Consolidating Learning with Sketchnoting

This week’s journey into infographics and data organization was the icing on the cake for Course 3.  It coincided with the fact that not long ago, I became determined to learn more about sketchnoting or visual note-taking.  It all started when I discovered Doug Neill’s webpage, Verbal to Visual.  He has amazing video tutorials to learn how to combine text, sketches, and color to synthesize information and learn how to express your ideas visually.

At the same time, the word sketchnoting started to appear often on my Twitter feeds. Thanks to my PLN I got hold of this amazing eBook, Sketching for Teachers and Learning.

What is sketchnoting?

According to Sketchnote Army:

“Sketchnotes are purposeful doodling while listening to something interesting. Sketchnotes don’t require high drawing skills, but do require a skill to visually synthesize and summarize via shapes, connectors, and text. Sketchnotes are as much a method of note taking as they are a form of creative expression.”

Sketchnotes + Lightning Strikes flickr photo by erinmhawkins shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

True to myself, before I started venturing into the world of sketchnoting, I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just a new fad and that its benefits could be backed up by research. What I found was that sketchnoting requires the synthesis and the retrieval of information and that there are numerous studies that support retrieval practices.  It is not enough to ask students just to listen, read, highlight important information, and reread notes, but we actually need to engage them in a recall process. This will help in learning and in retaining information.  Pooja K. Agarwal, a cognitive scientist and founder of the Retrieval Practice organization puts it this way:

“Often, we think we’ve learned some piece of information, but we come to realize we struggle when we try to recall the answer. It’s precisely this “struggle” or challenge that improves our memory and learning – by trying to recall information, we exercise or strengthen our memory, and we can also identify gaps in our learning.

In addition, another research-based strategy for learning is dual coding: using words and pictures in the process of learning.  So, within this context, sketchnoting is an ideal tool in the learning process of teachers and their students.

All this research was not enough for me to start; I still felt hesitant. I don´t consider myself a great artist, and the few times I have tried to draw, I have become frustrated because my sketchnotes didn’t look like the ones people were posting on Twitter.  However, Nicki Hambleton mentions in her L2Talk, The Power of Visuals, that the actual drawing isn’t the most difficult, it is the thinking—the cognitive effort that it takes to listen to what someone is saying and come up with ways to synthesize the information in a visual form so others can understand it.  In the same way, the designer Craighton Berman, in this blog details that:

“With practice, you’ll be able to store multiple quotes, thoughts, or ideas in a queue while you’re sketchnoting. This “mental cache” also allows you to listen to multiple points and synthesize them down to what’s important—before writing anything.”

Uff, that is really hard! This reminds me of doing simultaneous translation at a conference, which I have tried and know how difficult it is.

For the purpose of learning, I decided to give it a try again.  I used the app  Procreate, and I sketchnoted the L2 Talk, Owning Your Story by Lisa Fung-Kee-Fung.

Of course, If I were a pro, I would have done it live and end when the video ended, but, as a beginner, I gave myself permission to watch, stop, draw, watch, stop, draw, until I got through it.  Hopefully, with a lot of practice, I will develop my “mental cache” and be able to do it on the fly!

Things I learned after…

I decided to share the video above so you have an idea of what I struggled with.  And, thinking as an educator, here are some things to consider if you want to introduce visual note-taking with students (or teachers):

  1. Start practicing with a simple paper and pencil before trying to go digital
  2. Make sure students or teachers have mastered the app they are planning to use.  I wasn´t familiar enough with Procreate to fully focus on the process of drawing and writing.  I often had to erase and start again because I misused a tool or I forgot to create layers for different sections of my sketchnote.  I didn’t even use color because it required spending more time learning the app and its features. Paper by 53 may be easier to use with students, but still requires a certain level of familiarity.
  3. Start using text, connectors, and frames before drawings. It took me a long time drawing, and I often referred back to the app Bizz Draw to learn how to do simple sketches.
  4. Start by using it as a recalling practice instead of a live visual recording.  This helps to provide a lower stakes opportunity to practice skills and get used to the process.

Finally, even after struggling at first, I see so many benefits of using sketchnoting in the classroom, and I definitely know that like any new learning, it requires practice and more practice for it to become a useful and productive tool in learning.  There was indeed a certain power in representing and consolidating my learning through sketchnoting.

Do you have successful stories about introducing sketchnoting in your classrooms or your professional life? Please share and help me and others bring this important tool into their learning.

More resources:

Free iTunes course: Lessons for the Classroom, Digital Sketchnotes for Visualizing Learning

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7 Responses

  1. Nick Garvin says:

    Hi Caroline, very nice informative post. I really enjoyed reading it. I think it’s great that you’ve developed an interest in Sketchnoting. I recently came across this resource on Twitter from the one and only @sylviaduckworth. It’s a Google Slide about Sketchnoting. Something that I have recently taken up an interest in.

    In my blog,

    Where Doodles meet design, I also included a nice Ted Talk about the benefits of visual notetaking and doodling. I enjoyed all the videos in your post too, they were really engaging. The L2 Talk, Owning Your Story by Lisa Fung-Kee-Fung was really inspiring. Thanks for sharing it

    Also, what an awesome idea of sharing your first sketchnoting with Procreate. You have encouraged me to give it a try as well. I appreciate your openness and willingness to share. I’m certain that you will work through your struggles. It was very courageous of you to reflect upon and share your perspective with us. As much fun as it looks and as beneficial as it can be, we must still remember the perspective of everyone, especially our students, when faced with attempting to try something unfamiliar. By acknowledging, accepting, and critiquing your vulnerabilities you’ve showcased a lot of what our students go through. It reminded me of another tweet, this one is a sketchnote about Growth-mindset, check it out!

    Thanks for the great read and inspiration!


    P.S. I love the look of your new site~!

    • Hi Nick,
      Thank you for reading!
      I wanted to congratulate you for leading the Twitter chat on “Digital Citizenship in the Early Years”. I lurked a bit and I was so impressed with the quality of the conversation. I also read your blog and took note of the infographics your used in your class. I have a demo class in Kindergarten next week and I will be gathering some of your great ideas.

      Best Wishes,
      Carolin Escobar

  2. Carolin I really enjoyed your post. I recently attended the 21st Century Learning Conference in Hong Kong and attended a session on visual note taking. Before the conference I had never heard of sketchnoting but I am always looking for ways to increase metacognition in my students so it sparked my interest. The presenter, Andrea Khambalia, teaches middle schoolers and gave us a link to her Pinterest board with lots of ideas and student examples. With her students, she pairs paper pencil sketchnoting with vlogging so students can share their thinking with classmates and deepen their metacognition.

    After the session I decided to begin sketchnote taking for myself when reading my Bible. I have been doing it now for a month in written form through journaling. The two biggest benefits for me are that it helps me to understand the content better because of having to synthesize the info while consuming it, and it keeps my attention more focused at the same time.

    When I look at sketchnoting in education, I really only see examples of it being used for upper elementary and high school. I teach first grade and because my students’ language skills are still developing, they inherently rely on taking picture notes often anyways. Also all of the ‘notes’ that need taken at my grade level are mostly done by me on anchor charts. However, I would really like to introduce my students to this kind of note taking when applicable. I can see it being useful when learning to research or during reader’s workshop. Do you have any thoughts on how to use this awesome tool effectively in lower elementary?

    • Hi Jessica,
      Thank you for reading! I have bookmarked the wonderful Pinterest board that you came across in Hong Kong. It seems to be a great resource.
      With regards to your question about using visual note-taking in first grade, I would start with brainstorming concurrent, everyday drawings, figures and learn how to draw them quickly. As you mentioned, first graders are learning to read and write and to have the option to draw will give them more flexibility when wanting to communicate. I also think it is a great tool for the students that are learning a second language. The drawings will help them anchor the new learning. I didn’t find an example for first grade, but one for third:

      Best Wishes,
      Carolin E.

  3. Hi Caroline. This was a great and really informative post. Sketchnoting is something that I have been really curious to learn more about and try to use with students. The ebook that you mentioned looks great and I have already downloaded it. I was at Learning2 this weekend and attended a session with Joel Bevans. The topic of the session was his Traveling Tales project but he used a lot of visual thinking strategies in his session including a lot of drawing. He used drawing more for the purpose of reflective notes or comments on something we watched or discussed instead of as notetaking. But I could feel how it was really different to express my thoughts in drawing and made me process my thoughts in an entirely different way. The experience made me want to find out even more about sketchnoting and the cognitive benefits.

    • HI Elizabeth. You are so lucky for attending the latest Learning 2 conference. I was able to go to the one in Milan, and it really changed how saw things in education. Thanks to that experience, I got motivated to do COETAIL. I am glad to hear that you will continue exploring sketchnoting. I think it is a great skill to have.

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