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Teaching Sketchnoting (Online)

Last spring, the second week we were out for distance learning, a friend asked if I would teach some middle school students how to Sketchnote online. She said it would be voluntary and most likely be a small group. I agreed, because I wanted to see how difficult it would be to teach sketchnoting online...for a week. I had five engaged children...all girls...who didn't mind being "guinea pigs" for a daily "Lunch and Learn" session.

Shortly afterward a teacher who had booked me to introduce sketchnoting to her class, prior to the pandemic, asked if I would consider doing it virtually (she taught 4th grade). I agreed, based on my earlier "success" and ended up with between 15-17 students.

In order to get links and material to her students I had her added me as a co-teacher in Google Classroom. I used a 1 hour block of time and most sessions ended between 50-60 minutes.

Monday - I did an introduction presentation with built in challenges (copy of presentation with information in the notes area - users will need to click on "file" and then "make a copy" if you want to add it to your Drive to edit). I used Kami to draw on a PDF version of my presentation while in "share screen" mode with Zoom. Our district has a paid subscription but the free version would work for this (see video below - DIRECT LINK TO VIDEO).

Tuesday - (copy of presentation with information in the notes area - users will need to click on "file" and then "make a copy" if you want to add it to your Drive to edit) We worked on Doodle Dictionaries (a dictionary of pictures that might be useful in sketchnoting). Students had to have two sheets of paper and something to write with (we used front and back). This was exclusively a drawing day. They copied what I was drawing on the screen (again using Kami as described in the video above). The first page I called the "rectangle series" because everything started as a rectangle and became something else (we completed drawings in all eight squares we grid out).

I learned how to draw all these pictures with the help of Sylvia Duckworth's How to Sketchnote book which is a fabulous and highly recommended resource if you are looking to get started with sketchnoting.  Once we were done with the "rectangle series" students flipped their paper over, grid it out, and we worked on the "circle series" (which were all faces and facial expressions). I kept the 8 block grid and just skipped the nervous looking face bottom row center.

We got another sheet of paper, grid it out, and worked on the "i people" series (slightly fancier version of the stick figures). I picked eight of all the ones you see below. I called them the i series because each figure started with a block lower case i and we just added arms and legs.

Kids had just enough energy to do one more series of  general pictures where they got to guess what I was drawing as we went along. It was fast paced.  Sketchnoting is not about dilly dallying and taking a ton of time to complete something. I explain that and kids were hyper focused because I wasn't slowing down for them (I use the same approach in the classroom). It helps to stress nobody is getting a grade and it doesn't have to be perfect.

Wednesday (no pre-made presentation) - Children needed two pieces of paper. I showed them the Noun Project website and how you could search for icons. The idea is if you didn't know how to draw something you could look it up there. The site requires a license to download but not to look. I told them they may need that site later during the activity. I shared my screen with students and we watched a short read aloud using Storyline Online on YouTube (I like Harry the Dirty Dog).

When using Zoom to show a YouTube video do not forget to check this "share computer sound" when you select your screen or students won't be able to hear the video.

After the video, I had students number their paper 1-6 and they had to summarize the story in six sentences. Each sentence had to have between 5 and 10 words. In the classroom they lost points if they went over or under. This exercise was designed to get children to focus on the main parts of the story and be concise in their summaries. In the class I paired them they were on their own. You can eliminate the word count but definitely keep them at six sentences (I call it my "six sentence summary"). I gave them 10 minutes to work on it. To be honest, students are not that great at summarizing in six sentences because they tend to focus on the detailed play-by-play. In the classroom I suggest they start with the last sentence and then work their way up. If the work from the top down they get to the last sentence and find they got too bogged down in the minutia to write their last sentence.  If they finished their summaries before everyone else I told them they could start drawing next to their sentences. I encouraged them to use the Noun Project site if they couldn't draw a dog...or a brush. If they were done with that they could get a clean sheet of paper, decide on their structure, and make a "pretty version" of their sketch.

Thursday (no pre-made presentation) - This was the digital doodling day. They all had to bring their sketch from yesterday. We used Kami because we have a district subscription and I can make a Kami assignment in Google Classroom, which makes it easy for students to turn in finished work in from the Kami site. I sent them a blank page in Google Classroom, everyone opened their copy in Kami. This option is not available if you are using the free version. Students can access the site on their own either through the Kami extension or the direct link to their login site - Children would need to sign in with their Google account or an email in order to use.

You could also use Canvas ( It is free to use. I have a short 1:30 second video overview below:

At the beginning of the lesson I take about 10 minutes to explain how the site works (in my case Kami).

Kids work in another browser so they aren't looking at my screen (I have Kami up and I am working as well if they click back to me) but I also have a YouTube playlist of clean songs playing on another tab so we can listen to music while we work. I tried to turn over share screen privileges so volunteers could show us their drawings but it didn't work for me with either class. I had them turn in their finished sketches into their Google Classroom assignments. This allowed me to see them and share them the next day.
UPDATE 4/22/21 - I did the digital doodling in a classroom of 5th graders today and instead of giving them a digital blank sheet of paper I gave them a series of graphic organizers (click to open), which included a blank page if they didn't want to use one of the organizers. It worked out so much saved a lot of time. Here were some of the completed sketchnotes. We used the read aloud "The Kiss That Missed" from Storyline Online but I have also used "Harry the Dirty Dog", "Hanukkah in Alaska", "Zombies Don't Eat Veggies", and "Please Please The Bees."

Friday (no pre-made presentation) - Participants needed four sheets of paper, a pencil, a thin black marker, and colored pencils. I wanted them to use front and back of the paper but it was difficult for them to flip between front and back to do the activity. I reviewed the week and explained I was going to be  conducting some sketchnoting speed drills. The goal was to get two sketchnotes done in 30 minutes.

For the first sketchnote, I showed them a video. I like "A Kid Explains History" videos and have used his Harriet Tubman and Ancient Egypt videos in the past. I have them take notes while they watch the video. I do not pause the video...remember I am trying to build up their skill and speed.

They put that sheet of paper with the notes aside and get a clean sheet of paper. I then have them click on a high interest Duckster's article I have either put into Google Classroom or linked in the Zoom chat. I give them 10 minutes to read and summarize on their paper (I will give them extra time if they all ask for it but not much). You could use any "kid friendly" article site. Other popular sites include Newsela and ReadWorks.

Once they are done they are given 30 minutes to complete the two sketchnotes on their clean sheets of paper (so they transfer over their notes as well), I remind them to go into The Noun Project and look up icons if they aren't sure how to draw something. Some students don't want to rewrite their notes on the clean sheet of paper and sketch on their original notes...I let it slide. If they are done before the 30 minutes are up I have them outline everything with a thin black marker, if they have one, and color the finished sketch. I have them share their sketches and the information they wrote, if we have time. Not everyone wants to share so I generally take the volunteers.

I always remind teachers, that while sketchnoting is "fun" for children they won't get better unless they are given ample opportunities to use it. I recommend that for at least a month, after the initial "how to" week, you give one assignment a week that involves producing a sketchnote and each Friday run one speed drill.

Please note not all of your students are going to enjoy sketchnoting and that is ok. I think introducing students to different types of note taking is important and this is just one of many ways students can take notes.

If you give this plan a try. I would love to hear how it went or how you modified it. Please comment below or post on Twitter and tag me @atechcoachlife.


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