Creating Yearbooks with Students




Student yearbooks













Voted most likely to succeed…

A highly subjective guide to creating yearbooks

Making a yearbook is a rewarding experience for students and teachers. In spring, when the yearbooks come out, our school is a frenzy of autographing, sharing, laughing and remembering. More than a keepsake, yearbook is a process that teaches kids to collaborate on a project much bigger than themselves. It is gratifying to watch them mature into their new roles, and receive accolades for their achievement.

This short series of articles will explain how to set up a Yearbook Club in your elementary or junior high school, and produce an attractive, affordable publication. High schools produce longer, flashier, hard cover books for their graduates. Although I was copy-editor for my high school yearbook, only some of what is discussed here will apply at that level.

The goal of this series is to help elementary and junior high school teachers run an efficient club, whereby students can produce their own inexpensive softcover yearbooks. Future articles will include instructions for using Word, Scrivener, Smashwords, and local print shops to make eBook anthologies, poetry chapbooks and recipe books, but first let’s talk yearbooks.

It is possible to delegate making school yearbooks to a service. Online you will find templates made by various companies looking for your business. These services are probably fine, but before committing to their templates and timelines, consider what you want to achieve. Do you just want to make a keepsake for students and parents, or can yearbook represent a more meaningful learning experience? In our school, originality, student engagement and maintaining an accessible purchase price, are important considerations. Student photos, copy, artwork and layout make for a cheaper and more meaningful final product.

Based on several years of experience, this series of short articles describes one efficient and inexpensive method for creating attractive yearbooks. Expertise isn’t necessary. Making a yearbook doesn’t need to be difficult or excessively time consuming. The most important aspects are planning and delegation, since the technical aspects are fairly simple.

Using Publisher, it is possible to create a standard template for the yearbook which your team can use to design all their layouts. Once these are done, publication is as easy as taking the file to your local copy shop on a flash drive. The printer takes these ready-to-go files and prints your book, complete with glossy cover, in about a week. Here are some of the steps to setting up your Yearbook Club.

“When casting’s done, 90 percent of my creative work is done” — film director Robert Altman

If directing is ninety per cent casting, the same can be said of producing a school yearbook. The most essential part is assembling the right team. This is no place for half-interested students. I run yearbook more like a sports team. Would-be participants try out, or at least demonstrate dedication, before earning the right to be ‘starters.’

Making your club small and selective has many benefits.

  • Students specialize and take on responsibilities within one of several small (and therefore efficient) teams. I try to limit size to three people for quick decision making
  • Students who have chosen their roles (rather than having them assigned) are more invested in the final results, and more motivated to work long hours (as needed) when deadlines approach
  • Assigning two editors to the overall book takes some time pressure off teacher supervisors
  • There needs to be a layout editor and a content editor if your school intends to include articles, or just two main editors so they can help each other. Two are better than one for collaboration, and also in case one gets sick or overwhelmed by academic deadlines
  • Having three teacher supervisors (not just one) allows them to spell each other off, and further emphasizes to students that this project is theirs to accomplish. The teachers are just there for supervision and consultation.
  • Two student photographers, responsible for covering school events, give more reliable coverage than a changing handful. Make sure they ‘audition’ for the role by showing you/ the editors their work
  • A couple of photographers will also get enough practice to improve over the year. Help them use the way their photos appear in layouts as feedback. In a short time, you will see more close-ups, better clarity, better composition, and more expressions of emotion in their images, because the layout team will choose good photos over mediocre ones
  • Another tack is to crowd-source photos. At times when there are holes in event coverage, requesting pictures from the student body can work, particularly for events like trips and track meets if student photographers are not allowed to attend
  • The photographers should either have their own cameras, or instant access to school cameras to ensure they don’t miss unplanned photo opportunities
  • Holding meetings over the lunch hour works for us. We use tri-weekly meetings to update progress and hand out assignments, but much of the actual writing, layout and photographing is done by students on their own time
  • For the fastest, easiest yearbook, include less text
  • Text is one of the most creative aspects of a yearbook, but it requires hours of teacher editing for content, as well as prose style. Decide early on your priorities and remember, some students will try to get something funny past you! Never let a single unedited word get published. The same goes for photos.
  • To involve the greater school community, hold a contest for best cover design. Make sure your contest publicity outlines requirements for the cover such as: title, school name, year, size of image, use of colour etc.
  • If there are two great covers to choose from, or if one cover has great art but insufficient text, the second design may make a great back cover
  • Offering a free copy of the yearbook to the winners is an inexpensive incentive to encourage more quality designs
  • Reserve the right to use a photographic cover if insufficient entries are received (Our school has never had to do this.)

I hope you found these tips helpful. Before getting started on a project which can grow in difficulty and complexity with ambition, it’s important to set parameters. Next time we will talk about layout, planning, and keeping things practical.


Out of Our Minds by Sir Ken Robinson

Book Review

Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative with Sir Ken Robinson

When you research creativity in education, it is impossible not to come across Ken Robinson’s provocative work. His book, Out of Our Minds, published in 2001, revised in 2011, is still fresh and powerful. In part a scathing critique of the factory model of education, Robinson supports individual educators, and acknowledges that many of us are working within the system to support student creativity.

Part of his work is a well-researched attack on academic hierarchy. While he champions literacy, Robinson asks why mathematics and Language should be considered supremely important, while drama and dance are treated like expendable extras. Unless the goal of all students is to become university professors, he argues, this approach is wrongheaded.

Threatened by global and ecological crises as never before, he says humanity is going to need creative thinking if we are to thrive and survive as a species. Globally, the rate of change of technology means children we teach today will work in industries that haven’t been invented, use tools we’ve never seen, and interact in ways we can’t imagine. The outsourcing of well-paid high tech work is only one reason I agree with Robinson’s arguments. As adults, today’s children will compete globally to earn a living.

‘Back-to-basics’ teaching focussed on rankings and standardized testing is not preparing students for employment. According to Robinson, business leaders want “thoughtful, creative, self-confident people… who are literate, numerate, who can analyze information and ideas; who can generate new ideas of their own and help to implement them; who can communicate clearly and work well with other people.”

Before you ask how writing poems is going to help with that, consider Robinson’s definition of creativity. He suggests we should recognize more forms of human intelligence than those measured by I.Q. testing or the SATs. For Robinson, these outdated tests only reinforce modern society’s harmfully narrow view of intelligence. He claims the unemployed high school dropout and the underemployed college graduate were both let down by the education system, because neither discovered their creative potential.

Human beings think and exert intelligence in diverse ways depending on the medium of our creative work.

When people find their medium, they discover their real creative strengths and come into their own. Helping people connect with their personal creative capacities is the surest way to release the best they have to offer.

Robinson calls for a celebration of diversity in human thinking which will alter societal attitudes to ability and disability; and also help humanity adapt to exponential population growth, unpredictable technological change and growing environmental concerns.

He calls creativity “applied imagination,” and “a process of having original ideas that have value.” This value cuts across all domains from pure science research to filmmaking.

Robinson’s chapter, “Being Creative,” provides practical tips on how to boost innovation through technique. All people are born imaginative, but this ability can be enhanced or squelched by one’s environment. Unlocking the “constant promise of alternative ways of seeing, of thinking and of doing,” is essential. Educators, parents and community leaders can do a lot to foster diverse talents, instead of feeding the myth that creativity is just for ‘special people.’

There is a saying among teachers in my school that ‘gifted teaching is just good teaching.’ Robinson’s book reinforces this idea. We must interact with all our students in ways that bring out their gifts and talents, and be open to exploring domains that allow them to think, whether they think best through drama, dance or mathematical equations. It’s a tall order and no educator can do it on his or her own, but informing our teaching practice with a philosophy that nurtures creativity is an excellent place to start.

Web and Video Language Immersion

Students are bombarded with media and spend too many hours in front of computer and TV screens. Does this mean we shouldn’t show videos in class? Of course not.

There is an important place for watching videos in the French or Spanish language classroom. Second languages are best learned in situ but not every student can jet off to Paris to experience French immersion. Video is a convenient alternative. For years I have used educational videos to help students learn French because it exposes them to native speakers.

Téléfrancais is for children in elementary grades. Sol, a French Canadian comedian, stars in the Parlez-Moi series for older students. I’m on the lookout for more modern materials, but the content and the pedagogy is excellent. My students giggle at the passé fashions but still enjoy the characters and stories.

The beauty of these two series is that episodes are short and funny. They explain vocabulary using sight, sound and repetition, within a controlled vocabulary which accumulates chronologically. For each video I make up a brief worksheet and have students hunt for the answers as they watch. Classes ask me to repeat the video, sometimes twice, to help them find the answers. In language teaching, repetition is gold and any time the students are asking to watch a native speaker over and over, they are concentrating on immersion learning.

French teachers interested in using my Parlez-Moi worksheets should send me a message. I will scan them and email them to you personally.

Update: I have scanned the files so you can get the PDF worksheets much more quickly. If you would like them for your personal use with your class, please click here. I’ll email them to you so fast, it will feel automatic! 🙂

Adult learners and students looking for enrichment can benefit from videos too. Check your local library for movies and TV shows in your target language. Make sure there is an option to view with English subtitles for maximum comprehension. Series which deal with everyday life and express a lot of emotion are especially good for learning common vocabulary, cultural gestures and facial expressions. I learned a lot of Spanish watching telenovelas (soap operas) before visiting Peru and it made a measurable difference in my ability to understand native speakers. If you need to refresh your oral comprehension or you are learning a language for the first time, I recommend watching a serial whether or not you like soaps in your mother tongue.

For pleasure as well as utility I strongly recommend BBC’s interactive web mystery for Spanish learners, Ma Vida Loca. In it, you are a tourist caught in a web of intrigue that takes you all over Spain. I wish there were more free web resources of this quality. If you know any, please share with fellow teachers by leaving a comment.


Creative Teacher Librarian

— Teaching more fun!