T Shirt Design for Real

By Judy Kamilar, December 30, 2010

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Graphic Design

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

495 minutes for classroom activities


By examining and discussing the evolution of the T-shirt from a utilitarian undergarment to a walking billboard, students will gain greater appreciation of the commonplace while acquiring knowledge of the global implications for our demand for cheap T-shirts.  In addition, students will learn the basic elements and procedures of design as they engage in their own mini T-shirt design studio using their classmates as clients and producing actual T-shirts and sweatshirts that will be used for fundraising. In addition to learning real world skills, this unit will provide exposure to the arts as a career choice.

National Standards

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:


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.


Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Craft and Structure:


Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.


Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:


Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.1


Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.


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:


Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes1:


Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.


Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.


Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing:


Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.


Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:


Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.


Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.


Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:


Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:


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.


Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.


Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:


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.


Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.


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:


Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.


Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Knowledge of Language:


Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:


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.


Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.


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.

National Visual Arts Standards


Anchor Standard #1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work. Anchor Standard #2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work. Anchor Standard #3. Refine and complete artistic work.


Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning. Anchor Standard #7. Perceive and analyze artistic work. Anchor Standard #8. Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work. Anchor Standard #9. Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.


Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context. Anchor Standard #10. Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art. Anchor Standard #11. Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.



Students will be able to:

  • engage in constructive critiques
  • improve their observational skills
  • learn elements of effective design
  • understand the process involved in designing T-shirts
  • understand the process of producing T-shirts on a local and global level
  • understand the economic, historical, cultural and social significance of T-shirts and T-shirt design
  • learn how to consider all stakeholders in the design process
  • work in teams to create designs to be presented to the class
  • learn the art of negotiating and coming to a consensus via working in small and large groups
  • use technology to aid in making an effective presentation both live and in PowerPoint



  • pencils
  • colored pencils
  • markers
  • sketch paper
  • copies of various sized sans serif and serif typefaces in at least two different styles and sizes per group
  • Male/Female T-shirt worksheet
  • 3 W’s Worksheet


  • balance: proportion; harmonious arrangement or relation of parts or elements within a whole (as in a design)
  • emphasis: special and significant stress by means of position or repetition
  • prototype: a standard or typical example; an original type, form, or model of something
  • repetition: the act of doing or performing again
  • reversal: a change from one state to the opposite state
  • rubbing transfer: an image on a gel that can be transferred to fabric via the pressure of rubbing
  • sans serif type: a font that has straight stems and cross-bars with no tiny extensions or decorations at the end of any letter part
  • serif type: a font that has short, decorative cross lines or tails at the ends of main strokes
  • silkscreen: a print made using a stencil process in which an image or design is superimposed on a very fine mesh screen and printing ink is squeegeed onto the printing surface through the area of the screen that is not covered by the stencil
  • unity: integrity; oneness; the quality of being united into one
  • variety: assortment; diverseness


Day 1:

1. Teacher tells students that there is a need for their ideas and designs to produce their senior class T-shirts.  Teacher explains that they will need to settle on a design that will gain the blessings of administration, parents, and seniors.  In a quick ten minute workshop have the students form into small groups of three to four and identify all possible concerns all stakeholders will have in this project.  Groups then report to the class as a whole and the teacher charts the answers.  Teacher explains that final designs must satisfy the charted requirements.  Give students five minutes to figure out the best way to solicit needs from all stakeholders.  Class will then elect two students for extra credit to  organize this activity and begin working on this immediately (after school, during free periods, during lunch).

2. Teacher then shows a short PowerPoint on examples of decorated/painted/silkscreened T-shirts and the students jot down notes on four T-shirts.  Afterward the students fill out the 3 W’s worksheet (provided).  They must answer “What?” (captured my attention); “Why?” (they would buy it); and “Who?” (was the shirt designed for).

3. Then students share their worksheet notes and the teacher charts their findings, seeing if any one T-shirt is more popular than others.  Hopefully, students will break designs into more basic elements – color, shapes, style of typography – and that will form the basis of how to discuss successful designs, rather than simply “we like them” or “we don’t like them.”  (Note: Make sure to write the class findings up on a chart and keep this chart highly visible during the entire process.  Include legibility, visibility, memorability as factors to consider if not mentioned.)

4. Break students into groups (avoid friends working with friends).  Explain to the students that when people work together they gain from other people’s ideas, and that the goal is to learn how to take someone’s ideas and merge them with your own to come up with better ideas.  Then have every group come up with a minimum of four criteria that the students can use to monitor and assess themselves and each other to make sure that everyone is pulling their own weight in the group.  Each group reports to class and the teacher should chart the findings.  This will be the group grading rubric.  Teacher goes over her/his criteria and adds to the student-generated rubric.  This rubric should be posted and copied so it is available to all during the entire process.

5. Have each student individually sketch out one thing he or she would like in a T shirt or that they remembered from the presentation that they may want to include in their designs.  These sketches should be  placed in their folders until next class.  (Note: Tables should have some typeface examples for copying.)

Day 2:

1. Students get back in their groups and take out designs.  Each student will be asked to choose a folded paper which will say “wild/crazy” or “serious/powerful” on it.  Tell the students that these are “character types.”  (Note: Prepare these papers in advance.)  Tell the students not to let anyone see the paper they’ve chosen,  and tell them they now will be given someone else’s design to which they must add one thing to make it suited for their chosen character type.  Students will switch four times, each time adding something new onto pre-existing designs and then everyone should end up with their original designs.

2. Demonstrate a rubbing transfer technique, while explaining that this is the process they will use to continue their designs and incorporate other people’s designs with theirs.

3. Groups show all work to each other and then pick one they think works best in accommodating their chosen character type. They have five minutes to refine the design and re-draw it larger.  (Note: Possible opportunity for quick lesson in grid work enlarging.)

4. All groups show designs with two people from each group presenting the designs to class.

Day 3:

1.  Today the students will do historical research in computer lab.  Ask the students: “Look at what everyone is wearing on their tops.  How many T-shirts are there?  Can anyone tell me where and when T-shirts came about?  How are T-shirts made?”

2. Students will begin a forty-five minute Webquest to learn about their most basic wardrobe item.  This will turn into a presentation that can take the form of a play, a rap, a poem, a poster, a PowerPoint presentation, a paper, etc., on the evolution and design/production of T-shirts.  They must first do the Webquest and then get back into their groups (or work individually if writing a paper).  Review rubric and then introduce teacher rubric for final presentations.  All will present the findings to 11th graders during Social Studies at a later date.

Day 4:

1. Students will be shown short video clips on the global and environmental impact of T-shirt consumption, demand, and production.  Class will discuss the impact consumption plays and some possible solutions to the problems of pollution and poverty.  Students who address these issues in their final presentation will get extra credit.

Day 5:

1. Students gather in their groups to begin designs.  Discuss the role of prototypes in design and announce that they are making T-shirt prototypes today.  The students who were asked from day one to get info from all stakeholders present their findings and the teacher charts them . These become the students’ goals in designing T-shirts and the teacher should stress that the winning design must satisfy the needs of all.  Teacher should go over elements and principles of design, good procedures for working in groups, and the grading rubrics.

2. Next each group of students will be asked to elect a recorder, two presenters, an artist, and an organizer.  Keep track of these students. The groups will then spend the rest of the period designing T-shirts with the stipulation that every person in each group must contribute in some fashion.  All tables will have materials for inspiration.  Students who are proficient in digital design can utilize computers and use Photoshop and Illustrator.  Laptops will be brought in so those who want to use Deviantart or other posted Web sites to design their T-shirts can do so as well.

Day 6:

1. Start today’s period by going over what editing looks like in art.  Model a design evolution or show a presentation of the Apple logo.  Tell groups to spend ten minutes editing their designs.  Then have groups present their designs to the class, explaining how their design satisfies all the criteria.  At end of presentations discuss the outcomes.

Day 7:

1. Groups continue working on design with the artist finishing off the design.  Then the teacher collects all designs.  Ultimately, these designs will be voted on by student government, administration, teachers, and parents.  All groups begin to plan the 11th grade presentation which utilizes information from our Webquest and any research from reference books.

Day 8:

1. This is the time for the students to complete presentations, papers, etc. Practice performing in class presentation.

Days 9 & 10:

1. Groups present to the 11th graders.

Day 11:

1. By this point the votes should be in and the winning design is presented to classes.



To make sure each student is carrying his or her weight in the groups, students will determine the criteria for a group work rubric and then they will grade themselves and others in their group according to this rubric.  In addition, students will be given a chance for a verbal, written, and/or a design presentation that encapsulates the design process and what they’ve learned about T-shirts.  This will be graded by the teacher who has developed a rubric for this final presentation with an emphasis on creative presentation of information, efficacy of communication ideas, and scope of knowledge.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Students can interview the student population regarding awareness of the socio-political implications of using cheap cotton.  They can create a club that will advocate for the use of organic cotton and partner with local designers.  Students could also expand this idea and campaign for legal change regarding the use of such materials.

Teacher Reflection