The What and Why
Back in 2006, a man named Michael Rohde had the idea to harness the power of doodling and use it to create more memorable notes. Rohde found this rewarding for several reasons. First, it helped him concentrate on the topic at hand; second, the notes were visually appealing; and third, he found that notes with illustrations stayed in his memory much better (Rohde, 2013). From this initial experimentation came the practice he named “sketchnoting.” This practice has been in the business world for a long time. Businesses hire graphic recorders/visual facilitators to sketchnote meetings and conferences for the participants. Just for fun, do a Google search for “graphic recording” or “visual facilitator” and see how big the practice is. There are international associations dedicated to the profession and conferences held all around the world so they can continue learning and expanding their network. It’s time for educators to follow the business world’s lead and latch-on to this practice.
If you decide to take the plunge, there is plenty of research to support your decision. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE, 2012) talks about the importance of visuals and learning in Media Literacy in the K‐12 Classroom (www.iste.org). Chapter 3, “Visual Literacy,” is dedicated to helping students understand how to read and understand visual information. In sketchnoting, students are the interpreters and creators of visual information through text and drawn images. Janet Zadina, a neuroscientist and an educator, writes “the learner must make a connection from his or her existing neural network (background knowledge) to the new material” (p.18). Sketchnoting is a way to make that connection. It is one way in which educators are able to guide students to use metacognition in the learning process. Finally, Allan Paivio’s (1971) Dual Coding Theory states that both verbal and visual processing is essential to learning. When we activate both channels at once, so that they’re working together, we’re better able to understand and remember ideas.
Sketchnoting, or visual note taking, is a creative and individual process. There isn’t a right way to create a sketchnote. Different ability levels are expected, and what makes sense to one person might not make sense to another. Text can be added as little or as much as is comfortable for the students, giving those with limited vocabulary the opportunity to participate in the activity as well. Different backgrounds provide a variety of sketchnotes and is celebrated in the classroom. Visuals are universal, which making sketchnoting perfect for linguistically and culturally diverse classrooms.
As mentioned above, there isn’t a right way to sketchnote. Basically, you just need to be brave enough to start. Unfortunately, the first thing many people say when asked to draw something is, “I can’t draw.” This is why Sunni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution, doesn’t ask people to draw. Instead, she asks people to doodle, which is much less intimidating. As with anything, practice makes progress. Be prepared to share your work with students so they can see how you change and grow while you all learn together. The most important thing is for students to use images to make connections to what they are learning. You can have students sketchnote during lectures, videos, movies, podcasts, and while reading books. You can have them sketchnote their Reading Autobiography, a science experiment, how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the timeline of the American Revolution, or how multiplication works. Sketchnoting is perfect for the classroom because it can be used with all levels and all subjects.
Here are some things to get you started:
- You can use paper and markers/crayons or a tablet with a stylus.
- Practice doodling. Start with basic shapes. How many things can you make out of a square, or a circle, or a triangle?
- Don’t worry about perfection. This isn’t art. Sketchnoting is simply using visuals to enhance learning.
- Build a visual vocabulary. Keep a notebook with pages of simple icons you’ll use regularly.
- Develop your own style. Do you like to use a lot of color? Do you like to draw more realistic or cartoonish? Remember, your sketchnotes will look different than everyone else’s.
- Start by taking traditional notes before you create your sketchnote. This will take the pressure off when trying to come up with an image that best represents the information. It will also allow you to plan the layout. Once you build your confidence you’ll be ready to sketchnote live.
- Remember, we aren’t teaching how to draw. We’re teaching students to use images to enhance their learning. The quality of the doodle has nothing to do with it. It just has to make sense to the doodler.
- Start with something you know a lot about, like a recipe for their favorite food, Sketchnote Selfie, or a list of goals.
Brown, S. (2014). The doodle revolution: Unlock the power to think differently. New York, NY: Penguin.
Paivio, A. (1971). Imagery and verbal processes. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Perry, K. & Weimar, H. (2017). Sketchnoting in school: Discover the benefits (and fun) of visual note taking. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Rohde, M. (2013). The sketchnote handbook: The illustrated guide to visual note taking. New York, NY: Peachpit Press.
Zadina, J. (2014). Multiple pathways to the student brain: Energizing and enhancing instruction. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Sunni Brown’s Ted Talk “Doodlers, unite!: https://www.ted.com/talks/sunni_brown
Verbal to Visual Youtube Channel (Doug Neill): https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuFm4ARxn306lX_OWMnz0-w
Sketchnote Army: https://sketchnotearmy.com/
Author: Karin Perry
Associate Professor of Library Science at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX. The author of SCI FI ON THE FLY: A READER’S GUIDE TO SCIENCE FICTION FOR YOUNG ADULTS and SKETCHNOTING IN SCHOOL. She spends her time reading children’s, young adult, graphic novels, and adult romance. She commutes between Oklahoma and Texas every week and listens to a lot of audio books. In addition to reading, Karin doodles and sketchnotes using mostly the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. She’s been married for 23 years and lives on 29 acres with her husband, Longhorn cattle, three stray tomcats, and one spunky Chihuahua named Pennie.