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Design basics for double-page spreads


A lesson introducing common terminology for spread design as well as steps for placement to complete a basic layout. This lesson leads students through the process involved in basic design principles for double-page spreads in print publications. It introduces students to the basic elements of a spread, while demonstrating the suggested method for designing a spread, discussing how and why elements of a spread are placed.


  • Students will identify the basic elements of a spread.
  • Students will demonstrate the order elements on a spread are placed.
  • Students will explain why elements are placed in a particular order on a spread.
  • Students will develop a theme or a subject within a book or spread through the design process.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2 Introduce a topic; organize complex ideas, concepts, and information to make important connections and distinctions; include formatting (e.g., headings); graphics (e.g., figures, tables); and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3c Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole.


210 minutes (three or four class periods)


Handout: Basic yearbook design principles

Handout: Yearbook terms

Slideshow: Yearbook design terminology

Tutorial Appendix A- Basic InDesign (OPTIONAL)

Tutorial Appendix B- Basic Photoshop for design (OPTIONAL)

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


Colored pencils


Lesson step-by-step

1. Introducing vocabulary — 15 minutes

Use the handouts, sample spreads, slideshow and/or guided notes to introduce these terms:

Gutter: the space between two pages on a spread where the book or spread typically folds.

Primary photo: the dominant photo on a spread.

Secondary photo: the smaller photos on a spread that relate to the dominant photo.

Caption: a written explanation of a picture that tells the 5W’s and H of a photo; captions give more information about a photo than is readily available from just looking at it.

Copy: a section of text that gives more information about a spread and subject. Copy should be broken into paragraphs to make it easier to read, and should not be standard summary. It should include depth and student input about the subject.

Headline: the main title of a spread. It should not merely state the subject of a spread.

Secondary headline: gives further information about the spread; again does not merely state the subject of the spread.

Folio: the page number and page information about a spread.

Eyeline: an uninterrupted line of white space that crosses the spread and leads a reader’s eye across both pages.

Vertical line: an uninterrupted line of white space from the top to the bottom of a page tying together the elements of a spread.

2. Demonstration — 20 minutes

After introducing the terms, demonstrate the steps for placing elements on a spread. It’s important for students to know why each element is placed and understand the order of placement on a spread. Although the order isn’t 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 or nontraditional spreads. The design of a spread is critical to implementing the theme of a publication and unifying the spreads in the publication. You may choose to do this using desktop publishing software and a projection device, or you could use the white board with markers to sketch each element.

  1. First, place the dominant photo, preferably across the gutter of the spread. It should be the largest photo on a spread.
  2. After placing the dominant photo, begin by placing secondary photos around the dominant photo. Each secondary photo should line up equally from the dominant photo — in a traditional, basic design, the internal spacing is generally one pica. As you place secondary photos, position them to create an eyeline and vertical line on the spread.
  3. After placing the secondary photos (suggested 5-9 photos), start placing captions for each photo on the spread. Captions should be placed next to the photo they are describing, roughly one pica away, or the same measurement used for the photo placement. The width of all caption boxes on a spread should be equal.
  4. After placing captions, look for space to place the copy of the spread. This may take some redesigning of the spread to accommodate the copy block. The copy block should be broken into paragraphs and columns for easy reading.
  5. After placing the copy block, you will need room for the headline and the secondary headline. Together these are called the headline package. If you don’t have enough space, you may need to redesign or restructure the photos and captions.
  6. After placing the headline package, the folio is the last thing to place on the spread. Once again, photos or captions may need to be adjusted or redesigned to fit the folio.

3. Skill development — 20 minutes

Once the demo spread is complete, it is time for students to create their own spread using the grid designing paper. Students may not draw the same spread as the sample from your demonstration or handout. Instruct them to use a pencil at this point because they will need the ability to erase and make changes. Students will follow the same procedures as above when they design their spreads on the graphing paper.

4. Guided/independent/group practice — 15 minutes

After students finish placing all elements correctly, they will need to label each portion of their spread. Next, students will have a partner check the layout to verify that each element is correct and that the spread incorporates basic design principles. Offer feedback when students finish the peer review as a way to reinforce concepts or correct errors in students’ designs.

5. Software application — 30 minutes

If possible, students will recreate the spread on the computer using desktop publishing software. When finished, students will print a copy of the finished layout to label and compare to the hand-drawn paper version.

6. Reflection — 5 minutes

As a formative assessment on paper or in discussion, ask students to answer the following questions:

  1. Does the computer spread match the graph sheet identically?
  2. If not, what is different between the two spreads? Why aren’t they the same?
  3. Was it easier to create the spread on graphing paper or on the computer? Why?
  4. Do you like what you designed after seeing it on the computer? What would you change or do differently? Why?

7. Extension — 100 minutes

At this point, students will use what they have learned about spread design to evaluate their school’s yearbook. For this activity, you can use the most current book or a series of books, or groups can evaluate different years. As they evaluate the book, students will use the Spread Evaluation Document handout (from the Principles of Design Production lesson). Students should keep in mind that the purpose of the evaluation is to improve the book, not point out every error. The evaluation should focus solely on design principles for the purpose of this exercise. Set a time limit (suggested: 30 minutes) so students focus on the task rather than pulled into reading stories and exploring non-design aspects of the book. After evaluating the yearbook’s design, students will select one double-page spread from the book to recreate with three improvements based on the evaluation. The new spread should not be drastically different from the original, just improved.


10 points 5 points 0 points Total points
All elements included Primary photo, secondary photos, captions for each photo, copy, headline, subheadline, folio, eyeline and vertical line. Missing two or more elements. Missing five or more elements. /10
Spacing Elements align, are uniform in their placement and follow the guidelines provided in the example. Some elements of the spread don’t fit together well or are awkwardly placed. Elements don’t fit together on the spread well and have awkward or erratic spacing. /10
Captions Captions are all the same width, and each photo has a caption. Captions are all the same width, but one or two photos do not have captions. Captions vary in width, and/or more than two photos do not have captions. /10
Copy Copy is split into easily manageable columns and paragraphs. Copy is somewhat long or wide, making it not very reader-friendly. Copy is missing from the design or is too long and ill placed on the spread. /10
Total points ____ / 40