One thing I always stress to my students is the importance of trial and error... of experimenting... of learning what works and what does not. Ultimately, they have to find their own methods and their own process. When we first start learning software, I provide them with brief, in-class exercises that are designed to get them to do just that.
Enter, the monogram exercise...
This exercise was given to the 1142 students when they were fresh to Illustrator. I asked them to "design" the first or first and last letter of their names. They were not given any detailed, step by step instructions... this was purely exploration time. The end results varied, but the ultimate intention was that they begin to get familiar with the software and various tools by their own means.
Feel free to comment, critique, or make suggestions for future exercises :)