If you read my Ellii blog posts regularly, you’ll know that I’m passionate about bringing visuals and simple drawings into the language classroom. In addition to making content more memorable, they are a powerful way to support understanding, process information, boost creativity, and encourage critical thinking.
In this post, I’ll explore sketchnoting and why it’s so useful for teachers and their professional development.
What is sketchnoting?
As language teachers, we are forever asking students to deduce meaning by looking closely at words. Sketchnoting is the perfect example to use as a demonstration. The clues are very much in the name—taking notes with sketches!
Sketchnoting is also known as visual note-taking or, more formally, visual recording. It essentially combines text with drawings and diagrams to capture key information.
Here’s an example:
You’ll notice that the drawings are quick and simple. Their purpose is to communicate key concepts and support understanding rather than to be artistic masterpieces. They also act as visual cues that can aid memory.
The benefits of sketchnoting for teachers
When I first started attending conferences and teacher training workshops, I would take copious notes during sessions. Those notes mostly ended up in a dusty notebook on a forgotten shelf or in the recycling bin! I certainly never looked at them again.
Once my Smartphone became my conference (and life) sidekick, I tried taking digital notes using a notepad app. I then had loads of digital notes that I occasionally searched for if the need arose.
I then discovered sketchnoting, and I haven’t looked back. Now, every time I take notes, I take pride in making them something that I want to look at again and again. I give myself time to finalize them and really process the information within them.
When I think back on conference talks I’ve sketchnoted, I can clearly visualize the key points. If I want to review a certain topic, I can find it easily in my "sketchnotes" folder. In addition, sharing them on socials means that I get to review the content every time someone comments.
Here’s one from ElliiCon2022 that tends to generate a lot of discussion on socials and that really sticks in my head. For me, the bathtub picture always reminds me that self-care is much more than a hot bath!
The best bit about sketchnoting for me is that it’s finally helped me to pay attention! This is something I’ve been terrible at my whole life. My math teacher wrote in my school reports that I’d learn more if I wasn’t staring out the window! If I’d known about sketchnoting then, I may actually have understood the concept of logarithms (or maybe not)!
So, in sum, sketchnoting:
- generates a desire to review notes
- aids focus, understanding, and information processing
- is a great way to get creative
- makes notes memorable and fun
- supports professional development
How to get started with sketchnoting
The good news is that anyone can sketchnote. Here are some of my top tips:
1. Use erasable pens (or pencils)!
When starting out, I found Pilot Frixion pens invaluable. This meant I could make mistakes, redraw any icons I wasn’t happy with, and still have finished notes that were bold and visible.
If you look closely at this one, you’ll notice where I’ve erased sections.
2. Experiment with different headings and sections
Using dotted lines, double lines, clouds, banners, or boxes is a good way to separate different information or make your headings stand out.
The sketchnote below uses a name plaque for the title and for the speaker’s name. It also uses a thought cloud, speech bubble, set of headphones, and large piece of paper to separate different pieces of information.
3. Practice drawing simple icons
The doodles in these sketchnotes are based around international iconography. They are simplified icons that are part of a "visual vocabulary" that can be developed with practice, just like learning vocabulary in any language. To get started, try copying the drawings you can see in the sketchnotes in this post or search for "icon" images online for inspiration.
4. Relax and have fun!
Sketchnoting is a great way to quiet the mind and relax. See it as an opportunity to get creative and to interact deeply with information. Your notes are for you to develop and learn. There’s no need for perfectionism or letting your inner troll judge you too harshly. Enjoy the process and you’ll soon be totally hooked!
5. Feel the fear and share them anyway!
Sharing your notes can be daunting, but there is absolutely no pressure or need to do this. However, I have to say that every single time I’ve shared my visual notes, they’ve had a positive response. In fact, sharing them gave me the confidence to improve.
In summary, sketchnoting is an excellent way to make professional development more fun, memorable, creative, and effective. The next time you find yourself taking notes, try adding some doodles and diagrams!
Have you tried sketchnoting at conferences or teacher training events? We’d love to know your thoughts and experiences. Please share them in the comments.
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