Engaging Students With Visual Notetaking

Kathryn HaydonEducators

Engaging Students With Visual Notetaking

By Kathryn P. Haydon


Check out this great article on visual thinking & graphic note-taking from French education blog Apprendre à éduquer, featuring Sparkitivity’s Kathryn Haydon and Jane Harvey’s sketches! Here’s the original article we wrote that they translated from The Creativity Post.


The sketchnote or taking visual and graphic notes

Taking visual notes as drawings, diagrams, graphics and text effectively to appropriate information. It is done on a large white sheet (like a Mind Map which it is cousin).

There is much talk of visual learning profiles but it is the ability to mentally visualize the images is natural for everyone and this capability is valuable to us in solving the problems facing us. Scientific studies in the field of creativity emphasize visualization as essential to creativity because it includes the ability to “mentally manipulate images and ideas” (Davis, 2004, p. 101). E. Paul Torrance, American psychologist, says it’s important to be able to view rich and colorful way (Torrance, 1979; Safter & Torrance, 1990). E. Paul Torrance even integrates visualization as one of the 18 skills to be taught in schools to develop students’ creativity. Sunni Brown confirms the importance of “literacy” in the processes of visual thinking and problem solving, that is to say, the teaching of translation of ideas into visual thinking or “sketchnote”.

Kathryn Haydon, the author of the article Ten Ways to Engage Students Using Graphics and Color, emphasizes the impact of the rich and colorful display on the success of learning. In a group (eg a class), it is easy to encourage the various participants in each add their graphic element to an initial scheme proposed by the teacher or the students. Curiosity is fueled, the strengthened commitment, thorough understanding and retention.

How to visually take notes?
There are three essential dimensions in sketchnotes:

1. The text

It is not to write the text in the usual way but to highlight key words to distinguish them from others and establish a hierarchy of concepts. How are written words must be linked to their meaning (eg, the notion of size represented by a word written in small or large). It is important to use his own words to synthesize a concept.

“A picture is worth a thousand words…”

2. Images

This is to translate words into recognizable images. A paragraph 5 lines can be represented in a single image. To understand how to transform a word picture, I offer this video in English:

3. The structure

The structure shows the sequence of ideas and relationships of concepts between them. Tables, maps, arrows or graphics can help in this direction.

How to encourage students to use the principles of sketchnote to add rich and colorful images to their lessons?

It is not necessary to be an artist as a teacher, parent or student for use in decision-visual and graphic note. Kathryn Haydon offers teachers 10 ways to help students use patterns, colors and designs for taking notes

1. Adopt patterns, graphics, drawings, gribouillons intentionally in class. Show pictures taken note of visual students (there are many on Google). In a free PDF (in English), Mike Rohde provides simple examples from his book  The Handbook Sketchnote here.

2. Encourage students to use the sketchnote as a learning strategy by asking them: take notes during the course in one color (black or blue for example). Add color later when reviewing their notes.

3. Engage the class in an experiment: one day, have students take notes using words. The next day, ask them to take visual notes and graphics. Request a return to the students: do they have noticed a difference? How do they prefer? As a teacher, try to see if the understanding and retention of students are impacted.

4. Propose handouts, lessons or slideshows as sketchnotes

5. During the presentation of concepts in class, take the time to draw them (the table for example).

6. During presentations or oral presentations of students, taking visual notes and graphics to give them as evaluation of their performance.

7. Have students create graphic summaries of a chapter or lesson.

8. Propose a student to write down the main points of the lesson presented by the teacher as sketchnote during class. After the presentation the teacher ended, the other students are invited to add colors and other graphic elements. Encourage students to take pictures of these drawings to help them retain information. Create a rotation so that interested students can go to each table in turn.

9. Take notes as sketchnotes at each meeting (teachers, with parents during the school councils …) and send photos or copies to each participant.

10. Being open to ideas of students on new ways to incorporate graphics shapes or colors.

What are the benefits?

Help in understanding and memorizing: The brain has to sort, select, organize, synthesize and simplify information content. This cognitive and personal approach promotes understanding as much as memorization.

Clarity and personalization information: The marks obtained in the form of drawings and colorful patterns are less complex than reading large blocks of text and readable as notes taken in haste. It is more pleasant to work from his own ideas, his own words and mental images. By doing things his way, ideas, concepts, information takes more sense.

Complementarity with Mind Mapping: The sketchnotes and Mind Maps are complementary in the sense that these two techniques enhance the ability to synthesize and emphasize the essential through the visual context. It may be interesting to insert a Mind Map within a sketchnote.

This article is inspired from the article in English: Ten Ways to Engage Students Using Graphics and Color by Kathryn P. Haydon, I warmly thank her for allowing me to translate it.


Kathryn Haydon helps you maximize your creative strengths so you can do your best work. Through keynotes, workshops, and consulting, she trains individuals, leaders, and teams to find the unique spark that leads to deep engagement and productivity.

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