Chris Wilson

  • 4 Ways How To Get Sketchnote Ideas Faster

    One of the challenges every sketchnotes faces is getting things down on the page in time. This “curse” is actually one of the blessings of sketchnoting as it means you have to analyze and make decisions over what to include and what to cut, which is a key part of what makes sketchnotes more memorable. This does, however, cause problems when key ideas quickly follow each other. If only there was a way to get sketchnote ideas faster.

    Trying to get sketchnote ideas fast can be really stressful and while you’re thinking of the best idea to use, there can be a rush of information you aren’t picking up on.

    Fortunately, it is possible to get quicker at sketchnoting and here are 4 ways you can get sketchnote ideas faster.

    4 Ways How To Get Sketchnote Ideas Faster leave space

    1) Don’t, leave space for later

    The first trick is to leave space for later when you have more time. This could be after the event you are sketchnoting, or at a quieter moment when the information is less relevant (or the talk less interesting).

    By leaving space you can come back when your mind has processed more information and doesn’t have the stress of requiring an idea NOW.

    The only issues arise when you can’t remember WHAT you left space for. To prevent this possibility, I recommend leaving a short note or…

    4 Ways How To Get Sketchnote Ideas Faster get the basics first

    2. Get the basics, then fill the details.

    A house is a square with a triangle on top, right? Well, you can add a lot of extra details after that.

    • doors
    • windows
    • chimneys
    • gutters
    • flowers out front
    • whatever!

    All these details can be added later when you have more time. In addition to helping you remember what you wanted to sketchnote there, you also have the right amount of space taken so you won’t find yourself stuck with a small image later.

    4 Ways How To Get Sketchnote Ideas Faster practice

    3. Practice

    The second technique that really helps to come up with ideas is to practice. Practicing coming up with ideas will help you in two ways. Firstly, it gets you into the mindset of coming up with ideas regularly. Your brain starts to know where to look for ideas within your head.

    Secondly, you get a bank of ideas that you can call upon when you need them. It’s easier to think of something the second time and even easier the third.

    [p.s. looking for some practice activities? Check out 30 days of sketchnoting]

    4 Ways How To Get Sketchnote Ideas Faster use a search engine

    4. Have a search engine handy

    If you really can’t think of an idea, then you can use someone else’s idea. You can search on Google (I usually add “icon” at the end of my search to get simpler images) or on a site like thenounproject which specialize in simple icons. This can help you get past the idea stage. If you make digital sketchnotes with an iPad Pro, you have safari off to the side, ready for when you need it.

    How do you get sketchnote ideas faster?

    Have you got any other tips or techniques to help you get sketchnote ideas faster? Share them in the comments below.

  • What Makes a Good Sketchnote?

    Do you ever look with envy at those insanely beautiful sketchnotes online? Do you wish you could make as good sketchnote as them?

    If you’re like me, then you weren’t the best artist at school then you may well feel frustrated at not being able to create as beautiful sketchnotes as other people’s. But as Mike Rhode often says, Sketchnotes are about Ideas not art. With that in mind, here are 7 criteria that make for a good sketchnote.

    1. Focusing on the key points

    If there’s one thing that helps sketchnotes, it’s to stop attempting to get everything down, and focusing on the key points instead.

    It’s build into the nature of sketchnoting as it’s impossible to write every word and draw a picture for everypart. Instead you have to analyze and make decisions over what parts are the most important.

    2. Clear structure

    Having good structure makes a sketchnote much easier to follow and understand. There are various structures that Mike Rhode suggests in the Sketchnote Handbook and Sketchnote Workbook inlcuding

    • Linear (Book like)
    • Radial (mindmap)
    • Vertical (top to bottom)
    • Path (a journey)
    • Modular (broken up sections)
    • Skyscraper (column like)
    • Popcorn (ideas here, there, everywhere)

    I started by simply flowing from top to bottom of a page, but adding a couple of other structures really took my sketchnoting to the next level. This better layout and organization made the Ideas in my sketch notes easier to follow.

    4. Using Color, shape and lines to help focus attention

    These three elements are great for directing your, and any other reader’s, attention. You can use one at a time or all three in combination.

    There can, however, be issues when they are used erratically or with little thought. If you are using multiple colors and use a color twice then it suggests that there’s a connection between those items.

    5. Legible

    It’s okay to use text in sketchnotes, but illegible text can make that text pointless. In the heat of a moment, it can be difficult to write clearly, but successfully delivering information is the key factor in good sketchnotes.

    Focus on getting the key information, or getting enough information so you can fill in the rest later.

    6. Personality

    Really good sketchnotes show your personality. They have the quirks of your style and preferences. Rather than just using a generic icon to represent an idea, they use something different which still clearly represents the idea.

    7. Art Afterward

    You don’t have to have good art in your sketchnote, but you can add it later. A great trick is to simply leave space for more complex ideas later. Or do the rough outline and then come back and add more details later.

    Art should follow though as a great painting isn’t a good sketchnote. It is great, but not as a sketchnote. A great sketchnote preserves information in a meaningful way for you on paper, and in your head.

    Have I missed anything?

    Is there anything else that makes a great sketchnote? Maybe you disagree with me. Leave a comment with your idea below?

  • Ideas Then Art

    I was in a Polish language class last week and so I was obviously sketchnoting my notes for the class. However, there was a problem I came across that I doubt I’m the first person to experience. There were too many things to record in a short space of time. I didn’t have time to get my spacing right as you can see below.

    Now, with a conference it’s acceptable to miss some information and even with a class, you could choose to prioritize which words you focus on, remember and learn. However, I don’t get many classes and I wanted to make sure I got every word down, after all, this is one of my best chances to acquire new words during the week.

    I remember Mike Rhode’s old mantra, Ideas not art and went for simple images that would capture those ideas for me to review later. But after the class, I realized I could polish up my Polish notes (pun intended) and so I would get my “art” after all. This made me think that it was really a case of Ideas, then art.

    Ideas, then art

    This isn’t really that much of a new idea. In the first book on Sketchnoting — the Sketchnote Handbook — Mike Rhode describes a “two-step” sketchnote approach, where you draft a version, perhaps in pencil first, and then you draw over that in pen or on a new piece of paper. This is basically the same idea with a minor adaption for the context of rapid information which is all important.

    Of course, in this context, there was the added benefit that I got to revisit and revise my old notes and so I was better prepared for my class. So here’s my simple two-step approach

    Step one: Get the idea.

    The most important part here is to get something down which you can reference later. It doesn’t have to be a perfect idea but something identifiable.

    • Misspelling a word isn’t a problem,
    • Not having a picture isn’t a problem.
    • not having items organized neatly isn’t a problem

    What is a problem, is not understanding what you wrote down.

    Get the ideas down.

    Step two: Organise and refine your art

    The first draft can now be your reference point. You’re free to change the order, the picture you used, the spelling everything. For language vocabulary sketchnote I do have a couple of suggestions for organizing and laying out your sketch notes.

    • place synonyms or antonyms near each other and show the relationship
    • Don’t just write a word, write down an example sentence or describe the picture you sketched.

    Not always the best approach

    Usually, I don’t think a two-step solution is always the best approach to sketchnoting. In fact, the vast majority of the time I adopt a one-step, done and gone approach so that I have to focus more on what a person is saying and identifying the key points. However, with a lesson or other situation where you have a lot of information coming at once which you need to get it all, it isn’t a terrible idea to make temporary notes to refine later.

    You also have revision built in, another bonus.

  • Sketchnote throughout the learning process

    When I first came across sketchnoting, I knew it made sense fo education and teaching. The idea of “better notes” that helped students retain information better seemed like a no-brainer. However, sketchnoting was born from conferences and most modern teaching methodologies don’t treat learning like listening to a lecture and taking note. Instead learning takes place from interacting with information and a group (referring to Vygotsky and Piaget’s theories).

    As such I wondered how sketchnoting might look within a more modern teaching methodology. How could we use sketchnoting in principled ways. So I started to wonder about the stages of learning and a lesson and why you might use sketchnoting. So here are some ideas how you can sketchnote throughout the learning process.

    Sketchnoting to prepare

    Often lessons have a period of preparing before engaging in new material. This is to activate pre-existing knowledge so that we can place new information within pre-existing mental frameworks. It also allows the teacher to identify weaknesses and strengths of the students in the class. Finally, we can also motivate students by generating interest in a topic.

    Sketchnoting can help students graphically show their knowledge, it provides an easy to check record for the teacher, it’s also proof of work so you know the students are on task AND drawing can be motivating for students and so helps generate interest.

    Mindmaps have long been used for this purpose.

    Sketchnoting to record

    The original use of sketchnoting was to record details. However, this doesn’t have to just occur from a lecture. We can record data from a whole lesson to note our learning. Or we can record notes from books we are reading, experiments we conduct or projects we make.

    As a teacher, we can provide guidelines for the students to follow along with (with areas set aside for certain information or tasks) and then invite the students to customize as they wish.

    A simple language teaching example is the “emerging language framework” this is where there you divide a piece of paper into four sections. One for new vocabulary, one for new grammar structures, one for idioms or collocations and one for questions the students want to ask.

    Sketchnoting to demonstrate

    It’s good to get students to demonstrate learning as it helps them notice their progress as well as being a skill in and of itself. Presentations, posters, essays and more are common approaches and sketchnoting can be used for all of these. A sketchnote could be used to present from, a sketchnote could be turned into a poster, and a sketchnote could help provide the outline for an essay. Alternatively a sketchnote could be the final proof of work where the student can show their learning.

    Even if the final output is spoken, the sketchnote can be used to guide their spoken words.

    Have you got other ideas?

    These are three simple ideas I had but there may be more. Can you think of any other stages of learning where sketchnotes are useful? Have you got any other activities to use sketchnote in.

  • Sketchnote Weekly Food Plan

    Every weekend my wife and I sit down and plan the food for the upcoming week. It’s an important but also fun little ritual that is more beneficial than just working out what we need to buy, it’s also about making sure we know what we both have going on during the week. We make a sketchnote weekly food plan.

    The benefits of a sketchnoted weekly food plan

    When we sit down to make a meal plan we have to consider a few different things. Are we going to be busy in the evening, are we coming back later from work, can one of us prepare something in the morning or do we need to prepare something the day before? To do this, we have to go over our calendars and our arrangements and desires for the week. It can have a big impact because we don’t want to eat comfort food late at night, and at the same time, we want to make sure we get enough food everyday.

    The whole process doesn’t take too long, but afterwards we feel much better about the week coming up, know any appointments we have as well as knowing what we need to buy from the shops.

    Our Sketchnote weekly food plan template

    We started just writing things down, but recently I’ve tried to make a sketchnote a day, and I realised that our weekly food plan would work well for one. So I started to sketch it as a sketchnote. My template is really simple and I typically use Paper by 53 for it. A bar across the top for the days of the week (I usually try out some different lettering styles for each day) and then three sections, breakfast lunch and dinner. If we are in a rush, I just write the names of the food and use colours to show when we have left overs. If I have more time, then I’ll sketch the meal out.

    Here’s an example.

    Weekly food plan example

    Give it a go.


  • Hi there fellow teacher. I’ve heard that you have some concerns about your students doodling during your lessons. I know it may seem like the aren’t listening or paying attention but I want to assure it isn’t necessarily the case. Yes, they may be off in their own world and not paying attention, but if they are sketchnoting, they are actually paying far more attention to your lesson than if they were looking at you, writing words by hand or typing. This is why you should encourage your students to sketchnote during your lessons.

    What is sketchnoting?

    Sketchnoting is using all your tools to take notes. It’s not limiting yourself to words, but it includes using words. It has benefits in both students taking in more information at the time AND being able to access that information later. And those are just a small sample of the benefits provided from sketchnoting. But in fact I think there are some more important reasons you should consider allowing your students to sketchnote.

    It shows they are engaged

    If someone is sketchnoting, they have to pay more attention to the lesson. They have to listen to what you are saying, and priorities what they believe is the most important information as well as work out how to get it down on paper.

    It helps them learn more effectively

    There have been a series of study into the benefits of using different ways to take in and record information. No I’m not talking about debunked learner styles but about ideas of dual-coding theory and how when we “appeal to different learner styles” every student benefits (not just the supposed learner preferences). So using visual and text provide a more memorable experience for the students. Better grades will surely follow and that means more praise/a bonus for you.

    Students find it motivating

    Some students will look forward to your classes even if they aren’t naturally drawn to the subject (pun not intended but welcomed) as they know they can sketchnote in your class. They will enjoy the process of learning as sketchnotes are more fun and so remember more.

    They will want to show others

    It’s so much fun to share a good sketchnote and when they have finished their notes, they’ll want to show other students and their parents. That means parents won’t be asking you what their kids learnt in school accusingly but instead they can see a visual map of their kids learning.

    Some books and resources you should check out

    If you want to know more about sketchnoting and how you can bring it into your classroom, I recommend checking out these resources