3 Beginning Photoshop Lessons Anyone Can Teach

Opening Photoshop for the first time can be scary. It’s hard to tell if the program is open or not. And why are there 5,000 different buttons that all seem to do the same thing? Photoshop can feel like a very foreign place to any newcomer. So how do you deal with 30 students using it for the very first time? It is overwhelming and exhausting, but if you do it right, it will be incredibly exciting for your kids!

If you’re new to using Photoshop or teach a digital art class and don’t know where to start, check out these three projects anyone can teach!

Project #1: Hamburger and Food Layers

Art teachers who teach digital classes often wonder what they should do on the first days of class. My advice is to dive right into your content. If you know your class is going to be using Photoshop frequently, get started right away! This first project is a two-in-one exploration of Photoshop, perfect for starting off a new class.


Most digital art teachers flip their instruction to some extent, which optimizes learning in this type of setting. Check out this video to see the flipped instruction. The learning objective of this project is to enable students to understand the concept of layers. They learn to understand this visually by creating a hamburger from the bottom up. Each layer of the hamburger introduces a new tool. Here are the Photoshop tools this project can introduce:

  • Brush Tool
  • Mixer Brush Tool
  • Paint Bucket Tool
  • Shape Tool


To take this a step further and to scaffold newly learned skills, have your students create independently. You can do this by extending the lesson and having students create their own food consisting of six to eight layers. To add an element of fun, introduce your students to the gradient tool to create an interesting background! Students can practice skills, have fun, and gain confidence.

Are you looking for even more in-depth information? Head over to the Discovering Photoshop Basics PRO Learning Pack! Abby will help you gain the confidence to introduce basic tools, processes, and simple artmaking methods to overcome your hesitation. Discover beginning project ideas to encourage your students to work independently in the program!

Project #2: 3D Forms

This project puts a digital spin on a traditional concept. Unfortunately, I do not have enough digital drawing tablets for each student. That means students must learn how to manipulate and learn how to draw with a mouse. The intention of this project is to familiarize students with computer-based digital drawing techniques.
In addition to the tools used in the food layers project, these Photoshop concepts are introduced in this project:

  • Merging Layers
  • Duplicating Layers
  • Opacity
  • Marquee Tool


Using the shape and line tool, students will create 2D shapes. By determining a clear light source and reviewing the use of the mixer brush tool, students will turn their objects into 3D forms. This will give students a sense of creating a digital painting. Encourage your students to think outside the box by turning their forms into identifiable objects! You’ll find that students will start exploring on their own to add some finishing details.

Project #3: Pop Art Portraits

This Warhol-inspired lesson is a simple, yet engaging project your students will love! It allows them to explore new tools while incorporating pop culture into their projects. Here are the Photoshop concepts that will be introduced in this project:

  • Quick Selection Tool
  • Magic Wand Tool
  • Inverse Editing
  • Filters


To begin this project, students will simply need to find an image of a person. This lesson will allow students to explore more of the photo manipulation side of Photoshop while introducing a few more basic tools. Since a project like this has several steps, you may want to consider flipping instruction in a video similar to this.

There is no need to be afraid of Photoshop. Start your students with these three beginning projects and you’ll be amazed at what they start to create!

What are your favorite beginning Photoshop projects?
What is the hardest part about using Photoshop with your students?

Abby is a middle school art teacher in Omaha, NE. She focuses on creating meaningful experiences for her students through technology integration, innovation, and creativity.


  • Mrs. P

    Just completed the pop art selfies with my 8th graders! They were fun and came out great. My co-teacher and I want to have all 8th graders in our school complete them so we can have a whole-grade display of them at 8th grade graduation in the spring. 1 trimester down, 2 more to go!! Word of advice–the related online video takes about 8 minutes and that translates to about 8 classroom days for some students to complete this project (OK, maybe 6). I also created a companion handout that shows the written steps and a little image of the tool needed (with reference points in the video) for students to use if they didn’t want to work along with the class. I have everyone work as a class to a certain point and then release them to complete the piece on their own. I’m still working on the proper way to teach students to work on the computer. That’s an article I need! Thank you for the great lesson!

    • Abby Schukei

      Generally speaking, I think the beginning projects seem to take a long time. Mostly because the software is so unfamiliar. So you do certainly have to be prepared for a beginning Photoshop project to take MUCH longer than anticipated. But as the semester goes on you’ll be amazed at how quickly students get through the work because they are more familiar with it!

      I find the best way for students to work on computers is by simply flipping the lessons. This allows those students who understand the concepts easily to move onto more advanced projects. In my LMS I will usually release 2 projects at once so when students have completed an assignment they can move right along to the next. To prevent students from getting too far ahead I will throw in “Challenge Projects,” which are intended to be a fun project. One of my favorite things to do is to give them a picture of me to Photoshop, they can sure come up with some funny ideas!

  • BossySnowAngel

    We don’t have a full class set of Adobe Suite equipped computers or tablets for my classes. So I resort to a type of mild dive into Photoshop, emphasizing graphic design. In one assignment, I have students redesign a CD cover (yeah I know-ancient) after discussing iconic album images from the past like Abbey Road and others. They do the illustration, scan the image, drop in and/or manipulate type and then resize it for printing to fit in the jewel case. My school also has a very nice digital poster printer in our library. So we take the opposite direction with posters. I have students select a book they like-fiction or non-fiction-that has not been made into a film or documentary. They do the illustration-usually smaller than the poster and again, use Photoshop to drop in the stars, directors, titles, etc. Then the students save it as a JPG and we sent it to be printed. The results have been impressive. And the librarian loves us for promoting her new acquisitions.

    • Abby Schukei

      Sounds like a fun project, thanks for sharing!

  • Denise Tanaka

    Thanks so much for sharing these, Abby! Looking for something my 8th graders w/not much experience can do-as well as myself!!

    • Abby Schukei

      You are welcome! These will be great projects to get started with!

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  • Vicki Van Matre

    Love these assignments, I am new to photoshop so I love the easy to follow tutorials I can use. Do you happen to have other examples of the 3D form assignment?

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