at one school; even if the theme itself is somewhat generic, it should be used in a way that is unique. Once your staffers have chosen the theme, they will need to brainstorm ways to incorporate it throughout the book, both verbally and visually.

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    Ideas

    If you want a creative and catchy theme, but are unsure where to begin, try these ideas:

    - Yearly Theme. If this is a special year in the history of your school, tie the theme into that history. The theme could be "Bicentennial Men and Women," if it's your school's bicentennial. Or, if it's the 4th year your school has been open, consider a theme like "Four Score!" or "Quarter Time." In the year 2007, several yearbook staffs used a spy theme with the "007" connection to the year.

    - Mascot Tie-In. The theme can revolve around the school's mascot. If the mascot is some type of bird, consider a theme involving flight, such as "Taking Flight" or "Soaring Above." If the mascot is a large cat, you might choose a theme like "On the Prowl."

    - School Colors. A color theme, such as "Red, White, and True Blue" or "The Golden Standard" can be chosen.

    - Catch Phrases. Choose popular or catchy phrases for the theme, too. They don't have to relate directly to your school on the surface; that part will come later when you develop your theme. Consider using catch phrases like, "One in a Million" or "Simply the Best." Just remember, the theme should actually apply to the school; if you can't think of anything within the school that applies, it's time to pick a different theme.

    - Visual Symbols. Sometimes themes are wordless. They might include a shape, like a circle or a square; they might be a series of colors or an "X" design. These types of themes are gaining popularity, but can be difficult to incorporate.

    Whichever theme is chosen, remember, it should relate to this particular school year, be easily identified and understood by your readers, and incorporated verbally and visually throughout the book.

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    Verbal Theme Tie-Ins

    Here are some ideas for verbally incorporating a theme throughout the yearbook. For an example, I'll use the last yearbook theme my students used: In a Flash.

    - The Yearbook Title. More often than not, your theme will be the title of the yearbook. Put the title on the front cover so readers will recognize the theme right away.

    - The Headlines of the Book. Individual spread headlines can also incorporate the theme. We used our theme in our section titles; for example, "Flash of Enthusiasm" became the title of our Clubs & Organizations section. You can use a word from your theme in your verbal tie-ins, or a word that relates to your theme in some way.

    - The Theme Copy. On a few pages of the yearbook, have actual copy (text) of theme-related information. Start with your opening spread. Explain the theme and story of the year. Incorporate the theme on the introductory pages for each section of the book. An experienced editor or copywriter should create the text for these pages. Our theme pages referred to how high school is over "in a flash," and also about how each moment in your year is like a little memory "flash" that will be preserved in your memory and yearbook for the rest of your life.

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    Visual Tie-Ins

    Also, tie the theme into your book visually. Try these ideas:

    - The Cover Art. For the theme, "In a Flash," we used a photography visual theme. We wanted our yearbook to look like a personal scrap book, so our cover was done in a style to make it look like brown leather. It had Polaroid-style photos on it and other mementos from the high school experience, such as a student ID card and a varsity letter.

    - The Layout/Page Design. Inside the yearbook, we continued to use Polaroid-style photos on several pages, created to look as if they had been pasted onto the book, as if a student had created a scrapbook page. We added sections for student quotations, much like a student might write in another student's yearbook or scrapbook.

    - The Folio Design. The folio is the place on the page where the page numbers are. Our folio included a film strip graphic.

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    Teaching Theme

    Theme is an abstract concept, so it can be difficult to teach. Use these ideas to teach high school students about yearbook themes:

    - Demonstrate Using a Yearbook. Use a yearbook from a previous school year, or ask your publisher to provide extra copies of award-winning yearbooks to use. Show students how the theme was incorporated.

    - Become Yearbook Critics. Ask your students to critique yearbooks from previous years or other schools. If you attend yearbook workshops in the summer, chances are you have a shelf full of yearbooks for this activity. Ask students to explore the theme designs in other yearbooks and brainstorm what they like and do not like about the way the themes were developed.

    - Brainstorm Sessions. Have students work in small groups to list things that come to mind when they think of your school. The words they list can be developed into a theme. For example, if they think of a record of state championships, then you might use the word "champions" somewhere in your theme.

    - Mini Yearbook. I had students in my Yearbook Prep (an introductory class) create "mini yearbook" projects. They thought of a theme and created a series of spreads (a half a dozen or so) on graph paper that incorporated the theme verbally and visually. I saved the best projects from these assignments for future inspiration in yearbook theme development.

    When your students devise a theme, make sure the whole staff understands how to incorporate it into the book. Make sure it can tie in verbally and visually on every page of the publication, from introduction to index. It must be positive and memorable, and one your whole staff can buy into. If you have accomplished this, then you've gone a long way in creating your yearbook. Now, it is time to fill in the pages.

Teaching Yearbook

Find ideas and inspiration for teaching yearbook students. Explore yearbook skills, lesson plans, and creative ideas for managing a yearbook staff and producing a publication you'll be proud to call your own.
  1. Teaching Yearbook Theme Development
  2. Teaching Yearbook: Staff Organization
  3. Yearbook Tips: Caption Writing Lesson Plan
  4. Managing a High School Yearbook Staff: Photographers