Sketchnotes in the classroom

  • How to Start Sketchnoting today

    I struggled to start sketchnoting. Although I caught the idea immediately but putting pen to paper felt overwhelming. I don’t want you to suffer the same issue, so here is a simple guide to start sketchnoting today.

    This could be a useful classroom activity to introduce sketchnotes to students.

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    Table of Contents

      What are sketchnotes?

      Sketchnotes are a form of visual notetaking that includes both text and graphical elements such as icons, banners, dividers, multiple colors and layouts. They don’t tend to follow strict left to right, top to bottom organization but instead are more flexible in their layouts.

      You can learn more about what Sketchnotes are and why you should use them in this post.

      Why should I bother with Sketchnotes?

      Visual note-taking, such as sketchnotes, helps engage with conference talks, lectures and lessons and remember more information. It’s no wonder students, teachers and average Joes have started using this note taking method in the classroom, at conferences and at home for study and personal reflection.

      Read this post if you’d like to know more about the benefits of sketchnoting.

      What should I start sketchnoting?

      You can sketchnote anything you want. It can be a conference talk that is occurring live, a lesson in your classroom or notes on a book you’ve just read.

      It can be information someone else has given you, or ideas and plans you are thinking through.

      For your first sketchnote, I suggest you make a sketchnote selfie including information about yourself. This is a topic that you are bound to be familiar with and will have a unique element of yourself.

      I can’t draw, can I still sketchnote?

      Yes! you can! There are three reasons for this.

      1. Sketchnotes are about “Ideas not art”, that means getting the idea down is more important than an accurate impression. As long as you can understand your notes, that’s okay. That means simple pictures are usually better than art.
      2. Sketchnotes are personal and reflect the sketchnoter. Some sketchnoters use more text, others use more images. You can choose to use more text in your notes if you like.
      3. Your drawing will improve as you practice more. The only way to improve is to start! So let’s start today.

      For more on how to sketchnote even if you can’t draw, join this free short course.

      7 steps to create your first sketchnote and start sketchnoting.

      Now that we know the basics of Sketchnoting, it’s time to create your first sketchnote. These steps will help guide you through the process of creating your own sketchnote.

      This approach is not the approach I would take for a sketchnoting a live event such as a class. It does, however, provide a useful intro to sketchnoting which will help you develop core skills. You can then apply skills these when making a live sketchnote.

      You don’t have to follow my recommendations at each point. Their purpose is to give you an easy to implement idea for your first sketchnote.

      1. Brainstorm your topic

      Before you start creating your sketchnote selfie, think about the things you want to include. Write a plain list of items you can include such as your:

      • name
      • age
      • location
      • job or studies
      • hobbies and interests
      • favorite… (book, food, etc.)

      At some point you’ll feel that you’ve got every idea down that you could include, don’t stop. Wait a few minutes longer and see if you can get a few extra ideas. Those extra ideas are often the most interesting items.

      to start sketchnoting, think about what ideas you should include

      2: Group your ideas together

      Now, you have some ideas written down, it’s time to group them together. By identifying information that work well together, you’ll help yourself create an easy-to-understand layout.

      You could write your list out again, this time with your information gathered into groups. Alternatively, you could add marks to the side to signify what belongs together.

      3. Plan your Sketchnote layout

      A good sketchnote layout can help arrange information clearly and tell a good story. Some sketchnoters seem to have a magical ability to group information together.

      Most of us aren’t like that.

      By grouping your information together, you may already have an idea about how you could layout your sketchnote. Alternatively, you could look at the most common sketchnote layouts and find one to use.

      A selection of different sketchnote layouts

      While you could choose any sketchnote layout, I’d recommend the radial layout for your first sketchnote.

      It’s probably more familiar to you as it’s similar to mind maps. This style also works well for a selfie as all the information is about one central item — you.

      4: Identify some icons you can include

      One last step before we make the sketchnote. Identify some icons that you could draw for points on your sketchnote. For example, if you like photography, you could draw a camera.

      Need inspiration for what to draw? Look at the Noun project

      While you could just do a Google image search, I recommend using The noun project. This site contains simple icons that represent different ideas. It is a great tool to see an example of a simple drawing that represents and idea. You can use this to get drawing ideas.

      5. Start your sketchnote: Add your title

      Start by adding your title and an image of you. If you are going with a radial format, place yourself in the center.

      Your portrait doesn’t need to be accurate. Focus on the main details like the overall shape of your face and distinct features. If it doesn’t look accurate, never mind, this is just your first time.

      6. Mentally divide up your paper

      With your layout in mind, imagine some dividing lines on your paper. Think about how much information you need to include in each area and plan space accordingly. Make sure there is a gap between different sections.

      If you want, you can pencil in some lines to help plan your space. I recommend using pencil at first as you may get this wrong.

      If you are making a digital sketchnote using an app like procreate, you can add a layer with some guidelines.

      7. Fill in your information

      Now start filling in your information. Use your groupings to direct what you include where. I suggest you start with the main points, and then expanding outward to the smaller points and details.

      You can add banners with text to show groupings like “Favorites” for your favorite things, or “bio” for some biographical data.

      Leave space between sections so you can see what belongs where.

      8. Stand back and appreciate it

      You’ve done it! Your first sketchnote! I promise the next will be easier.

      What’s next?

      Now you’ve defeated the first sketchnote, you can continue to grow and the best way is with regular practice.

      If you’d like some more guidance on the fundamentals of sketchnoting, sign up to 7 days to start sketchnoting. This free course will get you exploring the different types of sketchnotes available.

    • 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.