Middle School YA Zine Project Makes Kids the Bosses

A zine program in a middle or high school library gets more teen voices heard, and is an interesting way to utilize (or start) a maker space.

Student-made zines, with topics ranging from feminism to anti-bullying.

Zines have been circulating since the 18th century, but lately there seems to be an increased buzz about these small, self-published booklets. After attending several local zine fests, I saw a need for more YA-themed zines. Speaking with zine creators and distributors, I found them genuinely excited about more young adults being involved in the process of creating them. To bring this excitement and creative opportunity to the students, my fellow library media specialist, Brittany Witte, and I started a zine program at Farragut Middle School in Knoxville, TN. Making zines gives student a platform for expression, a chance to be the boss of their own ideas, and the opportunity to create something valuable, something that can become part of our school library’s collection or something even bigger, like a spot in the local public library or a zine fest.

A Burgeoning movement

So what is a zine? Put simply, it’s a small, handmade magazine with specific, curated content. Zines come in a range of designs. Some are as informal as a single piece of folded paper. Although gaining momentum, the zine movement hasn’t reached everyone. Many students and teachers I encounter are not familiar with format, and our program is their first experience with the them. Showing samples of real zines, making a Prezi, or just diving in and making a zine have been the most effective ways to educate.

Finding a Focus


Zines made by a seventh Grade ELA class. They are all different issues of the same zine. Our goal is to make four more issues with next year’s class.

To start off, we modified a lesson plan from the Barnard Zine Library, and we taught students a little zine history and go over basic copyright issues. Students can either choose a topic, or we collaborate with a classroom teacher to find one to support curriculum. Some teachers ask us to choose a creative topic to give their students a break from regular classwork. Zine subjects are limited only by imagination and the willingness to complete the project. We’ve had classes make biography, book review, and anti-bullying zines. One student felt we did not have enough about contemporary feminism in the library, so she made a zine on explaining feminism to young adults. Inspired by the zine Japanese People ABC by Mayuka Haginaga, which teaches English speakers how to communicate with Japanese speakers, I worked with an ELL teacher to bring zines to her classroom. I asked her students to use both English and their native languages when creating pages. Their work was evaluated by the ELL teacher on correct use of English grammar.

Constructing a zine, step by step

  • Classes comes to the library, and each student is given a page (half of a sheet of copy paper, letter size), markers, pens, scissors, magazines, and glue. Students work on their individual pages based on the predetermined theme.
  • Once the page is complete, students can help glue or tape the pages to copy paper to make master copies. Each master copy has four pages, two on each side.
  • If desired, add the teacher's name or class to the zine. (We like to add my school email just in case anyone has questions about our program.
  • Covers are added. Students may volunteer to make a cover, but we’ve had to make a few as well. Making the covers can be fun, because the students are anxious to see how the class zine will look.
  • The master copies are sent through the copier. Usually one or two color copies are made for our library, but black and white copies are made for distribution. This process can be lengthy, depending on the number of pages and the efficiency of your copier.
  • A long arm stapler makes the assembly process much faster. Many copy machines can be set to make booklets, but we prefer doing it by hand. Students can help or simply watch the zines come together.
  • Once zines are stapled, we fold them and stick them between books to help flatten them.
For ready ideas on designing and constructing zines, I keep a copy of Whatcha mean, What’s a zine? by Mark Todd in our maker space area.

Distribution spreads the zine zeal

Once a zine print run is completed, we put them in inter-district mail to deliver them to other local schools. The hope is that they'll join in the zine making, so we can get a zine exchange going. So far, we have had four schools request copies of our zines. We have been holding zine workshop classes as professional development, and we’re presenting at the Tennessee Association of School Librarians to generate buzz. Sending the zines out into the real world really seems to boost student interest by giving the zines added value. Students are genuinely excited to think other people may want to read what they have created. A zine program in a school library provides a chance to see more YA-themed zines written by teens, and could be an interesting way to utilize or start a maker space program. display

Zine display in our maker space area, where we keep supplies, such as blank pages,
pens, scissors, magazines, and zine examples.


Mica S. Johnson is the librarian at Farragut Middle School in Knoxville, TN   Save
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Mica, are you on Twitter? I'm in an elementary school, but I think your approach would be a good one for me to learn from! @cburke

Posted : Nov 05, 2016 01:22


What a fabulous idea!!! Students need many outlets for expression.

Posted : Aug 15, 2016 05:39


Rita, I just saw your comment, but I wanted to reply. I wouldn't say that every student loves making zines, but for some of them it really clicks, and it's awesome to see some students find a creative outlet that really works for them.

Posted : Sep 28, 2016 07:27