Creative block? Start a project by taking a single image on a journey.

Not to put any new teachers off the job, but anyone with a few years of experience will more than likely have seen students smacking the mouse down on the table, chucking a pen at the screen, a paint brush across the table or worse. Sometimes its really hard to get started on a project. Students can feel there are too many possibilities or feel they don’t have any interesting ideas. Which is where this lesson comes in so handy.

Ideas generation lesson plan

Consider the project your students are doing and identify a useful image that relates to it (something from the media or popular culture works well). Use this image as the starting point for all students.

Timing: approx 2 hours

Materials: 5 x copies of an image per student / range of mark making materials / scissors, glue / photocopier (if possible)


  • Analyse the formal elements and composition of an image (related to the project)
  • Manipulate an image to enhance its characteristics
  • Evaluate the ideas own work provides for the project


  • Give each of the students at least five copies of the same image
  • 10 minute class discussion breaking the image down: What can the students see? What are the formal elements? What does the image communicate? What could be added to it and how would that change it? What might the sounds/smells/textures/colours add to the image? How does the image relate to the project? Students make notes in sketchbook.
  • 1hr15min practical exercise with teacher working with students on a 1 to 1 basis: manipulate at least 5 images in different ways to enhance it in relation to the project.
  • 25 minute class discussion: place all final work on tables and discuss the outcomes – what has worked well and what ideas does it give for the project?
  • 10 minute tidy up and outcomes in sketchbook.


The practical ideas generation lesson in detail

The lesson I saw that resolved this situation was so simple, yet made so much sense. It worked because it practically demonstrated to students the creative scope and possibilities of a single image as a starting point. This can work for any project in art, design and media, on any topic and for any client/audience needs.

Unlocking the Potential in an ImageEach student was given the same image of a newspaper spread at the start of the lesson. They were provided with a wide breadth of media/materials and equipment for manipulation. All of the students were expected to create at least five different variants from the same double page spread. Many wondered if all of the work would look the same and there were some complaints of not being given enough freedom to create their own products within the lesson time.


Unlocking the Potential in an ImageHowever, with some encouragement, the lecturer persuaded them to analyse the image as a group. On the board, they broke it down into formal elements and made notes all over to see which elements communicated strongly or what were interesting focal points and compositions. This gave students insight into how a newspaper was designed and how images related to words for visual communication.


Within the practical component of the lesson, they all started off quite slowly and being quite delicate with the original image, despite there being more than a hundred photocopies of the same newspaper! At first they felt the task was restrictive and that there were only so many things they could do. The lecturer went round the room and had a few easy tricks for the students that were stuck, but mostly gave really positive feedback to everyone.

The students were used to making really large changes to images on the computer and this was a really different experience for them. After a while, they started to find joy in the smallest of changes to an image, they realised that it was about making the most of the image and bringing creativity out of it, rather than imposing their will on the image.

Unlocking the Potential in an Image

At the end of the session, the lecturer pulled all of the images together on to a single table for a critique. The beauty of the discussion was the students surprise at the breadth and scope of creative potential that had come from a single image. There were some really positive comments and reflection on the learning, including how even the simplest of changes could make a huge difference. They noticed that they had actually become more courageous throughout the lesson and less and less frustrated with the task. They compared what they had done with other tasks and considered how they could transfer this process to other situations in a mature way. Most importantly, they realised they had to take risks in order to learn and the work had inspired a lot of new ideas for the project.

Unlocking the Potential in an Image

Daniel Freaker Daniel Freaker Educational Consultant, Painter, Writer, Designer