Making and Breaking the GRID

By Louis Mazza, April 15, 2007

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Graphic Design

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies
  • Technology

Lesson Time

Two fifty-minute class periods


The title of this lesson comes from a book of the same name by Timothy Samara wherein he examines the grid with respect to graphic design. This is partially a graphic design lesson, and also an inquiry into the grid as an organizing principle throughout our society. By examining various instances of grid patterns from the past and present (grid patterns in city planning, grids which organize numbers, grids used for design, and the reoccurring use of the grid pattern for displaying images on Web sites) learners will be asked to create graphic design solutions in the organization of information and draw conclusions about the meaning of patterns and organization in society.

National Standards

Visual Arts
Standards 1, 2, 3, 4 - Level IV
Art Connections
Standard 1, Level IV, Topics 2, 3, 5 6
History (Historical Understandings)
Standard 1, Level IV, Items 1, 2 Topics 2, 8, 13
Life Skills (Thinking and Reasoning)
Standards 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, Level IV, Topics 2, 3, 4, 5
Standard 2, Level IV, Items 3, 4, 5
Standard 4, Level IV, Items 1 - 6
Language Arts
Standards 5, 9, Level IV

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes1:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Learners will be able to:
  • recognize patterns of organization in systems such as urban planning and design, information, and graphic design
  • create a poster using a page layout program and a block of text
  • acquire problem-solving, planning, and organizational skills, and recognition of various hierarchies of information
  • identify key figures in art history and analyze their use of grids and systems for composing the picture plane



  • computers with Photoshop, InDesign, Quark, Microsoft Publisher, and Sketch-Up
  • drawing paper
  • pencils
  • photo paper
  • color printer
  • digital, disposable, or Polaroid cameras for photographing buildings in the community


Grid Hierarchy Typography Text Margin Gutter Depiction Modular Proportion Composition


  • Introduce learners to the idea that there are common patterns that can be found in areas that are seemingly unrelated.
  • Show the film "Powers of Ten" by Charles & Ray Eames. See resources for the link.
  • Facilitate a discussion about the film by asking the class what it was about. Learners will answer that it was about the mathematic concept of exponents, however, ask learners to delve deeper and suggest that they compare the images of outer space to the images of inner space (inside the body). It may be helpful to show the film again in fast-forward.
  • Ask learners to describe and list the differences between organic and geometric shapes and/or pattern. Show examples of patterns in nature (spiral patterns such as the conch, the galaxy, the image of a hurricane from a weather satellite, whirlpools, tornadoes, pine cones, sunflowers, a pig tail, an ear drum, etc.).
  • Summarize and conclude the discussion by asking where patterns might be found. Talk about the GRID as a pattern and show examples of the page grids found in the Timothy Samara book, Making and Breaking the Grid ( Also show examples of other grids: The shape of city streets from above (using Google earth), power grids (the designs of electrical power service), grids used for graphing statistics, grids used in calculating position on a computer screen, and multiple photographs arranged in a grid (
  • Instruct learners to launch a graphics or graphic design program (MS Publisher, Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, etc.) and open a blank 8.5" x 11" document. Set margins at 1/4" all around the page. Give learners a short bit of text in the form of the weather report:
Tomorrow's Weather: Starting out sunny in the morning, becoming cloudy and windy by noon. Afternoon thundershowers developing, lasting into the evening. Rain, heavy at times. Winds 20-30 mph.
  • Learners must take this text and arrange it in ways that depict the conditions it describes. Demonstrate how one might use individual words and letters to construct a visual statement. Instruct the students that they can only use one font, Garamond.
  • Open a new document that is 8x8 inches. Demonstrate how to create a grid with rulers pulled from the top and left margins. Give learners a chance to play with the rulers for a few minutes, then guide learners through the process of creating 1/4" margins all around, then four columns with 1/4" gutters. Then create the same amount of rows, ending up with a modular grid with four columns and four rows.
  • Instruct learners to use the same weather report text (repeating the text if necessary) to create a new layout on the page. This new layout must utilize columns and/or rows to present the text as clearly as possible. As with the previous assignment, the only font that may be used is Garamond.
  • Once the students have completed their assignment, ask each student to present their page layout to the class. A critique and positive feedback should follow.


Learners will be assessed with the following rubric:
NOVICE Learner's behavior was unfocused and/or distracting. The assignment was begun but not followed through to completion. Learner did not participate in critique or discussion. BASIC Learner completesd the project but essential steps and/or directions were missed. The learner did not ask questions or make an attempt to clarify for him/herself. Learner participated in critique minimally. PROFICIENT Learner listened carefully, followed proper instructions, and successfully completed the assignment(s). Learner also participated in critique. ADVANCED Learner listened carefully, followed proper instructions, and successfully completed the assignment(s). Learner demonstrated higher-order thinking skills by thoughtfully participating in critique, asking questions, and offering thoughtful answers to questions.

Enrichment Extension Activities

  • Research the use of the grid in various works of art, design, etc.
  • Compare and contrast the uses of photographs used in a grid structure with photographs meant to be viewed as single works and speculate on how meaning is manipulated through the use of multiple images.
  • Create a 5 x 5 grid of images, then choose one to use independently as a single image.

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