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Ideas, Not Art!: Sketchnoting on the iPad

Participate and share

Participate and share : Poster

Saturday, December 5, 11:00 am–12:00 pm PST (Pacific Standard Time)

Victoria Olson  
Flex your growth mindset and learn a new way to communicate thinking! Explore the philosophy behind sketchnoting and practice its basic elements using text, lines and arrows, boxes and containers, images, and page layouts. Improve your visual communication as you undertake drawing challenges that you can use with students.

Audience: Coaches, Teachers, Professional developers
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices required
Attendee device specification: Tablet: iOS
Participant accounts, software and other materials: Bring your iPad, stylus, a notebook, and a pencil. Please have Sketches School by Tayasui downloaded onto your iPad before the session begins. (Link:
Topic: Creativity & curation tools
Grade level: PK-12
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Model and nurture creativity and creative expression to communicate ideas, knowledge or connections.
For Students:
Creative Communicator
  • Students communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models or simulations.

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

The purpose of this session is to share the art of sketchnoting with educators so that they and their students may be inspired with a new means to communicate their thinking and their personal stories. Sketchnoting tugs on higher order thinking skills by forcing the creator to focus on big ideas rather than extraneous detail when trying to communicate a message or story. While often used by educators to capture learning from professional development opportunities, this is also a powerful practice to share with students as well (the best sketchnoters are often primary students, after all!).

The number one reason given to why people don’t try any type of visual note-taking is this: “I can’t draw.” This is simply not true - we can all draw - and sketchnoting is driven by using good structure on the page, not good artwork. If good structure is present, the quality of the art does not matter, because good ideas can still be communicated without fancy artwork.

The basic sketchnote elements (text, lines and arrows, boxes and containers, doodles, and lay-outs) will be explored throughout the session, strengthening attendees’ abilities to structure their sketchnotes. Multiple drawing exercises will help participants to become proficient when facing typical constraints while sketchnoting (for example, having enough time to capture a drawing), and will help in the development of their own personal drawing style. The iPad and the free app that will be used in the session, Sketches School, allows attendees to easily capture their ideas, with the freedom to cut, paste, move, and superimpose their images on the screen to support their drawing practice as well as structural page layout. Their sketchnotes are easily shareable after they are created, and can be exported to the camera roll and sent to social media sites, blogs, or classroom websites.

The primary resources utilized in this session are both print and digital, and focus on general drawing as well as drawing on the iPad. The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde, How To Sketchnote by Sylvia Duckworth, and the Everyone Can Create: Drawing series put out by Apple Education are the three main resources that will be used to support learning.

I (Victoria) have been a sketchnoter since early 2014 and have shared several sessions on the practice of sketchnoting with my first session dating back to the summer of 2017. Most recently, I have worked with Apple and presented at conferences to share sketchnoting as an educational vein to the Everyone Can Create: Drawing series. I have taken in several books, blog posts, and videos on the topic of visual notetaking and I connect and share ideas with other educators who regularly sketchnote.


Full updates were NOT yet made to this framework as I’d like to request a 90 minute time slot instead of a 3 hour workshop now. If I get the 90 min slot, then I will rework this framework to fit within it, including community sharing through digital platforms (Padlet, etc) instead of the initially planned face to face gallery walks and in person sharing.

(2 min) Session introduction & who I am

(10 min)
What is sketchnoting?
- Visual notetaking mixes handwritten texts, doodles, and elements such as boxes, lines, and arrows to capture thoughts or ideas.
- Philosophies behind sketchnoting.
- Dual Coding Theory
- Retain information better through handwriting than typing
- Regular notetaking is arduous… detail-oriented, focused on getting every point down, and not retention. Rarely revisited or shared.
- Visual notetaking engages visual and verbal and tactile domains of the brain
- While retention is personal, ideas can be more widely shared because the product that conveys the ideas is more attractive
- Sharing examples of sketchnotes.
- Contrast old and new (my own, other sketchnoter examples)

(5 min) Tips before we begin exploring the mechanics of sketchnoting:
- Practice!
- Don’t be scared to imitate others. Use the Google machine (see Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist). How else do we learn to do things?
- Getting to know the tools you’re working with
- Bypassing the erase tool / Getting rid of the internal editor
- I use the erase tool to create my images rather than erase them (negative space)

(1.75 hours total for these) Basic Elements of Sketchnotes

Text (15 min)
- Orders of magnitude of font importance
- 4 basic sets of text that you’re familiar with
- Call-out, uppercase, print, script
- Should be quick and require little thinking
- Titles and important text are large, bold, colourful
- Notes and details are small and less bold/colourful

Boxes & Containers (10 min)
- Creating different types of call-outs, boxes, containers, highlights that promote attention toward a word, phrase, or title

Lines & Arrows (10 min)
- Utilizing lines, borders, arrows, etc to structure your page
- Recommend giving lines some kind of embellishment or detail that helps them stand out.
- Exploration of narrative flows using arrows
- Arrow drawing exercise

Doodles (1 hour)
- All drawings are made with 5 basic shapes: circle, triangle, square, line, dot
- Doodle dictionary exercise - a 4x3 grid on page with some set ideas to draw in each box (I.e. pencil, learning, laptop), have attendees come up with higher order drawing challenges for bottom row (I.e. Things that are not objects: How do you draw collaboration? Courage? Interactive?)
- Timed doodle exercise: doing 4 doodles with increasingly less time each round (Doodle 1: 3 min, Doodle 2: 1 min, Doodle 3: 30 sec, Doodle 4: 10 sec) - How did that feel? Biggest thing is getting rid of the internal editor. Come back to the fact that sketchnoting is about “Ideas, not art”
- A coffee cup is still a coffee cup whether you take 3 minutes or 10 seconds to draw it
- Creative Confidence Circle Exercise: Draw 20 circles on your page that are relatively the same size
- Get 5 min using the circles to create simple drawings (no examples given)
- Sharing: what did we create? How did that feel?

Page Setup/Flow (10 min)
- Exploration of different examples of page set-ups
- Provide participants with different prompts and discuss how they might set up a page for that specific prompt (also a good exercise to do with students)

(30 min) Final challenge: Draw how to make toast
- Show a short snippet of “How To Make Toast” TED Talk if there is time, OR collect images from the TED talk to demonstrate the different way a systematic process like toast-making can be communicated
- Link to expository writing (an intermediate-aged learning outcome in most places)

(15 min) Gallery Walk, sharing (both online and in person) and reflection time.
- Discuss with group what their process was and why they made the artistic decisions they did.

(15 min) Final words
- What are we going to do with this?
- Explore the different ways our experiences are shared through sketchnoting
- How might you tell different stories? What stories are you compelled to tell?
- Sketchnotes show how you might tell or retell a story, no matter how simple.
- You can share what’s important to you in a story or from your own learning.
- This entire session and ALL of the exercises in it are things I’ve done with my intermediate aged students (Grade 6-7).
- Discussion about adapting these materials for different age categories or contexts

Ideas to continue on with the practice:
- Start small.
- Create a corner for sketches in your traditional notes
- Create a title header/footer/sidebar for your notes.
- Add call-outs or colour or alternate texts to draw emphasis

How to contact me post-session + handy resources (share books and online resources, including links as a digital handout)

Supporting research

Everyone Can Create: Drawing - Apple Teacher Learning Center
Mike Rohde - The Sketchnote Handbook
Sylvia Duckworth’s books: Sketchnotes for Educators, How To Sketchnote; and Sketchnoting for Beginners (presentation)
Verbal to Visual blog and Youtube channel - Doug Neill
How you write changes the way you think - Clive Thompson
Brad Carter's Sketchnote Primer
Drawing Toast TED Talk - Tom Wujec
How you write changes the way you think - Clive Thompson

More [+]


Victoria Olson, Dorothy Peacock Elementary School

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