Classroom Practice

Sketchnotes: The What, Why, and How of Visual Note-Taking

Written by Natalie Gilbert

Were you one of those students who used to doodle when the teacher was lecturing? Did you fill your margins with shapes, stars, and little houses (or was that just me?) These days, as evidenced by Twitter trends like #edusketch and #sketchnote, doodling has evolved from being seen as a distracting habit to a legitimate form of taking notes. Now called visual notetaking, or sketchnoting, the technique is gaining popularity among educators and students alike. Less emphasis is placed on artistic talent, and more on creativity and the ability to visually interpret information.

student questions

The following is a breakdown of visual note-taking so you can get started on your sketchnote journey:


Visual notetaking is a creative way to take notes using pictures, typography, lines, shapes, and doodles, with marker-and-paper or stylus-and-tablet.


Source: Royanlee

Based on comments from Twitter, educators use sketchnoting for a variety of reasons. For ESL teacher Wendi Pillars (@wendi322), sketching helps her “make sense of a lot of information”. For technology specialist Melissa Morris Inoa (@mmorriswrite), visual note-taking “makes learning personal”, “synthesizes important skill sets”, and “helps to create meaning for students”.


The value of sketchnoting is supported by several theories, such as the dual coding theory and the picture superiority effect. The dual coding theory, introduced by psychology professor Allan Paivio in 1971, states that both verbal and nonverbal processing is essential to learning. The theory suggests that our minds have two separate stores of information (verbal representations and mental images) and learners require both to adequately retain and retrieve knowledge. Similarly, the picture superiority effect states that the combination of both visuals and texts is more effective than just text. One study by William E. Hockley (2008), found that “presenting items in pictorial form rather than as words not only benefits memory for the individual items, but also provides a memorial advantage for associations generated between random pairs of line drawings”.


  1. Don’t fret if you don’t consider yourself an artist, or if you can only draw stick people. The value of sketchnoting exists in the process of creating the visual notes, not in the actual artistic outcome.
  2. Start with something small, like sketching a TED Talk, remixing a pre-existing image, or visually-capturing a favorite quote, song, or poem. Here is an example from Sylvia Duckworth:
Source: Sketchnoting for Beginners

Source: Sketchnoting for Beginners

  1. Use a variety of methods, including lines, shapes, arrows, handwriting, and drawings.
  2. Experiment with different apps and a variety of marker-and-paper styles.
  3. Have fun!



If you are going to use technology to sketchnote, here are some recommended apps:

Paper by Fifty-Three FlipInkProcreateSketches Pro


Visual Note-Taking for Educators: A Teacher’s Guide to Student Creativity by Wendi Pillars

The Sketchnote Handbook: the illustrated guide to visual note taking by Mike Rohde


Student Examples

Technology teacher Karen Bosch from Southfield Christian School in Southfield, Michigan has posted excellent examples from how she has used visual note-taking with her middle school students.



Follow these hashtags on social media: #edusketch, #sketchnote, #sketchnoting and #SNDay2016 for World Sketchnote Day on January 11.

About the author

Natalie Gilbert

Natalie has spent the last five years working in both traditional and experiential education settings in Haiti, India, and South Korea. Her background is in journalism and education, and she is currently pursuing her M.A. in Educational Technology. She enjoys running, exploring new neighborhoods, and cooking.

Leave a Comment