Ashley Herndon
Graphic Design/Printing Instructor

Ist year graphic design teacher

Hello. I am a new to teaching graphic design. I have been teaching fine arts for the past 6 years.

I came into a great job. There is no curriculum, no sequence learning and I feel like I am treading water. I want to make sure my students are prepared and learning it in a way they are really going to grasp the concepts, tools and how to use the programs efficiently. I have started in Illustrator, but not sure how to teach (like where to start, do I do one tool at a time with an activity, etc.) I feel like I am jumping ahead a little too much, then end up back tracking. 

I also have 1st years and 2nd years in the same class and I feel it difficult to teach and have time for both. I have a 3hour class, morning and afternoon and I teach the same kids everyday. 

Please help!! Any suggestions are very much appreciated!!!! 

  • Photoshop

    Editing and compositing for photos, web and mobile app designs, 3D artwork, videos, and more.

  • Illustrator

    Create beautiful vector art and illustrations.

  • InDesign

    Craft elegant layouts at your desk or on the go.

5 / 5 • 9 Ratings

Comments (29)

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Kelton Brough

Posted on 11/30/18 5:52:34 PM Permalink

​For anyone scrolling through the comments I have also found Stukent's Visual Focus curriculum very helpful. it has tons of projects!

Sylvan Adams

Posted on 8/12/16 5:26:59 AM Permalink

Sylvan Adams

Posted on 8/12/16 4:48:24 AM Permalink

Greetings, my dear.....I feel your panic and rocking on this boat can make one ill :)

I found great ideas through this Adobe Education Exchange, but also through a curriculum model from Texas on Digital Arts and Literacy...I will look for it and send it to you....I downloaded lots of ideas from here:

my case is a little different in that I am writing curriculum for iPad Digital Arts everything is in little packages called apps :) and Adobe wizards are great at breaking down the big programs like Illustrator and Photoshop into bite size pieces....but the scope and sequence and lessons I wrote mirror and can translate to the big boys. Hope this helps...Adobe is great resource too, even just youtube videos by Adobe teachers will help. Good luck, I will remember you!

Tamara Wilson

Posted on 8/12/16 1:04:32 AM Permalink

I'm rocking the same boat.

Sylvan Adams

Posted on 5/25/16 4:10:39 AM Permalink

check out Cathy Hunt's work

Lukas Engqvist

Posted on 11/7/15 10:27:26 PM Permalink

Hope you are surviving Ashley. The first years of teaching are tough. I still struggle to understand what level/age your students are (school systems are so different). We normally teach Illustrator first, but this year we started with indesign… but we are higher ed, and so we could easily start with typography and how type works.

Also depending on your classroom the way you work may vary.

In illustrator we start by building from simple shapes. You can do discovery exercises of how to to emoji symbols just using circles and pathfinder. teaching students to see how small changes alter the mood of the icon. This usually gives students time to get comfortable with the drawing tools, grouping colouring and layers. After that I would look at lines and the pen tool. We build till we end up deep in prepress, not sure you want to go that deep. Illustrator is great for learning to simplify and teach the basic gestalt principles of design. The principles should be the same as in fine arts, just the tools are different. Von Glitchka has a great book called Vector Basic Training, that just rereleased, and I recommend it as it has good mix of analogue with digital.

In Photoshop it is important to learn selecting, if you want to be pro. But it is the easiest of the big 3 to learn by playing. There are also most tutorials for photoshop. Selections, masks, collages are the order we teach. After that we go into smart objects and adjustment layers. When students have the basics, projects like remaking movie posters with their own images or building fantasy worlds is where we move on.

Indesign we normally start by making children books, paperbacks with texts (from and then move on to analyse magazines ( and learn by reengineering what we see. After that we move to book covers, folders, and much more. One great exercise is where all students do an article with text (in word) and images (photographs they take to support their articles) which ends up in a pooled folder, then each student makes a magazine from the pool of articles and images, choosing their own article as the cover story.

Hope that is some ideas, and I think every teacher does feel their own short comings… not unusual to go into a week end low thinking you didn't do all you could have done… but keep fighting, The students know if you're passionate about what you do, and they're usually more forgiving that what they're given cred for.

Ashley Herndon

Posted on 11/9/15 3:28:54 PM Permalink

Thanks so much! That is really helpful!!!

Nirupama Narasimhan

Posted on 11/6/15 9:25:44 AM Permalink

I find that if I teach some tool, like the shape tool, and ask the student to draw something on her own, the student is all lost. Then I understood that in my country, India, we teach reading and writing thoroughly, but schools here don't teach drawing in the same disciplined way and maybe one hour is assigned in a week to the so called 'art' class. So students do not draw readily unless when they are forced to draw some diagrams for their projects.

During a recent visit to Sydney, I found that the schools there give a lot of importance to creativity and almost every child learns to draw or paint, and also learns to play a musical instrument. I was so impressed by this approach!

To create interest in Illustrator, I decided to provide some stimuli for drawing. I found two very nice web sites and These sites teach how to draw right from the beginning and caught the attention of my students. Thereafter, drawing was on par with reading and writing!

There are some very nice books that teach the basics of drawing. I found books by Steve Barr and Lee Hammond (available on Amazon) to be very helpful.

steven zeichner

Posted on 11/6/15 2:19:24 AM Permalink

I begin my class with lessons on vector vs raster/bitmap images, file types, and the basic purpose of each of the programs PS, AI, ID. Lessons include examples of the different image types; high vs low resolution PS images. I go over how each program is most efficient for its intended purpose; i.e. PS for continuous tone bitmaps, IA for illustration, logo design, etc, and ID for page layout.

I then focus on Illustrator for the first quarter of the semester, introducing the different areas of the work space, the toolbox, etc. The first assignment is to demonstrate how to display rulers, guides, grid, smart guides. We go over the shape tools and work on drawing objects at specific locations to specified dimensions. We create the outline of an MP3 player using the various shape tools. Demonstrating the alignment tools to center the objects, grouping so they align properly. The Object-->Arrange function.

Following lessons focus on closed vs open paths, anchor points, handles, fill and stroke, pencil vs pen vs paint brush. The color panel, swatches. All of the drawing created have detailed instructions. As students progress I introduce more tools and techniques until the summary assignment where I give them an illustration with colors and dimensions specified. They must duplicate the illustration without any instructions to assist them. This usually covers ten 90-minute classes between lecture, demonstration, and students working.

The rest of the semester is spent on project work; a Season's project for example. Pick a season and create an illustration to include specific criteria, all from scratch without being allowed to download from the Internet. I also look for projects to do for the school and community. Our class was asked to create a design for a road sign designating a scenic byway. The students each competed, creating a design based on specific criteria from the State Scenic Byway Committee. One students design was selected and the signs are being installed throughout the four towns in our school district. Students learned the importance of meeting a deadline, designing to customer specifications, etc.

Hope this helps.

Rebecca Williamson

Posted on 11/7/17 7:46:39 PM Permalink

This is so helpful. Thank you!​

steven zeichner

Posted on 11/5/15 7:09:07 PM Permalink

I am teaching 9-12 grade, 1st and 2nd level classes in AI, PS, ID. I find teaching Illustrator first is easier for both myself and the students. It makes the learning curve much shorter when transitioning to Photoshop and InDesign.

I use an online program called Moodle to organize my curriculum. It is open source and is being adopted by many colleges in place of Blackboard. Students can access the assignments online and submit their assignments digitally.

When I first introduce Illustrator, I select a group of tools with a specific project in mind to reinforce the tools and concepts, something simple that I have created for the students to copy in their own style. Example: Using the Shape Tools to create a futuristic car. At the same time it teaches them how successively drawn objects stack. I don't tell them right away though, I wait until a student asks how to place something above or below another object, bam, a teaching moment. We then move on to the Pen and Pencil, etc.

Please let me know where you are in your progress and don't hesitate if you need sample projects, program assistance, etc. I have been using PS, AI, and ID for several years.

Ashley Herndon

Posted on 11/5/15 8:12:50 PM Permalink

I am in Illustrator. I have level 1 and 2 kids in the same class and that is the most stressful component of the class; that and 3hrs.

We have went over:
Files, shapes, pen tool, graphic styles, blending, gradient,now we are doing 3D effects (Revolve: they are making their own drink container). We did a project where they created their own superhero logo. It was real cool. It is knowing the sequence and building upon each of them which gets me stuck. I don't have a curriculum and nothing to go off of and like I said I could spend forever in Illustrator. I would like to have tool and activity ideas for the students, and then building into bigger projects. I want to make sure they are getting the most of the class and help prepare then for life outside of school.

tom perazzo

Posted on 11/5/15 6:09:50 PM Permalink

In terms of effort - I've got 36 kids and it's an elective course so some of them were placed there because they didn't sign up for anything. Those generally are the ones with a lack of effort. With my tutorials I encourage them to not follow exactly; they still get experience with the tools it just looks different than the example - change colors, shapes whatever - I learn things from them that way. They seem more motivated when they make it their own. If they can make it look exactly like the tutorial that's great too.

Julie Groff

Posted on 11/5/15 5:32:48 PM Permalink

I've been having my students do tutorials on to learn about different tools that Illustrator has to offer. I struggle with how to teach the concepts of design. How in depth do I go and how do I make sure the students are getting it? I've tried having them do projects such as a business logo or a school event, but they don't seem to want to try or put any effort into the project. I gave up and went back to having them to tutorials again and grading on how well they follow directions.

tom perazzo

Posted on 11/5/15 5:05:18 PM Permalink

Yeah it's a lot to squeeze into a semester - I try to cover Photoshop and Illustrator. My class is a survey course to lead into photography and graphic design so I try to brush over what I consider to be the basics. Check out my site: I'm not done with Illustrator yet. Now that they have experience with some basic shapes, fills and gradients, and the pen tool the next assignment is an iPad mockup where they'll create several rows of the icons. After that they'll use a pen tablet to draw and import into Illustrator where we'll use brushes. I'm probably missing some topics so I'm looking for suggestions as well.

Melissa Reed

Posted on 1/24/18 4:46:50 PM Permalink

Your site that you have shared is now saying page not found. Do you know longer have this website? I loved looking at your project ideas and it is extremely helpful for me as I am new to teaching Graphic Design this year. ​

Ashley Herndon

Posted on 11/5/15 4:32:17 PM Permalink

I really want to thank everyone for your help!!!!!!!! I really do appreciate it!!!!. Now that I am getting into each lesson I realize I could spend a whole year on Illustrator alone. It is impossible to cover everything! How do you all make it work? What would be the key points of Illustrator and Photoshop that I need to teach? I want to get through both because I also teach screen printing and vinyl stickers.

tom perazzo

Posted on 11/3/15 4:26:43 PM Permalink

Yeah long term projects is the way to go...especially with three hour classes. I wish I had that! I like to stagger assignments to provide more than ample time for those that need individual help. I have mine put all of their work in a blog ( I use ) and create a Photoshop and an Illustrator portfolio at the end of both quarters. Although with Adobe Slate on the web now I might incorporate that into a final project.

Dominic McCall

Posted on 11/1/15 7:51:41 PM Permalink


I agree with what people are saying. My teaching is project based with strong themes (similar to what Jessica says) Looking at an Architecture Photograph Project - focusing on Utopias & Dystopia. I ensure students have access to learning objectives, tutorials and 'What Im Looking For' Images of best practice outcomes which show 3 levels of progress Low> Middle>Top Quality Image (basic description). Structure to what the are learning is important 'flipped learning', 'Accelerated Learning Cycle' etc. They learn a technique in Photoshop, finishing one outcome, we then move on to another technique but include the previous one, Deepening their understand and skills. However at the end of each cycle they reflect and their achievements, what went well and even better if.

Jose C Barceló Villagran Fernandez

Posted on 10/25/15 4:19:14 AM Permalink

Divide your classes in practices and projects, in the practices you create tutorial that allow the student learn how to use certain software tools or do certain operations. For example: recording and cleaning audio after 3 or four practices the next class they should start a project in which they applies the skills that they have learned in the previos practices.

Fred Benitez

Posted on 10/22/15 3:40:23 PM Permalink

When introducing the programs, I would go through 2-3 tools at a time, with a big focus on the pen tool in AI. There are a ton of resources on the Adobe Education Exchange for projects you can do after the students have learned the basics. You can even search for advanced projects for your second level classes.

Nirupama Narasimhan

Posted on 10/22/15 10:06:06 AM Permalink

Hi Ashley,

Your problems seem so familiar! You've done the best thing by starting off with Illustrator. Several video tutorials are available on YouTube and you can choose some of them and keep the links handy. I find it easier to demonstrate a few tools, give them a design to copy and after that I tell them modify it in their own way to make it better. Students find Illustrator fun to use because they can draw cartoons and reproduce their favorite characters. After they get familiar with the shapes, colors, gradients they'll be ready for the pen tool which is tough to master. Then you could go on to the path finder and shape builder and transform tools. There is a lot in Illustrator to keep students busy for 3 hours. Of course, we teachers have to plan well ahead for each session.

After this, you could start Photoshop and start with layers and focus mostly on image editing. Students love that.

You've a lot of planning and preparation ahead of you but for a fine arts teacher, it'll be a walk in the park .

Best wishes!

Jessica Gauci

Posted on 10/20/15 10:19:47 PM Permalink

Hi Ashley

It can be challenging teaching in your 1st year with no programs. Try and think of programs and activities that will relate to students world / life or future career aspiration. I have finally refined my programs from photography. Some ideas to think about:

- Introduction to Graphic Design / Photoshop - Poster on a real world issue (climate change etc)

- Logo design, business cards, brochures for local businesses ( in Illustrator)

- Magazine Design following the design and layout of an actual magazine

- Packaging Design - perfume, cereal box, food product etc

- Photography Basics.

Good luck, contact me if you need anything else.

Adobe Education

Posted on 10/21/15 2:57:42 PM Permalink


Jessica is giving you some great ideas. If you take her bullets and search for them you will get some great projects and lesson plans that others have posted!

Adobe Education

Posted on 10/20/15 3:55:11 PM Permalink

Hi Ashley,

Good luck on your new teaching adventure! You've come to the right place to help you. I would recommend searching the AEE - a lot of other educators have posted some amazing work. And have you checked out the Visual Design: Foundations of Design and Print Production? It may help you create a scope and sequence to teach your student - it can help you teach skills in a variety of ways - some via large projects and some via smaller activities. It includes instructor guides to help you teach, specific lesson plans to use in your classroom, and step-by-step technical tutorials that you can give to your students. All of the smaller activities that make up the larger curriculum are located here:

Additionally we broke up the curriculum into different syllabi that accommodate for various pathways of learning various skills, some are product driven, some are thematic, and some are learning project management, research, and communication skills needed for successful design. Here are ones that may help you with Graphic Design:

- Introduction to Graphic Design
- Introduction to Digital Photography and Image Editing
- Introduction to Print and Digital Publishing
- Learn Adobe Photoshop CC
- Learn Adobe Indesign CC
- Learn Adobe Illustrator CC
- Research and Communication for Design Projects
- Project Management and Planning for Design Projects

(Note - to download any of the above as a single PDF package - select "Syllabus Bundle" in the upper right hand corner.)

We hope some of these are helpful!

The AEE Team

Julie Groff

Posted on 10/19/15 1:12:59 AM Permalink

Hi Ashley,

I am in the same place you are, only I've never taught before. Your post summed up how I feel nearly every day. After 20 years in the business, I was offered a job teaching graphic design, newspaper and yearbook. While I love being around the students, I have no idea what I'm doing! I've gotten through the first 9 weeks, and have learned a lot, but the thought of three more quarters is daunting. I, too, would love to have all the help I can get!

Thank you for posting.


Brian O'Dell

Posted on 10/17/15 1:10:01 AM Permalink

Hi Ashley,

I went through the exact same situation as you in 2002. I came into a position that was brand new and had no curriculum, no project ideas, 1st and 2nd year students and no idea where to begin. The hardest thing I had to figure out was how to keep them busy for 3 hours. I have a lot of projects that may help you in each area of your classes. I also have curriculum and course of study checklist if you would like them. Follow me if you are interested and I can get them to you. Each assignment can be adapted to 1st and 2nd year students. If they have done something in the general theme of what you are doing, have them do something that is more challenging with the project concept. Other things that I figured out is that if you provide them with more than one project, they can concentrate on areas of each that they can do while waiting for your assistance. Do not be afraid to allow students to assist each other. What you will find out is that peer assistance will actually teach you things you may not know. Im not afraid to admit my students taught just as I taught them. remember, they have a lot more free time to learn things on their own time than you do. Don't be afraid to let them give suggestions.

Some links that I learned to use to help my myself learn the software are: (brush downloads) (font downloads) (font downloads


Mia DeCrescenzo

Posted on 1/25/18 2:29:08 PM Permalink

Hi Brian,

I found this old thread and am in the same situation this semester. I wonder if you would be willing to send me some of your lessons etc?

These links are great! thank you


Diego Alvarez

Posted on 10/16/15 3:02:33 PM Permalink

Hi Ashley,

I have 20 years of experience teaching design, web and 3D. And you must start with the WOW effect. His young minds are like a blank wall, you can paint anything in them. Keep the dreams flowing.

Perhaps you heard pages called :

I Hope you find a starting point for them with this. I you need something else I´ll glad to help :)