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So many things go beyond content in our classrooms.  Teachers model and teach habits of mind, character development, communication skills and study skills in their classrooms as they encourage creativity and provide opportunities for 21st century learning.  All this happens while teaching content and standards.  Finding a balance among all of this is close to impossible, and yet it happens every day in classrooms across the nation.  An amazing tool I have been using to connect content, increase vocabulary and encourage creativity and communication is the use of sketch notes.

The Why

I am a doodler, but I am not an artist.  Stick people are my limit, but I love the repetition of shapes and the creativity in drawing the alphabet.  Fonts make me happy.  Studies have shown doodling helps with retention of information and can help listeners focus.  According to a case study done by Jackie Andrade (2009) “The doodling group performed better on the monitoring task and recalled 29% more information on a surprise memory test.” *  Sketch notes can help your students engage in learning and retain what is being presented.

The How

As with many things in the classroom, there are many ways to implement this process.  Depending on your teaching style, philosophy and classroom demographic start sketch notes in your classroom with the support you and your students need.  If you are an artist, your examples may be elaborate and beautiful.  If you are a doodler, like me, your work may be simple.  Both methods work for sketch notes.  It is about visualizing your connections to vocabulary and concepts.  If your students are hesitant to get started you can provide templates.  Create a sheet with important vocabulary and space for note with graphics, speech bubbles or shapes to match the content.  If your students are older or you have a creative bunch, simply students a white sheet of paper and let them sketch.  If you have devices available or a 1:1 classroom, check out some apps for sketch notes and visual note taking.  Be sure to use color and creativity in your sketching and have fun!

We started with vocabulary. During the lesson, students were given a white sheet of paper and folded it into thirds or fourths (to match the number of vocabulary words we would be sketching) and they wrote the word in a font of their choice as it was introduced.  I embedded this into our math lesson after fluency practice and before our content development.  Using my board to model each word, I encouraged students to use their creativity to sketch their notes.  I found some fun songs from Numbers rock that gave visual examples and simple explanations.  While listening to the songs we sketched.  The important thing is to get a visual and the important details of each vocabulary word or concept.  Some examples from my work and my student’s work are below.










The Use

After you have sketched, have students share their notes.  This allows them to verbalize their visualizations and see the view point of other’s notes.  We spend one minute each sharing our notes with a partner.  You could also do a gallery walk to see all the notes done during class.  Allow students time to modify or add to their notes after they have shared with a classmate.  Then students use their notes during our work time to apply the concepts.

I include my sketch notes in my communication to parents.  This gives them a visual example of the content, vocabulary, and skills we are covering in class.  It also provides study information when the unit is over.  Sketch notes are a fun and interactive way to engage students in discussion and learning.  So break out those markers and sketch as you learn.


Andrade, Jackie. “What Does Doodling Do?” Wiley InterScience (2009): n. pag. Web. 07 Feb. 2017.

Lori Rice is a fourth-grade teacher at West Elementary in Wamego, Kansas, who has taught K-2 reading...

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