This year I have begun introducing a new way of combining pictures with words.

¡Viva La (Doodle) Revolución!

Sixth graders work on visual-literacy exercises. They think that it’s just fun doodling or maybe at most cartooning- but really, they’re learning how to communicate effectively, quickly and economically with images.

The principle is that drawing is a thinking tool, a means to an end, not just an end in itself. Ideally, this will build their confidence and lower their inhibitions about learning to draw, paint and design later in middle school and high school. Meanwhile these skills will help them be able to analyze, conceptualize, organize, interpret and visualize their learning. It will also help them better be able to communicate visually.


Book It!

This year I’ve also begun having 6th, 7th & 8th graders use inexpensive composition books. In these books students are encouraged to doodle and sketch, but this is also where they could practice art exercises and of course- take notes.

Instead of spending $6-10 per student from the Art Dept. budget, each student spends maybe 50 cents to $2 on their own composition book. My hope is to have them use these as a composition notebook, sketchbook, “smash-book,” scrap book, “bullet-journal,” organizer, and diary. Ideally, kids will recognize that they don’t have to spend huge amounts of money for special tools, but instead they can create their own very inexspesively.

Graphic Organization + Diagrams & Illustration
+ Annotation = BETTER NOTES

I introduced ALL my art classes, 6-12 to visual note-taking. Many teachers may cringe at the idea of letting students draw on their notes. I sympathize, that simple, spartan notes may be easier for teachers to grade, if they require students to turn them in. But I wanted to tackle several problems. 1) Integrating art into student’s everyday lives and other subjects. 2) Helping students notes be more meaningful and useful to them. 3) the fact that kids either don’t bother taking notes or complain about having to take them.

Year ago when I attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop at Morningside College, Professor Marty Nepper helped me discover a powerful idea. Writing is not just about sharing or publishing what you’ve written, it’s tool for thinking, a way of processing and organizing ideas and experiences. Therefore, writing isn’t just for professional authors or reporters- it’s for EVERYBODY. I remembered that one of my Art professors at Concordia College often insisted that art was for EVERYONE, not just for professional artists. Connect the dots and it’s easy to see that while not everyone may paint like Michelangelo or draw like Leonardo- anyone who can make marks can use those marks to help them think. Drawing (Doodling, Sketching, Juxtaposing, Arranging/Designing) is a thinking tool!

I had experimented with the Cornell method of note taking for my middle school Civics classes with mixed results, so I began researching visual-note taking or “sketch-noting.” Some students are so used to traditional note taking that they need to be coached and coaxed (or at least reminded) to include doodles, illustrations or diagrams in their notes. A little “scaffolding” may be necessary from teachers, to help with this, I developed a rubric for scoring text-notes so that students know what’s expected.

It’s ironic that students would have to be encouraged to do something so fun and relatively easy, but some students are apprehensive about personalizing their notes rather than something more traditional that they expect will please their parents and teachers. Remind them that there’s not an absolute right and wrong way of doing things and that THEY control what’s emphasized and how things are organized with their text, images, and structure. Only the content is from another source.

Anecdotally I’ve noticed that Sixth and Seventh graders adapted to sketchnoting more naturally than Eighth graders and high school students, probably because they’re newer to note taking in general and therefore haven’t developed habits yet. My hope is that as I continue training middle school art students in this practice, it will permeate up through our grade levels.

Admittedly, this may require my persuading or even cajoling teachers to permit, let alone encourage students to draw on their notes. Since research suggests that even if imagery is not directly tied to the content, comprehension and retention is enhanced, I hope that students will adopt this practice and that teachers and parents will encourage them. Remember, some of the advantages will be being occupied with non disruptive behavior, personalizing and processing learning, and ideally, motivating students to connect with the content.

Benefits of Sketch-Noting

  • Enhances what you remember by over 25%
  • Improves your understanding
  • By combining visual and verbal cues, you are simultaneously using different parts of your brain to process the information
  • Students find it more entertaining and engaging than traditional note-taking alone
  • Students will be occupied by non-disruptive behavior
  • Student feel like they have a greater sense of ownership/stake in the learning

Elements of Sketch-Noting

  • Text; Typography/Fonts/Typestyle
  • Images, Symbols & Icons; Doodles/Cartoons/Simple Diagrams & Charts- NOT necessarily photographically realistic depictions
  • Structure/Organization; Shape, Colors, Lines & Cues to help direct attention, information flow, hierarchy, identification and emphasis.

Visit to view a video about visual note taking and see my rubric for scoring student sketch-notes.

RUBRIC; Sketchnoting