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  • 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

  • One of the ideas that I think I’ve picked up on in sketchnoting circles is that teachers should just “start sketchnoting” in their classroom. I’ll admit that this might be my misinterpretation of what people say (sometimes we read into things what we want to hear) but I felt like this has come up in a few places, so I suspect that this isn’t just me. I believe this is a misguided belief born out of good intentions and I hope that this post will lay out why we can’t and shouldn’t just sketchnote in the classroom but I still believe that sketchnoting has a place in the classroom (but not neccaserily THE place).

    We need to focus on Pedagogy

    The main issue that I have is that this belief that we should start using sketchnotes seems to lack any pedagogy. It simply states that sketchnoting is better for memory (which seems valid) and suits different learner types (erm, learning types is probably a myth, but suiting different styles does seem to benefit all students so…I guess that’s okay?) and it’s good…so do it.

    This doesn’t consider the competing theories we have about how knowledge is acquired or how we teach in practice. In the past we used to teach via passing on knowledge from a source of knowledge (the teacher and later possibly textbooks) and students had to listen and make notes. Now we have different theories which are competing for favour but they generally have left this idea of “the teacher as the source of knowledge who instructs the students” to a model where the teacher is a guide and helps the students to find out what they don’t know. This might not sound very different, but in practice it can lead to students discovering something the teacher doesn’t know and generally favours more project work and learning as a group.

    This is not a universal truth, some schools don’t follow these ideas and some politicians insist that these are bad (sometimes with good reason), but sketchnoting isn’t an immediate fit into a class which isn’t another form of a lecture.
    I’m not saying that these classes can’t be sketchnoted or use sketchnotes, but it’s not a simple 1 + 1. Thought and consideration needs to be given. Is it worth getting students to create separate sketches as they write up a report, or should they use sketches in their report, or should they sketch after the report? There are possible merits to each but we need to back these up with teaching knowledge.

    Who is supposed to sketchnote? The teacher or the students?

    Linked into that point, there is a question of who should sketchnote in the classroom? The teacher or the students? If it’s the teacher then why not just use infographics and pictures in the students text books (or the type of board work that teachers have done for years). If it is the students, then what about students at a young age who struggle with their motor skills. I’m not saying they shouldn’t sketch, but you need to consider these things (as teachers do) and not just tell a teacher to “start sketching”.

    Conversely, older students (such as late teens and adults) might have an adverse reaction to the idea of sketchnoting in class (viewing it as a waste of time or something they can’t do) and as such we may need to work on subtlying introducing sketchnoting into their practice. Ultimately they may not choose to work via this style and that is something which a teacher may have to accept. After all, their job is to teach their subject, not teach sketchnoting. Sure it might help teaching, but it is a means to an end not the ends in and of itself (this is what just sketchnote promotes).

    Different subjects should be taught in different ways

    The way we teach different subjects varies depending on their content and skills required. For example, I didn’t read much about the history of the mathematicians who’s theories I learnt about in school. Paradoxically, I learnt (and read) a heck of a lot about the lives of different political theorists as it influenced their theories. With maths, I followed example exercises to understand how to do certain equations, with German I read texts and then had to identify the words which meant different things within the text.

    Different subjects require different things to be taught and in different ways. In some cases we need to apply sketchnoting differently and we may need to use different systems or set ups to do so.

    Classrooms have constraints

    There are also constraints within classrooms. These can be practical and physical (we don’t have any desk/enough paper/pencils etc) or imposed constraints (“follow the syllabus to the letter.”, you can do whatever you want but make sure you cover all the material (which you don’t have enough time to cover as it is). This is a terrible excuse, I agree, but when you find someone in this sort of situation, it’s hard to persuade them to do anything “extra” even if it could save them time in the future.

    But how can teachers start using sketchnoting in the classroom?

    Despite saying all those points, I believe teachers can and probably should use sketchnoting in the classroom (at least as an option for students). As such, here are a few ideas for how a teacher can start brining sketchnoting into the classroom.

    1. Show sketchnotes

    Some sketchnotes could also be described as handmade infographics. These can be used to introduce ideas and demonstrate idea or concept. By presenting sketchnotes, they may encourage students to experiment with making their own sketchnotes and it provides a regence point for activities where a teacher encourages students to create sketchnotes.

    2. Start with a single activity

    Instead of getting students to dive in at the deep in, we should instead start with single activities and build up to using sketchnotes more and more. This might be starting with just sketching an icon for a group of words they learn. It might be sketchnoting a short audio recording, video or book that they have to digest. It could be summarizing the lesson at the end of the class.

    3. Provide note frameworks for students

    In my experience, this has helped my students get into sketchnoting the most. All we do is provide some guidelines or framework for their notes during the lesson. (I absolutely stole this from Dana Ladenburger) By providing a framework, we give guidelines as to what our students should write and sketch and where. They can then focus more on the content and how it fits within these guidelines. Furthermore, we also provide some insight into the lesson content and what they should pay attention to.

    4. Use a single element of sketchnoting where appropriate

    There are lots of different elements of sketchnoting and introducing them all at once can feel very overwhelming. It might be better to introduce one step at a time and then get students to try to incorporate more as they go along. For example, maybe you start with focusing on different types of text, a heading, main text and call out text. Then you might add in dividers and content blocks, perhaps you’ll add icons next and so on.

    This helps break sketchnoting down into different skills and highlights different aspects that students who “can’t draw” might be more drawn (pun not intended) to.

    5. Present students with the option of sketchnoting

    I believe it is also good to present students with the option of sketchnoting and not necessarily enforcing it where we don’t need to. Providing the option can help build intrigue and allow the students who are naturally drawn to sketchnoting to try it. Meanwhile, the students who are uncertain can simply notice what the other students are doing increasing their interest which may lead to them experimenting with sketchnoting later.

    6. Check out the book “Visual notetaking for educators”

    This is a bit of a cheat but the book Visual notetaking for educators has some useful ideas for sketchnoting in the classroom as well as a lot of the evidence for why sketchnoting can help students to learn more effectively.

    What ideas have you got?

  • How to learn a language on your own with sketchnotes

    As soon as I came across sketchnoting I knew it was suitable for language learning. How? Because I recognized that my own language learning notes were a form of sketchnotes. Instead of using only words, I used icons and diagrams as well as words. That was because I was encouraged not to use my first language in the classroom and instead seek to “think” in the second language.

    It made sense to aim for this in my notes as well, but there was an issue. I often couldn’t describe what a new word meant (try clearly and accurately describing a dog with very basic English vocabulary). Doodles and visuals helped to provide clarity in my notes and yet keep them focused in the target language. However, sketchnotes can be used for more than just recording vocabulary via flash cards. Here’s how to learn a language on your own with sketchnotes.

    Recording vocabulary with flash cards

    In the Sketchnote workbook this is one of the ideas that Mike Rohde introduces. These are useful as you can have a clear visual representation of the word you are trying to learn (so its meaning is clear) and you can practice these words on the go via the principle of spaced repetition.

    Sketching your own flashcards is very useful as it allows us to personalize our images and add in connections that we think. The process of creating the notes is also very powerful for helping to remember the target vocabulary.

    However, stopping with a single word is a real shame, but often what we do. Let’s take the word “dog” for example. I would probably draw a dog differently to how you would. Maybe yours would be a big German Shepherd, or perhaps a small Yorkshire terrier. Well, now we have some adjectives along with our noun. It could be as simple as “a small dog” or more complicated like a “cute bag-able dog” (when you have a dog in someone’s handbag). With verbs we can look at the grammar that goes along with them. “She’s playing football” for instance or “he wakes up at 9am everyday”. Focusing on “chunks of language” that frequently occur together helps take flash cards further than just a single word.

    Sketch out your day/week/etc

    One of the activities my Polish teacher used to get me to do was to sketch out the big events in my week before I came to class and use them to present what I had done. This allowed me some time to prepare what I was going to talk about and not have to worry about misspelling certain words. She would then ask me some questions and I could add to the images “what was the weather like…why don’t you add that in?”

    If you are self studying, you can then use your phone to record yourself talking about your week, save a picture and the audio together and you can keep track of your progress (or get feedback on how you are doing). You might also be able to show these notes to a more proficient speaker of the language and get their feedback on your errors.

    Idioms and Phrasal verbs

    English is full of interesting idioms and phrasal verbs. It makes the language rich and beautiful, but also difficult to learn. The fact that their meaning is not obvious or tied to the parts that make them up, makes them difficult to understand and remember. With sketchnotes, we can use visual that highlight the actual meaning as well as the literal meaning. This can be useful to help remember words…plus pictures of people with feet in their mouths are fun.

    Grammar diagrams

    Most of this post has been focused on vocabulary but grammar is also important. Languages treat time differently and in some cases we need extra grammatical tenses or aspects to describe two things where we’d use the same one in English or our own language. That’s not even touching on cases in Slavic languages.

    Timelines for tenses

    Timelines can be useful tools to help get to grips with tenses. The involve a line which represents time (including now, the past the future) and where we can show an action, whether it is a process, a finished action, a recurring action and so on.

    Colour codes for cases

    Cases aren’t a major problem in English (it’s only really the pronouns which can cause a problem) but in other languages (I’m looking at you Slavic languages), they can be a real headache. When it comes to cases, I have found using colour codes to be very useful. So if I write, “the boy is eating the apple” I might draw “the boy” in blue and “apple” in red and write those words in the same colour with bold for how the noun has changed form. That’s pretty simple, but when you add in adjectives in different cases, as well as indirect objects and locations, it can be more tricky and require more colours.

    Make a sketch a movie/story/podcast (receptive skills)

    Listening and reading practice can be enhanced by making a sketchnote to record what you are listening or reading. Simple follow along and make note of the key events and most important information. You might come across a new word, or hear an expression which you quote. Plus you’ve then got a record of the big things picture and plot which you can refer back to, this can help you understand what is going on at that moment from the bigger picture (top down processing skills).

    Here’s some examples of Doug Neil learning Spanish form a film.

    Conversation flow charts

    One of the things I used to do in Ukraine was try to anticipate interactions I’d have that day. So if I knew I needed to buy something in the pharmacist, I’d think through my conversation trying to anticipate their questions. Likewise, when I was meeting a friend, I’d try to do the same. The problem is that often I’d think “what if they say this…or they might say THAT”.

    Decision trees are a great way to build in these different routes a dialogue could take and help you think through your interaction. You can then add to them as you find out what really happens.

    Bonus: Find sketchnotes and sketchnote resources related to topics you are interested in

    Of course, if you like sketchnoting then you can use that interest to spur on your language learning. Find someone who makes sketchnotes in that language, find books on sketchnotes in that language. There can be issues with the type of language that people include in sketchnotes (it might not match up with the type of language people speak) but being aware of that will help, and maybe they can help guide you through the primary source? Find a TED talk, someone’s sketchnote for it and then follow.

    Any other ideas?

    I started this post because I had been researching this topic for my IATEFL talk on using sketchnote or visual notetaking in the young learner classroom and it surprised me how many posts there are online which go “get your students to sketchnote kthxbi”. Hopefully these give you some more ideas which you can use to teach others or use yourself (and you can expect more to come).

    Have you got any other ideas?

  • YouTube opens up the possibility of seeing a visual note and sketchnotes being created in real time. This is great for us who make visuals or who want to help our students make visuals as well. Seeing the order and items as they are created help. Check out these great sketchnote youtube channels that will boost your Sketchnotes.

    Verbal to visual

    As I mentioned in a previous blog post, verbal to visual is a channel run by Doug Neil who shares videos around sketchnoting. Some of these videos center around how to sketchnote better (perhaps the organizational elements or drawing skills) and others show examples of how he sketchnotes different topics.

    The Sketchnote video podcast from Mike Rhode

    Originally, Mike shared a short collection of 12 videos walking through some of the basics of sketchnoting as well as showing off some people’s sketchnoting works. Now, he has every episode of the Sketchnote Army Podcast Available in video from too!

    Drawing in class (TED talk)

    Here is a single TED video about sketchnoting in the classroom. It’s aimed at general education but it helps address some of the reasons why it’s a good idea to use sketchnote in the classroom.

    Will Paterson

    Okay, this isn’t a channel about sketchnoting but it is about lettering and logo design as well as design in general. These are tangential skills to sketchnoting that can help add some class to your images.

    What Sketchnote YouTube Channels do you like?

    Do you like another channel which focuses on Sketchnote videos? Maybe you even run one. Leave a comment below with the channel and I’ll check it out.

  • The Best Sketchnote Blogs for Your Inspiration

    As great as books are, blogs are also of great value. After all, a good blog will be updated frequently and include more specific examples rather than a general rules of thumbs that you see in books. As such, you should check out these wonderful Sketchnote blogs. Some aren’t education specific and as such, they might offer other insights, some of which might not be so useful and others will be.

    1. The Sketchnote army blog

    The sketchnote army is a collection of different sketchnoters sketchnotes and interesting tools, resources and videos. It also hosts the sketchnote army podcast which is full of interesting interview and discussions with sketchnoters from different fields.

    2. Mike Rhode

    I’ve mentioned Mike a few times before already, that’s for good reasons as he is the originator of sketchnotes. His personal site and newsletter feature a round up of great design, drawing and sketchnoting items from around the web. Sometimes he shares a post on the basics of typography, sometimes on how to draw someone’s face and sometimes it’s a podcast on pens.

    3. Verbal to visual

    Verbal to visual is run by Doug Neil and focuses a lot on videos (more on that in a future email) but he also offers some sketchnoting courses on his site including the basics of sketchnoting, how to make sketchnote videos and a new course coming soon on Sketchnoting in the classroom.

    4. Sylvia Duckworth

    Sylvia has put out an astonishing number of sketchnotes on different topics within education. Her blog not only has sketchnotes, but also posts on education as well.

    5. Kathy Schrock’s sketchnoting in the classroom

    Okay, this isn’t so much a blog as a page with great links to all things sketchnoting and education. This includes items on sketchnoting, sketchnoting in the classroom, tools to Sketchnote, videos and more. It’s a great place to get lost on for a while like a good wikipedia page.

    What great sketchnote blogs do you know?

    This list will continue to grow and update as I find out about more great sites. If you’d like to recommend one, leave a comment below and say why.

  • 5 Great Sketchnoting Books for Education

    One of the things I’ve found really helpful to introduce sketchnoting and visual noting taking into my own teaching, is to look at different fantastic books around using visuals for learning and effective communication. After all, communicating and aiding learning are vital tasks that we do as teachers everyday. These great sketchnoting books can help stimulate your thinking and provide you with new ideas for how you can implement visual effectively in your teaching.

    Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde

    The first book on Sketchnoting is from Mike Rohde, the man who invented (or came up with the term) sketchnoting. In this book, Mike introduces the concept of sketchnoting, why you should Sketchnote, different elements in sketchnotes and he covers some basic techniques that will aid your sketchnoting.

    Sketchnote Workbook by Mike Rohde

    Personally I feel this book is even better than the handbook as it covers practical assignments to start experimenting with sketchnoting in different areas of your life. This will help you discover different tools and design ideas to use in your sketchnotes as well as see examples of sketchnotes and get you practicing your chops as well!

    Visual Notetaking for Teachers

    This book is targeted towards general education teachers in America. It includes a lot about how the brain works and how using doodling can help. The writer mentions about teaching English in a “second language context” (people living in a country where English is spoken) and towards the end of the book there are some practical ideas of how to implement sketching in your classrooms.

    It’s a good book but it’s not a definitive guide for how to implement these ideas in your own context

    Sketchnotes for Educators

    This books is by Sylvia Duckworth whom has become quite famous for her sketchnotes around education principles. If you’ve seen someone share a sketchnote about education online, it’s probably one of hers. In this book, there is a collection of her 100 most popular sketchnotes that you can use, share and adapt as well as links to online versions.

    The Doodle Revolution

    This books isn’t strictly about sketchnoting but it is about using visuals and drawing to aid in thinking. This is certainly targeted more towards adults and business settings, but there is some useful information on how using visuals can be an aid in “non visual tasks”

    What Other Great Sketchnoting Books do you Know?

    This isn’t a definitive list, there are many more books on sketchnoting, visual notetaking, and graphical facilitating, mostly looking at things from a business perspective, but these are a great starting point.

    Do you know of any other great sketchnoting books?

    P.s. Check out this list of great analogue sketchnoting tools