Sketchnoting: what, why and how?

I have been interested in sketchnoting since Carrie Baughcum‘s session at the Hive Summit. I have been sketchnoting myself, promoting it in class and learning more about it. This blog post aims to summarise my learning so far. It will introduce sketchnoting, outline its benefits and give you some ideas for getting started with your students.

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What is sketchnoting?

Sketchnoting is a fun way to engage with content and express ideas. I have read several definitions that are all good. Let’s start with this one:

“A form of visual writing by expressing ideas, concepts and important thoughts in a meaningful flow by listening, processing and transferring what you hear by sketching either by analog or digital.”

Kevin Thorn

The part about processing information and transferring it is particularly important here. Carrie Baughcum points out that ‘listening’ could actually be other forms of input, such as reading, watching, etc. Here’s another definition from Sylvia Duckworth:

“Sketchnoting is purposeful doodling while listening, reading or watching something. It is also called visual note-taking.”

Sylvia Duckworth

I appreciate the word ‘purposeful’ in this definition. Interestingly, Sylvia prefers not to sketchnote ‘live’ during the input. In her ‘PD in your PJs’ video with Seesaw, she explains how she finds this too stressful and instead prefers to take written notes first and create the visual later. This is considered sketchnoting, no less. Finally (and importantly), sketchnotes are not about art or perfection. They are about ideas. Don’t be overwhelmed or disheartened by the professional ones that circulate online.

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Why sketchnote?

As Doug Neill explains in his videos, sketchnoting “fully lights up your brain”. Adding visuals to notes activates parts of the brain that would otherwise lie dormant. It is this combination of text and visuals that makes it so powerful. Sketchnoting enhances learning by improving comprehension, retention, recall, listening skills and focus. It is a multi-sensory task that develops fine motors skills. It also promotes and develops creativity and maintains children’s natural love of drawing (or, if they have lost it, it will help them to rediscover it). Furthermore, there are psychological benefits because sketchnoting is calming, relaxing and mindful.

How?

Sketchnotes can be created using analog or digital methods. Pencil and paper are fine, so no fancy technology is required. Having said that, I personally prefer to create them on my iPad. I use the Procreate app because it makes editing, erasing and reorganising easier. As a new doodler, it gives me confidence because I can zoom in and touch up my drawings. The layers function in Procreate is particularly useful. It’s a paid app with advanced functions, but there are many free alternatives.

To support students with the process, it’s important for teachers to join in too. Being vulnerable with your students will put them at ease, especially if they have lost their confidence or love of drawing. Remember, it’s not about being an artist. It’s about the ideas and the process. We must continually emphasise this. Carrie Baughcum describes teacher modelling as “the most powerful way to teach sketchnoting”. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself and your imperfect drawings.

I strongly recommend Carrie’s YouTube channel. She has short episodes on icons, containers and other sketchnoting elements. Introducing these will help you and your students.

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Not sure where to start? Here are some great ways in for you and your students:

  • #IdeaFlood monthly challenge

Carrie Baughcum and her girls share monthly sketchnote challenges on their YouTube channel. This is a fun way to practise doodling, develop creativity and generate ideas. All sketchnotes that are tweeted with the hashtag #IdeaFlood are featured in their monthly wrap up videos. Children love to see their work recognised and appreciated on YouTube! This is a lovely activity to do together with your students, perhaps as a wet recess or Golden Time option. Or, if you have children of your own, sit down together and share this time as a family. This month’s theme is ‘where you live’, celebrating the increasingly international #IdeaFlood community. Tweet your contributions before October 28th to be featured in this month’s wrap-up.

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  • #SketchnoteFever

Catch #SketchnoteFever with Sylvia Duckworth. The course starts on October 23rd 2018 and will continue until November 12th 2018. Sylvia will share daily three-minute “How to sketchnote” videos, focusing on a new element each day. For more information and to subscribe, click here (browse the rest of her site while you’re there). Use the #SketchnoteFever hashtag on Twitter and Instagram to share, connect and inspire.

  • Sketchnote a TED Talk

Sketchnoting the key ideas from a recorded presentation is a great way to practise sketchnoting (especially quick, ‘live’ sketchnoting) in a meaningful way before your next workshop or conference. TED Talks are brilliant for this. Visual note-taking will help you to remember the key messages and ideas.

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  • Responding to reading

In Michael Matera’s latest YouTube video, he suggests sketchnoting as a way for students to respond to their reading. After independent reading time in his class, he often asks them to create a collaborative sketchnote to share what they have read. This is engaging, promotes active thinking during reading and builds the community of readers.

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  • Integrate sketchnoting into your next research/listening task

Next time you ask students to watch a video, listen to a presentation or carry out some research, encourage them to take visual notes. The main image of this blog post shows one of my students researching the brain on Epic! and beginning a sketchnote to document his findings. The image below is another example from a different student (this was the first time that I introduced sketchnoting, by the way).

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  • Sketchnote a blog post

To accompany this blog post, I considered creating a sketchnote to summarise the key points. I still might, but instead of sharing it here, I thought it would be more fun to encourage you to sketchnote these ideas instead. I’d love to see your work on Twitter (mention me @AdamHillEDU). Likewise, sketchnoting the key ideas from any other blog post will help you to comprehend and retain the information.I hope that this has been a useful introduction and I look forward to hearing how you implement sketchnoting in your classrooms. It’s something that I aim to do much more of because it is just as beneficial as it is fun! If you have any additional advice, please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Finally, as Carrie and her girls say, “turn on your thinker, activate your doodle-maker and remember: there are no rules!” Enjoy, and let me know how you get on.


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9 comments

  1. Very engaging post. Sketchnoting can be an engrossing way to express one’s thoughts and ideas and relieve tension at the same time. It can be a very relaxing way to learn, too. One can be so absorbed in the task of sketchnoting that they become mindful, which is a form of meditation, too.

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  2. I like this a lot Adam! Please do make that second blog Re this – I’ve no time for the video…. you do that & I’ll do an English comp lesson and instead of getting them to answer in full sentences I’ll ask them to sketchnote too….
    I am already someone who does this a lot when taking notes – mine though tends to be switching colour and place billet points & stars against criteria – I presume that counts as???
    Love this new blog – may they continue!!!

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    1. Hi Vicky,

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, that counts. There are no rules or “correct” ways to sketchnote. If you add visual elements to your notes, that’s sketchnoting. The use of colour and other organisational features is something that Carrie talks about on her channel. I’ll gladly write more about this in the future, but it’s already a long post so I didn’t want to write much about the finer details. Maybe another time though. The responses to this post have been lovely so far. It seems to be resonating with people.

      Let me know how you get on in class!

      Best,

      Adam

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    1. Hi Mary,

      Thank you! As always, my blog helps me to synthesise and consolidate. I hope that other people benefit from this as well. Be sure to check out Carrie’s YouTube channel. There’s so much fantastic content on there!

      Best,

      Adam

      Liked by 1 person

  3. ADDDDDAAMMM!!! What a wonderfully smart and thoughtful post jam packed full of so much learning and so many wonderful connections. I have just loved connection with you and getting to peak in what you create, how you consistently push yourself to grow as a learner and what you bring into your classroom for students. This post will be a fantastic resource of others ready to give visual thinking, sketchnoting and doodling to learn a try!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Carrie,

      Thank you so much for the kind words. Actually, this post was going to be even more jam-packed because I planned to write about what I learnt from your channel in more detail (about icons, containers, etc.). I could sense that it was already a long post so I cut it short and just encouraged people to watch your videos for themselves. Very worthwhile! Keep up the amazing work across all of your platforms.

      I can’t believe that we only recently connected! Thanks for all that you do.

      Best,

      Adam

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