Lesson 17

Ecology Poster Design and Contest 



Students will look at conservation posters from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to learn the elements of effective poster design. Then, they will choose an important environmental message to deliver in a poster of their own. Finished posters can be judged in a contest that emphasizes communication of message.


Content Standards Addressed:

Common Core State Standards


How to Design a Poster:

Reproducible: WPA Posters 

Posters deliver a message quickly by combining an image and words. Clever, short text and easy-to-see graphics help posters communicated quickly to viewers who may be walking or driving.

To learn how posters work, analyze posters by some of the best poster artists ever - the designers who worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s and 1940s. Make copies of the reproducible, if desired. As a class or in small groups, discuss what makes these posters successful:

  • What posters are most eye-catching? Why?
  • Which word messages work especially well? Why?
  • Which picture messages work especially well? Why?
  • How did the artist simplify the picture message?
  • Which poster do you think is best at delivering its message? Why? How do the words and picture work together to deliver the message?

Encourage students to plan their posters:

1. What is your message? Think about all you've learned about the environment. What are some of the most important ideas you think all people should know? What actions would you like everyone to take to make a better environment? Make a list of important ideas and actions. Then choose two or three that you believe are most important.

2. What words will you use? A poster has to deliver its message very quickly, in one or two short sentences. To help people remember your message, make it short. This kind of short message is called a slogan. Think of some of the most memorable slogans you have heard (advertisements are great for slogans!: "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires," "United We Stand, Divided We Fall," "Got Milk?" "Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk," "Keep America Beautiful," "Stay Alive: Don't Drink and Drive," "Buckle Up," and "Just Say No." What makes these slogans memorable? (They are short, rhyming, start each word with the same letter, have emotional impact.)

3. What image will you use? Words and pictures work together to deliver a poster's message. The image should deliver the same message as the words in pictures. Think of the slogans above - what pictures go with "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires," "United We Stand," or "Got Milk?" (Smokey the Bear, the U.S. flag, the milk moustache.) Keep the image simple. For example, if the subject is trees, zoom in on just one tree, rather than showing a whole forest. Or zoom even closer into one branch, leaf or pinecone. The picture will grab the viewer's attention to read your message, so use bold colors and fill the whole page. Make your words part of the design too and large enough to read from a distance.​

Fold a piece of paper into fourths and try a different version of your poster design in each of the four sections. Try more than one message. Try different words with the same picture or different pictures with the same words. Don't stop at four if you want to try more ideas.

Choose one of your designs to work with on poster board. Which design delivers a good message using both words and pictures? Pick the design that does the best job delivering the best message. Then draw or paint your design. Remember to step back and look at your poster from a distance.

You may also wish to design your poster on the computer using graphics software. The process for getting a good idea is the same whether you are drawing by hand or machine.

Once your posters are done, make sure you display them in a place where your message needs to be heard!


Conducting the Poster Contest:

The most important reason for designing an ecology poster is to deliver a powerful message. A poster contest can motivate students to deliver a more effective message. To avoid the contest becoming a popularity or talent contest, focus on the message and how well it has been delivered. The judging guidelines (or evaluation rubric) below are based on the instructions for good poster design. Publish the guidelines while students are working, so they can use them to self-evaluate.

If possible, choose an impartial team of teachers or professionals to judge the contest. Ideally, art, language arts, and​ science specialists should be involved to make sure both message and method of delivery are covered. A local advertising agency and nature center would make another great team of judges.

Give the judges the same poster guidelines the students worked with and ask them to make their judgments based on these criteria. You might even make up a scoring sheet based on these criteria to help the team focus on the same goals the students were asked to focus on.


Ecology Poster Guidelines:


Right on Target!​ Needs a Little Work Missing the Mark



  • The message is important for the environment and urges viewers to take action.
  • The message is creatively and memorably communicated.​
  • The message is communicated to the viewer.
  • The message is not that important for the environment.​
  • The message is not well-communicated to the viewer.​



  • Catchy, memorable slogan.
  • Works with the image to clearly communicate the message.​
  • Slogan communicates the message adequately.
  • Some relationship with the image.
  • Wordy.​
  • Slogan does not clearly communicate the message.
  • Grammatical and spelling errors.
  • Little relationship with the image.



  • Design catches the viewer's eye.
  • Works with the words to clearly communicate the message.
  • Artwork of high quality.
  • Design communicates the message.
  • Some relationship with words.
  • Artwork neat and well-done.​
  • Design does not communicate the message.
  • No relationship to the words.
  • Artwork sloppy, of poor quality.​