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Basic newspaper design


This lesson leads students through the process involved in basic design principles for newspaper. It introduces students to the basic elements of a layout, while demonstrating the suggested method for designing a front page and section pages. It discusses how and why elements of a spread are placed and shows an example of a variety of news layouts. It’s important for students to know why each element is placed, and the order of  placement on a spread. Although the order isn’t always absolute, developing good design habits gives students a starting point, after which they can break out of the rules of design to create more advanced spreads. The design of a layout is critical to establishing hierarchy of elements and for drawing your viewer’s attention into the spread, then leading it in a waltz through the rest of the content. Aside from creating a layout, students will learn the differences in newspaper format sizes, establish a folio and byline style and learn about different methods to place and arrange content.


  • Students will learn terminology specific to newspaper design and creation.
  • Students will identify newspaper styles based on their sizes.
  • Students will apply knowledge of newspaper design to create a new layout.
  • Students will synthesize parts of a newspaper into a whole layout.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W-9-10.2d Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of a subject.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 9-10 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.6 Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.


90 minutes


Slideshow: Elements of good design

Slideshow: Layout sizes and newspaper terms

Handout: Dummy layout sample

Optional website: Today’s Front Pages

Graphing paper (or computers with software such as Adobe InDesign or Photoshop)


Colored pencils


Lesson step-by-step:

1. Introduce vocabulary — 25 minutes

Introduce terms from the Layout Sizes and Newspaper Terms slideshow and/or Elements of Good Design slideshow. Lead students through guided note-taking. For newspaper design, there are some basic concepts to follow when choosing your design layout: hierarchy, dominance, contrast, balance, rhythm, unity and consistency.

  1. Hierarchy: an established order of things with the most important being on top.
  2. Dominance: visual impact; the most prominent point of entry is called the dominant element.
  3. Contrast: creating distinction in a layout through the use of varying elements: primary and secondary headlines, colors, tone, shapes and sizes of photos, type treatments (bold, italics, etc.).
  4. Balance: placement of elements so they aren’t bunched together or placed more frequently on one side than the other (left to right, top to bottom). In symmetrical design, elements are mirrored from one half of a spread to the other. In asymmetrical design, elements are unevenly placed on purpose or weighted in a way to create tension.
  5. Navigation: the order a viewer’s attention moves around a composition determined by the placement of components.
  6. Repetition: duplicating or repeating components in a composition such as color, graphics or typographic treatments.
  7. Rhythm: the flow of attention based on the placement of elements in a composition; patterns and interruptions in those patterns help lead viewers where you want them to look next.
  8. Unity: the use of internal and external margins, eyelines (vertical and horizontal), components that cross columns; repetitive elements such as type treatments and color all contribute to creating unity in a spread.
  9. Consistency: using similar page components throughout the pages, cover, and endsheets in a composition. By repeating these components across pages, you create connections from page to page.

2. Application — 50 minutes

After introducing the terms to the students, use the Newspaper Layout slideshow to introduce the steps for placing elements on the page.

  • First, decide on the size of your newspaper because this will determine how you design it. There are usually two sizes typically used in student newspapers: letter or tabloid-size newspaper. It’s important to note that when printing a newspaper, pages are printed in groups of four because they are printed together on one sheet, then folded to size (Handout 2.5c: Layout Sizes).
  1. letter size: 8.5”x11” size document printed on 11”x17”, and folded in half.
  2. tabloid: 11”x17” size document printed on 17”x22”, then folded in half twice to make it a newspaper format.
  3. Most city and professional newspapers print broadsheet size newspapers, which can range in size. However, a common broadsheet size is 17”x22”, printed on 22”x34” sheets of paper and folded in half twice.
  • After choosing your size layout, the next step is to determine the number of your columns. These can always be changed later if you find the number you chose doesn’t work for your layout, but it’s a good rule to follow at the start. 12 is a good number because it divides by three, four and six.
  • Although not required, it is recommended that students set up grid guides for rows, particularly if the newspaper is tabloid or broadsheet format. Having grid guides allows you to set up rows and a gutter across the page to signify where it will fold.
  • Design for the front page will vary from the section pages inside. The content on the front page may not appear within the rest of the newspaper (e.g. nameplate, index, etc.). Choose design elements that can be used consistently throughout the newspaper but are not tied to a specific purpose.
  • Use the nameplate you created and chose in the previous lesson. Place it on the front page where you want it to appear (usually at top).
  • After placing your nameplate, you will need to determine two things for the front page:

i. How many articles will you use?

ii. Where do you want the dominant element placed?

  • After answering the two questions, you need to make some choices about typography, namely sizing and attributes for text components: primary headline, secondary headline, copy, captions, byline, folio. Make a poster (either using butcher paper or the computer) that lists each type treatment per text element. Hang them around your room so staffers know what size and attributes to use for each type treatment. Include this in your staff manual as well.
    • You may decide to have different choices for the front page than the inside pages. If so, make these distinctions clear.
    • For schools with Adobe software or an online software program, you can set up style guides for these type treatments.

When placing columns on the computer for articles to be placed, use Lorem Ipsum (placeholder text) text to signify copy will need to be replaced. If using graphing paper, use wavy lines to signify that the copy is dummy copy.

  • Next, you will need to choose your font choices. As a general rule, no more than three fonts should be chosen within a composition. In fact, you may opt to choose one font with many different families (i.e. bold, condensed, italic). The more type variations available, the more you can do with it.
  • After determining your page size, column guides and typography, determine your ruler guides. These can be drawn on graphing paper or created electronically in most publishing programs.
  • Next, determine how many photos you would like to include as part of your layout.

i. Should there be one dominant photo and a series of secondary photos? Should there be photo packages instead of a dominant photo?

ii. How many photos do you need?

iii. For each photo or photo package, you will need to include a cutline.

  • Once you have chosen your photo options, decide whether sidebars, modules or infographics are needed: surveys, Q&As, timeline, graph, poll, calendar, other.
  • Finally, determine what headlines and secondary headlines are needed for the content you have chosen so far.
  • Now that you have most of the components determined, you will need to place them within the page. It will help to know an estimated word count for each story. This can be adjusted later, and holes may be filled with more infographics, modules, sidebars as necessary.
  • Place the nameplate, then the rough placement of the articles. Add the photos and cutlines, then the headlines. Complete the spread with modules, sidebars, infographics and color.

All elements should be placed with a standard one pica white internal spacing. Elements grouped together like photo packages should be set apart less than one pica. Elements that dominate or have importance may have more than one pica of separation.

3. Closure — 15 minutes

After completing their designs, students will turn in their newspaper design. Ask students to reflect on their experience by responding to the following questions:

  • What was the most difficult part in designing the layout?
  • Did you like the finished layout? Why or why not?
  • What are two things you would like to change about the layout?
  • What content decisions would you change in your initial planning?
  • Was the page balanced and aligned? How can you tell?