Search Menu


This site is available only to JEA members. Please log in below.

Principles of design basics: Middle school


A lesson about the basic principles used in arranging elements.


  • Students will be able to recognize and understand design principles.
  • Students will be able to recall principles of design on an assessment.
  • Students will be able to find examples of design principles in a sample spread.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7 Analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment (e.g., Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts” and Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9 Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W-9-10.2d Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of a subject.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1–3 up to and including grades 9–10 here.)
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.


45 minutes (2 days)


Handout: Principles of design vocabulary list or grouped list

Handout: Sample spread – Talisman newspaper

Handout: Blank spread labeling exercise

Handout: Combination notetaking

Slideshow: Design principles (middle school version)


Colored pencils


Lesson step-by-step

Day 1

1. Quickwrite – 5 minutes

Show slide three of the slideshow and have the students answer the following on a piece of paper (or in their notebook). “What do you notice about this spread? Look closely.” After they have finished writing, have the class share with a shoulder partner and then have the class share out.

2. Introducing vocabulary — 30 minutes (Option 1)

Give students a printout of the slideshow or post it on Google Classroom, so students can access it. Students should be in groups of four. Have them read over and discuss five of the design elements. Then discuss each as a class, while looking at the samples on the slideshow. Continue following this pattern, until you have covered all 20 terms.

Introducing vocabulary — 30 minutes (Option 2)

Distribute the “Principles of design vocabulary list” handout and explain the definitions for the principles of design terms. To demonstrate the terms, project the “Design principles” slideshow to visualize each design principle. Distribute the “Combination notetaking” handout so students can write a list of the design principles and draw images for those they need/want to better help them remember the terms later.

3. Closing— 5 minutes

As an exit ticket, have the students answer this question, “Which design element do you see most often in magazines, newspapers, or billboard?”

Day 2

1. Quickwrite — 5 minutes

Ask the students to get out their notetaking sheet or handout from yesterday. Have the sample spread (slide 24) on the screen and have the students answer this question, “What are two elements you see from the terms we learned about yesterday?”

2. Review— 10 minutes

Have students go to This Kahoot reviews all the vocabulary from the day before. You can find the Kahoot if you search “JEA Principles of Design Basics” or go to this link:

  • From Kahoot: Kahoots are best played in a group setting, for example, a classroom. Players answer the questions on their own devices while games are displayed on a shared screen to unite the lesson. It creates a “campfire moment,” encouraging players to look up and celebrate together. Besides creating your own Kahoots, you can search among millions of existing games.

3. Application — 20 minutes

After explaining the design principles handout and covering all vocabulary, distribute the “blank spread labeling exercise.” Students will label the different elements based on the components of a spread. As students are labeling the handout, walk around and discuss their labels. A student may justify his/her answers if he/she has marked something that is different than the key. For this activity, you may choose to give students stickers or small adhesive labels to use to label parts of the spread.

4. Closure — 5 minutes

As an exit ticket, have the students answer this question, “Which design element is the most confusing to you or the least familiar?” You might consider asking students to find examples of these design principles in other yearbooks, newspapers or magazines as an extension assignment.