August 21, 2017 / Staff Management

How to teach yearbook

Written by Christina Vettraino Chatel

Updated by Walsworth Yearbooks

Learn how to acquire yearbook expertise and teach yearbook as an academic subject.

You are probably thinking: You want me to actually teach yearbook? As if I didn’t have enough going on already — surly parents calling to complain, administrators wanting to “check” the yearbook spreads, and computers that constantly crash.

The handouts from the last adviser seem fine. Besides, I barely have time to get the yearbook done, let alone update the materials and try to teach the kids anything about yearbook or journalism.

However, consider: how much time do you waste writing the same corrections on every spread? How many deadlines do you find yourself doing the work for the kids, because you do not trust them or they have not learned how to properly use the software?

By neglecting to set standards or teach your yearbook students what they are expected to do, you create more work and anxiety for yourself.

If you were a math teacher, you would not expect the kids to read the textbook and teach themselves about algorithms, right? The same principles should apply to teaching yearbook.

Spending a month teaching my new staffers the yearbook basics decreased my workload to the point where I barely found any corrections on my students’ final layouts, because the editors, knowing my expectations, had done all the editing themselves.

For this to happen, you must educate yourself about yearbook and then devote time at the beginning of the year to thoroughly train your staff — it will make your job much easier and will transform your yearbook into a professional, eye-catching publication.

Where can I learn what to include in a yearbook curriculum?

There are specific, regimented rules for yearbook design, writing and photography that you need to be acquainted with and follow.

Also understand that the award-winning yearbooks emulate magazines, which means that yearbook design, writing, and photography trends evolve with the changes seen in periodicals.

In other words, a yearbook curriculum should not only teach the concrete rules of journalism and yearbook production, but also should challenge students to break the rules and innovate.

Consider these sources for classes and materials to assist you:

  • Ask your sales rep if they have a fall or spring one-day workshop.
  • Check out Walsworth’s New Adviser Resources, with eBooks, webinars and other resources to get you started.
  • Study Walsworth’s Yearbook Suite. Yearbook Suite has student workbooks with lessons and assessments, plus an Adviser Edition binder and a unit called “New Advisers Field Guide to Yearbook.”
  • Contact your local or state scholastic journalism association. Often, a college of journalism runs your state association; look to see if it offers courses for yearbook advisers.
  • Join the Journalism Education Association, the National Scholastic Press Association and/or the Columbia Scholastic Press Association and attend their national conventions, where thousands of students and advisers from across the country come to learn from the talented yearbook advisers who present there.
  • Attend Walsworth’s Adviser Academy, which occurs every July in Kansas City. Sessions are geared to prepare you to advise yearbook for the school year.

What materials do I need?

In place of a textbook, I gave my new students a binder of handouts that I either created or copied from another source. I updated this binder yearly. Here are some sources for material:

  • Conference handouts
  • Yearbook Suite curriculum
  • Articles from Communication: Journalism Education Today (published by JEA) and Walsworth’s Idea File magazine
  • Pages from books on photography, writing, or design
  • Award-winning yearbooks (photocopy their layouts and body copy to use as examples)
  • To teach graphic design, order paste-up layout sheets and pica rulers from Walsworth at

What should I teach my staff?

At the minimum, new students need to learn how to use your desktop publishing program or online program and the cameras. If you have two weeks, devote one week to teaching photography and another to writing copy.

No idea how to start? My 30-day unit plan teaches the yearbook basics. Alter the plan as necessary to fit your beginning-of-the-year schedule and your staff’s needs.

During this unit, students should have homework or a project every night, and there is a test at the end. Each project has a specific rubric for assessment of student progress.

It is a whirlwind month for them, and for me, but by setting high expectations at the beginning, I effectively prove to my staffers that yearbook is not a “blow-off” class as they assumed.

Why should I do all of this? It is a lot of work!

When you treat yearbook as an academic subject, students will take it seriously. Yes, it is a lot of work at the beginning, and yes, it will take up much of your time, but when you start winning awards and students and parents praise the yearbook instead of criticizing it, you will know it was worth it.

Do not expect to become a yearbook expert at once; by continually challenging yourself to take classes, read the journalism magazines, and attend conferences, you will gradually build up your yearbook knowledge and confidence.

30-day Unit Plan

Week 1: Introductions and basic design

  • Day 1: Icebreakers
  • Day 2: Notes on basic yearbook terminology
  • Day 3: Examine popular magazines to determine what is good graphic design; Homework: Find a double-page spread from a magazine and write a paragraph describing why it is good design.
  • Day 4: Share homework; learn spread design by columns; Homework: Create pencil 12-column design

Week 2-3: Designing layouts

  • Day 5: Learn grid design; Homework: Create pencil grid design
  • Day 6: Learn modular design; Homework: Create pencil modular design
  • Day 7: Learn about fonts; start paste-up project (students find pictures and text from magazines to create dummy layouts)
  • Day 8: Work on paste-up in class
  • Day 9: Paste-up due; share designs with class for critiques
  • Day 10: Learn how to use InDesign
  • Day 11-13: Work on InDesign project (students recreate their paste-up using InDesign, placing dummy copy and photos)
  • Day 14: InDesign project due; share layout with class for critique

Week 4: Copy and photography

Week 5-6: Photography and wrap-up

  • Day 20: Editors teach staff how to use cameras; students take cameras in groups to practice photography in different locations in the school
  • Day 21: Learn how to load digital pictures onto the network and to use Photoshop
  • Day 22: Photography assignment: determine an angle and create a spread complete with copy and photos
  • Day 23-26: Work on project
  • Day 27: Yearbook unit test
  • Day 28-30: New staffers brainstorm an angle and create a sidebar for the People section as their first real assignment.

These last days are flexible, in case students need more guidance on a topic.

10 Responses to “How to teach yearbook”

May 26, 2010 at 12:53 pm, Doran said:

I am writing because I have offered to teach yearbook for a local home school co-op and I would like to know if there are any visual powerpoints or anything I can use during class… or handouts? Any and all info that can be passed on would be great!

April 21, 2011 at 7:34 am, Catherine Lawson said:

Thank you so very much! This is an amazing and generous amount of information you have provided. I will be teaching yearbook for the first time next year, and the effort you made here has just provided me with an encouraging amount of hope.



August 03, 2011 at 11:44 pm, Tim said:

I wish I would have seen this post before last year! Your situation sounds a lot like mine, yet my first year of yearbook didn’t start off as well or finish as well for that matter. Keep up the good work, and thank you for the encouragement!

February 07, 2012 at 3:09 pm, jeny Martin said:

I found your site as I was researching on how to teach yearbook. I am teaching yearbook to the jr/sr high levels in my homeschool co-op. My only experience is my senior year of high school when I was on the yearbook staff at my private school, and I as an English major in college. I’m thrilled with the content of this post and even more looking forward to working with these kids. Thank you!!

August 26, 2012 at 2:50 pm, Nancy said:

What a great site! Thank you. I just learned I will be teaching Yearbook. I have never taught yearbook or journalism. I am very lost. Could you send me any and all suggestions, handouts, vocabulary and book titles I may read. I do not have computers yet, but I am told they are on the way. The closet was full of out of date cameras, so I may be asking the students to use their phones until I write a grant.

As you can see, I am desperate. Any help is appreciated.

August 27, 2012 at 8:54 am, Elizabeth Braden said:

Hi Nancy, Please make sure you click on the New Adviser Primer at the top of our home page. It has lots of great information for getting started and what you need to know. Also, ask your yearbook sales representative for The Yearbook Suite, Walsworth’s curriculum guide. It’s full of great teaching material. Good luck, and let us know if you have any questions.

May 14, 2013 at 4:38 pm, Tyler Cross said:

Thank you for this… I just got hired to teach yearbook in the 2013-2014 school year and I am a tad bit nervous. I was an active participant in yearbook when I was in high school, but I feel as if looking at it from the teacher perspective will truly show me a whole new world! This is definitely a great start for me! I can not thank you enough!

May 15, 2013 at 7:48 am, Elizabeth Braden said:

Hi Tyler,
Make sure you check out our New Adviser Primer on the website. If you are inheriting a staff that has been selected for 2013-2014, take them to a summer workshop. You also might consider attending our Adviser Academy in Kansas City in July. It will get you off to a great start. Go to the home page at, and click on the Adviser Academy banner at the top, and the Workshop Central banner just below it on the right. You can do a search in the upper left for the Primer. I hope these help, and good luck!

July 29, 2014 at 10:22 am, Rose Castro from Guam said:

Thank you so much for this information. This will be my first year to teach yearbook at our Southern High School on Guam. I only hope that I will do it justice.


Rose Castro

Comments are closed.

Christina Vettraino Chatel

Christina is the former adviser of the Gladiator yearbook at Troy High School in Troy, Michigan. During her time as adviser, the yearbook was honored with the Spartan Award from the Michigan Scholastic Press Association, a Gold Medalist ranking from CSPA and an All-American ranking from NSPA.