Sketchnotes: An Educator’s Adventures in Visual Notetaking

Glancing over my shoulder during a session at NCTE 2016, I spotted the following notes:

While I knew I could never create notes as beautiful as Tanny McGregor’s (above), I realized immediately that her method could revolutionize my own notetaking. A quick Twitter search led me to the name of the method: sketchnoting. Sketchnotes are “rich visual notes created from a mix of handwriting, drawings, hand-drawn typography, shapes, and visual elements like arrows, boxes, and lines” (The Sketchnote Handbook).

I left the conference determined to learn how to sketchnote both for my own, professional learning and in my classroom. Here, I share reflections on these early sketchnoting experiences, as well as tools and tips for getting started.

An Educator’s First Attempt: Live Sketchnoting at a Conference

I threw myself into my first live sketchnoting experience at the DrewTEACH 2018 Winter Conference. I took notes on two conference sessions in pen to help me commit, and then went back later to add color. I shared the notes on Twitter and tagged the speakers, who re-tweeted the notes to a wider audience.

My notes on the DrewTEACH 2018 Winter Conference keynote by Renee Hobbs, posted on Twitter.


My notes on a DrewTEACH 2018 Winter Conference session by Dr. Kristine Shurina and Dr. Kathalyn Messano, posted on Twitter.

Students’ First Attempts: Sketchnoting a TED Talk

I asked students to dive into visual notetaking by taking notes on a TED Talk. I had planned to show a TED Talk on economic inequality in conjunction with The Great Gatsby (more about that lesson here), and I recognized an opportunity for students to try sketchnoting.

I provided some guidance—they should listen carefully for key ideas, mix text and images, and use size and other techniques to emphasize key points. I distributed blank paper and asked students to decide whether or not to hold their paper vertically or horizontally. I also suggested and sketched out some options for organization on the board (e.g. linear, free-form, radial). I projected the title and speaker for the TED Talk so students could begin by noting those details. I equipped myself with a piece of paper and a pen to sketchnote beside them—I can’t ask students to do something I haven’t done myself, and I want them to see me as a fellow learner.

While the video played, I fielded occasional student requests to pause or rewind. Students enjoyed showing their notes to classmates, and many were pleased with their finished products.

Here are some examples of students’ visual notes (shared with permission).

Here are several resources if you are looking to get started.

Getting Started with Sketchnoting

What is Sketchnoting?

Mike Rhode, who coined the term sketchnoting, published a wonderful guide: The Sketchnote Handbook. The book introduces the concept in a clear and visually engaging manner. There are visual examples and tips from multiple sketchnoters, as well as template pages meant to be completed by the reader. Rohde has since published The Sketchnote Workbook, though it’s still on my to-read list.

Rohde posted a sketchnote mini-workshop video introduction to sketchnoting that can be enjoyed from the comfort of your home or classroom. After an introduction to sketchnoting, the video includes several drawings for the viewer to draw alongside the video in real time.

Educators should also be sure to read McGregor’s Ink & Ideas (2018), an indispensable resource for any sketchnoting educator. (Learn more about Ink & Ideas in this post.)

Develop a Visual Library

Rohde recommends sketchnoters develop a visual library, a repository of simple images that can be reproduced quickly. He emphasizes simplicity over realism, and recommends drawing in two dimensions whenever possible.

Doug Neill, founder of Verbal to Visual, has published several videos about visual notetaking on YouTube. I showed this quick, three-minute video to give students a chance to practice drawing five, simple pictures.

The Visual Facilitation Cookbook  by Torben Grocholl, Deniss Jershov and Kati Orav is a free, online book containing ample resources, including templates and visual games for drawing practice. Here is an image of containers (a.k.a. banners, frames, boxes) I’ve copied from the book as an example. Following Rhode’s suggestion, I have drawn a few of these shapes into the back of my own notebook to reference in the future.

Image from Visual Facilitation Cookbook (p. 19).

Ready? Gather Materials

Practiced sketchnoters swear by particular brands and styles of pens,  notebooks, colored pens, and markers, but my students and I have learned that all you need is blank paper and writing utensils of several colors. No need to overthink this. Don’t let a need for special materials stop you from giving this a try with whatever you have on hand.

Sketchnote Hangout, a group that hosts free virtual sketchnoting get-togethers, shares several resources on their website including books, pens, sketchbooks, and software for different platforms.

Look at Examples

Check out the Community page on Sketchnote Hangout for sketchnoters you can follow on Twitter, and search the hashtag #ReadSketchThink for hundreds of sketchnotes across grades and content areas. Here are some of my favorite creative educators, thinkers, and accounts to follow on Twitter:

Tanny McGregor generously shared the following list of resources on sketchnoting, including research, videos, articles, and blog posts.

Tanny’s finished notes on NCTE Session “Paper? Screen? Yes! . . .” by Holly Atkins, Kimberly Higdon, & Candance Roberts.

Happy sketchnoting!

Additional student examples:


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