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Sketch Note Tips for Teachers

sketch note style image of - tips for teaching sketch notes - 6 ways to get students engaged with sketch notes: model, share, practice, big idea, time, tools.

What are Sketch Notes?

Sketch notes are visual notes where lines, symbols, icons, frames, bullets, and other visual elements can organize and structure the page.  

Why use Sketch Notes?  

Sketch notes keep students actively involved with the information you are giving them because they must use both oral listening and visual reasoning to create the sketch note page. They help students relate facts to the main idea because they visualize information near a larger heading or picture. And they also help students remember the information better because they are processing it using more parts of their brain than just typing or writing linear notes.  Furthermore, taking sketch notes keeps students focused and alert as they problem solve how to transfer the information into sketch notes.

Sketch notes are most effective when taking notes about concepts and ideas. If you are recording a large amount of information, they are less effective when taking notes because of the space limitation. 

Time - Give students a little time to make a heading before taking notes under it.

1) Time

Sketch note-taking might take a little more time at first. Give students time to create a heading or graphic element, then begin the lesson. Have students start with a blank page and have a fine tip marker for writing and sketching. Once they get the hang of it, they can use a highlighter (grey in a nice color) for adding some shading.

Talk about what kind of visual structure they might use to take notes before they begin. Expressive Monkey has more info on The Visual Structure of Sketch Notes in another blog post.

Share - what did you use as a heading - what visual structure did you use - what is the main idea

2) Share

Make sketch notes part of the lesson and have students share their pages. The emphasis is not on how artistic the page is but on the idea and information students can record. As students share, remind them that they are sharing ideas, not art. For example, students might share what they used as a heading, what visual structure they used to map out the page, or what content they recorded. 

Big Idea - include a discussion about how the info relates to a big idea.

3) Big Idea

Why is what you are teaching important to students? Make sure this is part of the discussion. Since sketch notes capture the “Big Ideas” or essential information, make sure you are not just giving them lots of bits of information but packaging facts under the umbrella of a big idea. The big picture makes the lesson more relevant to students.

Model - try taking some sketch notes on the board during a movie or presentation.  Ask students for ideas.

4) Model

sketch notes take some time and practice. Let students know that you are learning along with them. Share that you think the extra effort needed to learn this will pay off in the future. Try sketch note-taking on the board during the class along with them (during a video or TED Talk). Let them know what visual structure you are using and why you chose it. For example, use a flowing structure for a series of events or a web of ideas for ideas radiating around a central topic. 

Tools - Give them some handy visual reminders.  Keep visuals nearby to help them remember what they can use.

5) Sketch Note Tools

The basics for sketch notes include:

  • TEXT to show hierarchy (or which words are most important).
  • IMAGES or SYMBOLS to remind you of the big idea.
  • STRUCTURE, which includes bullets, frames, connectors, and captions to lead your eye and organize the page.

My Sketch Notes Toolbox has a page of visuals to help remind students of some of the tools they can use. Remember that they are not creating works of art. The idea is more important than how realistic something looks. So stick figures and quick sketches are preferred over realistic renderings because they can be done quickly and convey the information. 

Have students do a practice sketch note page on something they are familiar with.

6) Sketch Note Practice

Instead of making the first sketch note-taking experience on a complex topic, choose one that the students are already familiar with to focus on the sketch note-taking instead of making sense of a new topic. For example, have students create a sketch note page about themselves. I have step-by-step instructions for this in my Sketch Notes Toolbox. Similarly, have students interview each other, create a sketch note page for another student, and then share it with the class. 

After a bit of practice, students will develop their own sketch notes style and vocabulary of images and symbols that they can use without additional thought.

References :

I found these blogs helpful when researching sketch notes:

Download your Sketch Notes Graphics Freebie or get theSketch Notes Toolbox.

You can read more about ways to arrange the notes on your page in this blog post about the Visual Structure of Sketch Notes.

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Stacey Peters

I create engaging drawing resources that help students build confidence and express themselves through art. I'm a former elementary art teacher of 25 years turned business owner. Giving you the tools you need to bring more drawing into your classroom brings me joy.

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