Teaching WordPress Themes from Scratch

Here’s the challenge for the class:

  • Create a repo on Github.
  • Create a WordPress theme from scratch.

During the six hour lesson files, such as:

  • functions.php
  • header.php
  • footer.php
  • style.css
  • index.php

was presented one by one. The students had to create their own version of a WordPress theme on Github.

As far as I could see there were five – six groupings in the class.Some students were able to create a WordPress theme, like:

Some groups, however, found that the task was too difficult. I asked them, what was difficult, and got very honest feedback, like:

  • “We don’t understand the purpose of PHP.”
  • “Why can’t I see my localhost site online?”

On Github I could see, that some students didn’t understand the concept of includes. So there was some truth in the utterance: “We don’t know what PHP is“. In fact the problem was deeper than that.

Some 2nd semester students did not understand the basic structure of a HTML document. It was clear that at least some of them did not know which tags belonged to the head section, or the body section.

When I reviewed the code from some groups, it was clear, that thy didn’t understand the concept of includes, like get_header() og get_footer(). The idea of partials was not understood, so the basic contruction of the WordPress theme was not understood at all.

One or two students tried to develop the theme on say the desktop folder. Of course this approach wasn’t a success. I tried to help them moving the files to /wp-content/themes/

I asked the students to share code and work together on Github. They used Gitkraken as a GUI. Some groups could do it. Other groups did not get the concept at all. However most groups were able to share and edit code in a previous lesson.

Before you attempt to develop WordPress themes in the classroom make sure that the students have a basic understanding of concepts such as the structure of a HTML document.

Also I have an eery feeling, that at least some students need a better understanding of:

  • Operative systems.
  • The difference between own files and files online.
  • Where the files are (the concept of directories)
  • That the ../htdocs folder has other functions than say the Desktop on a localhost
  • What Xampp, Mamp or similar does.

Now here is the real didactic challenge. If the problem is a poor understanding of operative systems, localhost servers and PHP that’s where we have to put the efforts in the classroom.

So it was agreed, that the class should be divided in two large groups:

  • Basic code understanding
  • WP theme developers

Working on a minimal viable theme

Minimum viable WordPress theme (petj-mvp)
Minimum viable WordPress theme (petj-mvp)

The concept “minimal viable production” is a common concept in agile projects. I’m working on a minimal viable WordPress theme. The rules are:

  • The theme must validate according to WordPress Standards.
  • The design is not important.

So it’s all about function then. You can follow the development of the theme here (petj-mvp).

The design is inspired by the first WordPress theme: Kubrick.

Theme Development Process

The theme development process
The theme development process (Do you want a bigger picture? Click on the image.)
Process notes:
How to make and debug a WordPress theme
Toolbox

Automation (Nodejs)

Nodejs is a must in rapid development. Here are some essential tools.

SASS

Much template work is tweaking the CSS. A stylesheet preprocessor is a nice-to-have. Here’s how to use SASS:

sass --watch input.scss:style.css
Bower

Bower is a nice package manager.  Install libraries, e.g.:

bower install jquery bootstrap jquery-ui --save

The libraries are saved in the bower_components directory. The –save option will save dependencies in bower.json. If you download a repo without dependencies, they’re installed in this way:

bower install

Yep, that’s it.

Bower is installed via npm (part of Nodejs):

npm install -g bower

Version Control

Github

Here’s a link to (my work-in-progress) theme:

Github is made for group work. Code may be forked into branches, and versions merged to a mutual production.

Projects will give the group a nice kanban for work organization. Users may rise Issues.

Ready for Upload

When all is ready you can upload the theme for review on WordPress. Delete whatever files and directories that you don’t need.

Hidden files and directories must be removed.

If you use minfied scripts and css a non-minified version should be available. The files in the WordPress theme pool should be in clear text.

Then you can try to upload the theme for review.

Didactic Template

Maat - a Bootstrap theme with wp-navwalker
Maat – a Bootstrap theme with wp-navwalker. It’s still a very rough prototype. By now the code validates according to WordPress standards.

I’m working on a didactic template with these features:

  • Bootstrap (for responsive web design)
  • Wp-navwalker (for the menu)

During the development I’ve used SASS and Bower for rapid prototyping. The theme was validated by the theme check plugin.