Sketchnoting with Students

Sketchnoting with Students

At a workshop in July, another teacher shared that she does “Graffiti Notes” with her students. I have been calling them “Picture Notes” for decades. Now, all over the education world, “Sketchnoting” is the word. Most of the folks I know who sketch, do so on an iPad … mostly using Procreate … and make beautiful pieces of digital art. But as much as I have digitized my life, I have not been able to give up my Sakura PIGMA pens, Crayola colored pencils, and paper notebooks.

The upside to remaining an “analog” sketcher is that I can easily transfer what I do to the classroom. I can bring my notebooks in for my students to pour through, and my personal tools are the same tools that we are able to use in our classroom. We are far from being 1:1 in our district, and I have ONE WHOLE iPAD in my classroom, so digital sketching is not something we can do at school.

I teach “Picture Notes” very early in the school year, working with the students over time to let loose of their “I CAN’T DRAW” apprehensions. We talk about how their drawings are THEIR drawings, and no one else even needs to see them. I tell a story of how awful I think I am at drawing human hands. But, it doesn’t matter because I know they’re hands and that’s all that matters. I am lucky that 5th graders are a bit less resistant to give it a try than middle or high schoolers. For the most part, when I tell them that they are NOT allowed to be self-conscious about their art, they go for it.

One way we get started is by using Doug Neill’s “Verbal to Visual” YouTube Channel. He has almost 200 wonderful videos posted, and I created a playlist of the 25 (as of this writing) that I felt were the most worthwhile for teaching sketchnoting to students. The first one that we watch is “You Can’t Draw? I Don’t Believe You” which focuses on the few simple shapes that we use for most of what we draw.

Since I last added videos to the playlist, he has introduced the idea of  “Sketchnoting School” and created downloadable materials to go with it. You can find out more on his website: I subscribed to his newsletter which allowed me to grab 32 pages of instructional goodness. Thanks, Doug!

Two of his most recent videos show how to use Rory’s Story Cubes as a fun but guided way to practice drawing simple icons, as well as “smashing” two cubes’ icons together – a little design thinking!

A couple of weeks ago, at the Las Vegas EdTechTeam Summit, I had the honor of sketchnoting Ken Shelton‘s, Kim Pollishuke‘s, and George Barcenas‘ keynotes. Ro and I had been planning to “time lapse” one of my sketch sessions, and with this blog post sitting on the back burner for a while, we finally got around to doing it! I hope you enjoy.

Here are images of the final product: Kim Pollishuke’s Keynote: “Elevator to the Moon”.






So… for all of you who “can’t draw”: BALONEY!. Get over it and start doodling! There is plenty of research (this is a good article) concerning the value of attaching visuals to learning: the vast majority of us think in pictures, not in words. Your students will thank you for it, and it’s way more FUN and far less stressful than traditional note-taking.

As of this writing (2/11/18), there’s a #sketchCUE movement on Twitter. Each day is a new challenge & it’s a great way to develop your “library” of visual icons. If you need help or more resources, give me a shout. I’m also sure that any of my sketching buddies, Sylvia Duckworth, Wanda Terral, Jen Giffin, Amanda Taylor, Cynthia Nixon and/or Cate Tolnai would love to help you out!

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