November 6, 2007 / Five Simple Ideas / Theme / Winter 2007

Five simple ideas for – Theme development

Written by Jonathan Bickel

One of my students’ favorite activities is a yearbook theme design contest. Instead of waiting until September to come up with a concept, we have a contest every spring. The winning theme is usually the yearbook theme for the next school year. Here are the rules and advantages.

Rule 1. Every student must create a theme.

Advantages: Students demonstrate their creativity to their peers, and a large variety of theme choices will be available.

Rule 2. Every student must create a comprehensive theme packet that includes a cover, front and closing endsheets, opening page, and at least two section dividers. All pages must be complete including headlines, stories and captions. Students must answer two questions: Why did you choose this theme and how does this theme reflect the senior class? Students also must include spin-offs for each section.

Advantage: The student must completely think through the theme, and the students judging the theme will be able to make an informed decision.

Rule 3. Every student must complete a cover and one layout on the computer to show during the presentation of his theme concept and packet.

Advantages: Every student has an opportunity to work with Photoshop, InDesign and Walsworth Enhancements in a meaningful situation. Also, they gain public speaking experience by sharing their projects with their peers. The theme contest project usually takes four weeks, from the last week of March through the end of April. The first week in class is used discussing what is a good theme and where students can get ideas. By the end of the first week, students need to have an idea to pitch to the adviser. The second week is spent completing the packet and the third week is spent designing the cover and one layout on the computer. The last week is spent on student presentations.

Rule 4. After all presentations are finished, students vote for their two favorite themes. All students returning to the class next year will have two votes. Non-returning students get one vote. Once it is down to two themes, the final two students have one last chance to re-present their themes. This gives the students time to revise their themes, and it gives the class time to think about both themes in depth. After all of the votes are tabulated, the adviser will score projects using a theme rubric.

Advantage: The students are empowered because they are actively involved in the decision process.

Rule 5. The winning student may then form a “theme team” and create the rest of the pages for next year’s yearbook before the end of the school year.

Advantage: Usually the winning student will want to design the rest of the pages. This gives the book unity and it gives the students and adviser time to fine-tune the pages. The winning student and partners have some time to design pages before school ends. It will be a great feeling knowing that the theme and layouts are ready for September.

Jonathan Bickel

Jonathan Bickel is the former yearbook adviser at Eastern Lebanon County Senior High School in Myerstown, Pennsylvania, where he teaches English. Under Bickel’s guidance, the Sigma yearbook earned the Pennsylvania School Press Association’s Keystone Award.