Nothing is worse than giving a lecture or presentation on some pretty important content and having students check out. Oh wait, what’s actually worse is when you tell students to turn to their notes and they have none. If this sounds familiar, let me share how you can transform your note-taking experience by using brain-friendly and engaging Sketch Notes in Language Arts.

Using sketch notes in the language arts classroom

Sketch Notes: A Little Background

Sketch notes are a way of taking notes in a visually appealing way. They can also be referred to as doodle notes or visual notes. Combining note-taking (a left-brained skill) with artistic expression (a right-brained skill) sharpens retention by firing (and wiring) additional neurons. Students need only a place to take notes, the freedom to doodle and use color, and content worth remembering! So without further ado, let’s dive into some tips for creating your first set of Sketch Notes for Language Arts!

Tip #1: Begin with the End in Mind

Before you create your sketch notes, you should jot down the enduring understandings that you want students to know. This could be a small amount of content (ex: claim → evidence → reasoning), or it could be an entire unit worth of content (ex: the elements of fiction). Stick to the big ideas here!

Creating sketch notes for your classroom

Tip #2: Create a Framework for Students

Starting with a blank page can be overwhelming for many students. Instead, build a framework that accommodates your big ideas. Use doodle-styled clipart and headings, but don’t be tempted to add more than is absolutely necessary. You’ll want to leave plenty of blank space for students to write and doodle!

How to create doodle notes for your classroom

Tip #3: Build Your Presentation Logically

Once the note-taker is built, you’ll want to build your presentation or lecture in the same order. This will make it much easier for students to follow along. Similarly, you could also swap the order of tips 2 & 3 by building your presentation or lecture FIRST and then the note-taker to follow. Either way, you’ll want to make sure the two are closely aligned.

Using color while notetaking to increase retention

Tip #4: Make an Example Note-Taker

Spend 10-20 minutes creating an example note-taker before dishing it out to kids. First and foremost, it will give you an opportunity to litmus test your content. 

  • Does it all fit? 
  • Does it flow organically?
  • What needs to be changed or modified?

Second, having a completed note-taker will benefit students who need to see a finished-product to understand the purpose.

Using doodle notes in the secondary classroom

Tip #5: Provide Coloring Materials

If possible, remind students via an agenda or posted sign to bring coloring materials to class. However, don’t waste instructional time sending them back to their lockers to get resources. Provide each table or group with a bin of colored pencils, highlighters, markers, or crayons. I let students use my flair pens as a special privilege if they’ve earned it. Yes, I’m cringing the whole time, but they love it. Adding color engages students visually.

Increasing engagement and retention while notetaking

Tip #6: Outline Your Expectations

Be explicit with your expectations for student use of time and materials before you begin. Is coloring over everything acceptable? Is legibility important? What about using the color yellow to write meaty notes? (Students will do allllll of these things, I promise). Next, consider time. They need to keep pace with the lecture – and capturing the important stuff should take priority over beautiful doodles! After all, what good will beautiful (but empty) notes serve them?

Classroom management tips while using doodle notes

Tip #7: Modify Your Note-Taker

Consider your students who will struggle to keep up. Can you add sentence starters or sentence frames so they only have to listen for keywords? Either create a modified note-taker for them, or semi-complete one on your own and make copies of that one. 

How to modify doodle or sketch notes for students on IEPs

Tip #8: Reinforce the Purpose of the Notes

Once the sketch notes are complete, make sure they get used and don’t just find their way to the back of the binder. Whenever possible, remind students to “take out their note-taker” for X task, or review their notes before completing Y. Not only will this will help engrain the need for comprehensive notes, but it will also help students support themselves in the future when they are stuck!

how to take visual notes

Sketch Notes For The Win

By engaging students visually, auditorially, and kinesthetically through sketch notes, you are increasing the likelihood that they stay engaged and retain the content you’re presenting. 

A Sketch-Note Guide & Starter Template

Ready to give sketch-notes a try? Download my sketch-note field guide and a starter sketch note template that can be used for any unit. I’d love to hear how sketch notes work for you, so leave a comment below or tag me in a post on IG or FB!