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Posters of Place


I taught this unit during the spring of 2016 at Lucille M. Brown Middle School, my secondary student teaching placement. This unit was taught over the course of 100 minute art classes every other day for six weeks. The students were International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program students; and homework, sketchbook pages, and consecutive studio days were part of the classroom culture.

Unit Overview

Artists utilize intentional design techniques to communicate clearly with their audiences. Artist working for the Federal Arts Project during the New Deal found ways to revolutionize design and the use of the widespread image. In this unit, students examine the history and artistic nature of poster and advertisement design as well as the role those designs play in our lives. Students select their own locations that they value to highlight and create cut-paper posters that highlight those places. 


In this unit, ​students are expected to think critically about the relationships between people, art, and history. The content relates to cores subject material students study during this year. Students also grasp many new art terms and analyze art contextually. The finished works relate personally to each student and add to the students' IB portfolios.

Big Idea

The Value of Place​

Key Concepts

  • Communication through Design

  • Federal Arts Project

  • Posters as Art

  • Value

Essential Questions

  • How did art change and what role did art play during the New Deal?

  • How can artists use design to communicate the importance or value of a subject?

  • What different connections do humans have to destinations or places?

Target Student Group

Seventh grade students, International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program, Lucille M. Brown Middle School

Specific Unit Objectives

Lesson 1 - Federal Arts Project

Reference - Teaching the Great Depression through Visual Culture (Teaching History blog)

Objective - Students will discuss the knowledge they currently have about America's social and economic states following the Great Depression. Students will then watch short videos, read quotes, and discuss a presentation about the history of the New Deal and the Federal Arts Project (FAP).They will apply this new knowledge in the design of a sketchbook page about the FAP.

Lesson 2 - Why Posters

Reference - Library of Congress Federal Arts Project Resources

Objective - Students will review a large visual library of posters and other examples of visual culture (such as billboard and advertisements) and analyze the use of these images in our society. They will dissect the effect the images have on them in their everyday lives. Students will work as teams to attempt to identify why certain images or visual campaigns are more easily remembered or viewed more positively than others. 

Lesson 3 - Design Decisions

Reference - ...

Objective - Students will review the elements and principles of design, specifically analyzing poster design. Using printed examples of Works Progress Administration (WPA) posters at their tables, students will complete Design Bingo worksheets, identifying the major techniques used to bring emphasis to specific parts in each poster. Students will select two specific techniques to use in their own poster design. They will collage their researched images of their destinations together to develop their design. Students will produce two potential layouts. (This lesson may be divided into two days if you have shorter class periods or divided into classwork and homework.)

Lesson 4 - Why Place?

Reference - Values Pass it on. Billboards Campaign,  JPL Visions of the Future Posters

Objective - Looking over WPA and WPA-style destination posters, students will work as a table to determine reasons humans travel and the potential specific purposes of destination posters in the aftermath of The Great Depression. They will also discuss how poster taglines communicate information about a place. Students will complete a reflective writing about their selected destination. Through a series of writing prompts, they will shorten their writing into a sentence of 140 characters or less (a "tweet"), ending with a tagline advertising their destinations. For homework, students will incorporate the destination name and tagline into their poster design.

Lesson 5 - Posterizing

Reference - Shepard Fairey

Objective - Students will identify key components of Shepard Fairey's artworks and compare and contrast his posters with WPA posters. They will learn how he posterizes his images, dividing the values into shapes of colors. Students will then select their final design and posterize the values. They will examine different color palettes and try two different palettes with their design. For homework, students will complete a sketchbook page about the posterizing technique and will type out their poster text in different potential fonts.

Lesson 6 - Cut-Paper Poster Construction

Objective - Students will spend multiple studio days translating their colored designs into 18x24 posters. They will cut colored paper into their posterized shapes and layer the shapes to build up their images. Throughout the studio days, multiple demonstrations will be given on building complex shapes through the combination of multiple cut pieces and cutting uniformly sized lettering.


National Art Standards

2.1.7a Demonstrate persistence in developing skills with various materials, methods, and approaches in creating works of art or design.

2.3.7a Apply visual organizational strategies to design and produce a work of art, design, or media that clearly communicates information or ideas.

3.1.7a Reflect on and explain important information about personal artwork in an artist statement or another format.

7.1.7a Explain how the method of display, the location, and the experience of an artwork influence how it is perceived and valued.

11.1.7a Analyze how response to art is influenced by understanding the time and place in which it was created, the available resources, and cultural uses.

Virginia Visual Art SOLs

7.1 The student will use, and record in a sketchbook/journal, steps of the art-making process, including research, to create works of art.

7.2 The student will refine media techniques to demonstrate craftsmanship.

7.4 The student will communicate ideas, experiences, and narratives through the creation of works of art, using traditional and contemporary media.

7.11 The student will analyze how art and culture influence each other.

7.12 The student will identify the uses and impact of persuasive techniques (e.g., selection of images, design, type, media) in print and contemporary media.

Virginia Core Subject SOLs

US History: USII.6 The student will apply social science skills to understand the social, economic, and technological changes of the early twentieth century by analyzing the causes of the Great Depression, its impact on Americans, and the major features of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

English: 7.1 The student will participate in and contribute to conversations, group discussions, and oral presentations.

7.6 The student will read and demonstrate comprehension of a variety of nonfiction texts.

7.7 The student will write in a variety of forms with an emphasis on exposition, narration, and persuasion.

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