Yes, Thank You!

By kat corrigan, August 26, 2008

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Graphic Design

Subject Area

  • Arts

Lesson Time

five 45-minute classes


People aren't trained to be respectful and polite. Social interactions between people function more smoothly when respect and manners are used. Students will be more aware of social reactions to words and signs. Students will design a sign intended to foster positive human relations. About a year ago I was driving down Minnehaha Parkway and noticed out of the corner of my eye a small cardboard sign, hand painted, that stated simply "Thank You."  I immediately assumed it was meant to express gratitude to some unknown person or persons who removed from the curb some large article that the owners wished gone.  But then, I thought about other reasons it could be saying "Thank You," like "thank you for wearing your seatbelt," and "thank you for not littering,"  and "thank you for being a good driver and paying attention to pedestrians and dogs," and more such common and mundane possibilities.  I found my mood considerably lightened.  I started thinking about other things I was thankful for, my health, my family, my friends, the sky, people smiling, all sorts of lovely things, and I decided this was a feeling other people should share! Oddly enough, later that week I was with friends and told them of my experience with the simple sign and one of my friends got very excited and explained she'd seen it too and had a very similar reaction. Together we decided to create signs saying "Thank You!" and hang them around the neighborhood.  She painted things she was thankful for on her signs and I had friends help me create thank yous in many different scripts.  Then we took them around our neighborhood in South Minneapolis and stapled them to power poles.  We knew we wouldn't be able to see most of the reactions, but we did witness some sweet ones while we were in action.  While my friend was hanging one of hers on a pole and I waited in the running car, two young boys came by and read her sign.  Then they looked at us and grinned and said, "You're welcome! That's about what we were hoping for!

National Standards


  • Students will be able to determine the tone of public signage.
  • Students will be able to differentiate between positive and negative public messages.
  • Students will design a positive message.
  • Students will use graphic design and printmaking skills to create a foam printing block.
  • Students will print self-designed signs.
  • Student will display their work in the public arena.
  • Students will observe the public reaction to their message.


  • “Pay It Forward,” a movie based on the book by Catherine Ryan Hyde.  Hyde has also started the Pay It Forward Foundation:
  • Yoko Ono’s avant-garde artwork, messages and notes


  • foam trays, scraps of foam
  • rubber cement
  • scissors
  • pencil
  • tempera paint
  • brushes
  • newspaper
  • paper


  • persuasive speaking: to speak in such a way that your listener is moved to your position, or to take a course of action
  • audience: a group of listeners


 Day 1 1. Take students for a walk around the neighborhood and have them take note of all signs they see.  Write these down. In the classroom, share these signs, writing them on the board and grouping them according to positive statement, negative statement, or neutral.  Engage the students in discussion about how these signs make the viewer feel, what is their intention?  Could they be written in another way? 2. Using their laptops, assign all the students one phrase or word, such as "Yes" or "Thank You."  Have them find different typefaces and use different colors and sizes of fonts to change the meaning of the word or phrase.  They should create at least four different examples of meaning and label each as "aggressive, kind, sarcastic, meek, sincere, request, command" or another interpretation.  The idea is to teach them to see how meaning can change with design. Day 2 1. Tell the students my story from the Introduction and look at their new sign versions.  Discuss how the design of the word, the graphics involved (font, color, size) changes the meaning of the word.  The perception of the viewer can be altered by subtle means. 2. As a class determine one word that can make a viewer feel positive emotions about themselves upon viewing. 3. All students will use the same word and create a print of it. 4. Have students fold 12x18 papers into 4 sections and sketch four versions of their word or phrase. Day 3 1. Using the best sketch of their word or phrase as a pattern, have the students cut the letters out of thin foam.  They should use rubber cement to glue them to an uncut foam sheet as a base.  It is vital that the words be glued down BACKWARDS or else they will print backwards.  Demonstrate this for the students. 2. To print, paint dark shades of tempera directly onto the foam and then press paper on top of the paint, smoothing it over the raised surfaces and keeping it as still as possible.  This is relief printmaking. 3. Students should experiment with different colored papers and paints, if available, to achieve the full effect of their word or phrases' public impact. Day 4 1. Students will now take their signs out and hang them in public.  You may need to check with neighborhood authorities to make sure this is legal.  Local businesses may be willing to allow a few on the premises.  It would benefit the students to have to undertake this questioning themselves. 2. Also hang some signs in the school where students can easily observe reactions, which they should do until the next class. Day 5 1. Discuss observations and reactions to the students' signs.  How did they feel upon seeing one another's work?  What did their classmates and teachers have to say?  Did people read them, react to them, or ignore them?  Why do words have such a strong affect on us as human beings? 2. Have students write out their reactions and emotional responses to the signs.


Assessment is determined by the completion of the project, by the student's contribution to the discussions, and by teacher observation.  Student writings are also collected and noted. A general rubric can be used for students to be able to follow their own progress; an example would be 25 points for discussion, 25 points for design of word or phrase, 25 points for printmaking, 25 points for participation in hanging and observation.    

Enrichment Extension Activities

1. It would be a fun challenge to ask the students what they would see as the benefits of extending this kind of project to the community.  You could develop a permanent public artwork at bus stops, create a street-wide positive word banner, and let the students come up with more ideas.

Teacher Reflection

I will be using this lesson in the upcoming weeks and will report back as I experience it.  Always with a new lesson are growing pains and rewrites.  I like the compassionate depth of this one, and appreciate being able to approach design in an emotional context.      

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