Author: Chris Wilson

  • 30 Sketchnote ideas you in 2018

    This year I’ve set myself a challenge to try and sketchnote at least one thing each day. This is a great way to develop a skill (in this case sketchnoting) as practicing leads to improving (yes, this is an over simplification but if you want to get better at something, you need to do it! and this is a simple way to do that). The only issue with a challenge like this is finding things to sketchnote. So to help prepare me for my challenge (and give you some ideas) I’ve prepared a list of 30 sketchnote ideas for you in 2018 (I’ll keep adding to the list over time as I come across more good ideas).

    30(+) sketchnote ideas for you

    1. A conference talk
    2. A TED talk video
    3. A lesson or class
    4. Make a sketchnote selfie
    5. a review of the day
    6. a chapter in a book
    7. a book review
    8. a film
    9. a meeting at work
    10. a meal
    11. a song
    12. your workspace
    13. a podcast episode
    14. Your CV
    15. A recipe
    16. a quote
    17. a journey
    18. a pro/con list
    19. New words in a foreign language
    20. a new grammar idea in a foreign language
    21. a sports event
    22. Where you live
    23. a biography of someone famous
    24. what’s on your mind at the moment
    25. What you are excited about
    26. What is worrying you at the moment
    27. A project that you are working on/starting
    28. record your dreams
    29. Where you live
    30. a how to guide
    31. Your spiritual practice (bible reading, meditation, attending congregation)

    Any other ideas?

    So there you have it. 30(+) quick and simple ideas of different things you can sketchnote in 2018 (or any year for that matter). Of course this isn’t a complete list of sketchnote ideas, there are still plenty more options of things which you can sketchnote.

    Have you got any other ideas or things which you enjoy sketchnoting? Why not leave a comment and I might add them to the list.

  • What Are Sketchnotes? (and Why Should You Use Them)

    Sketchnotes is a term invented by Mike Rohde. He found his traditional note taking methods didn’t work at conferences. He tried to capture everything in written words but it was stressful, he remembered little afterwards and he never revisited his notes. So he tried sketchnoting, where he set some creative constraints to help him focus on capturing the big picture in the moment.

    These included

    • using only two pages on a small notebook
    • using pen not pencil so he had to stick with what he had put down
    • and not trying to capture everything, but focusing on the key points.

    As such, Mike called sketchnotes “Notes Plus” they are traditional written notes PLUS other elements like different forms of text and headlines, speech marks and other containers, arrows and dividers and of course, icons and drawings.

    They also make use of different systems to organise content in effective ways and not just moving from top to bottom of the page.

    In some cases, people make extremely beautiful pictures, but Mike insists that it is about Ideas, not art and that making something beautiful is the cherry on top. The real benefit is the process and learning method. Which brings us nicely onto WHY you should use sketchnotes.

    Why Use sketchnotes? The Benefits of Sketchnoting

    Sketchnotes engage the brain thanks to their use of both the verbal and visual centers. This, along with other aspects of sketchnotes character provide several benefits.

    1. Critical thinking and evaluation

    The creative limits help you to focus on what is most important for you. You can’t fit everything in, so you need to cut somethings out. This requires you to process the information and evaluate, is this really important? Is this a key element?

    2. Sketchnotes help your concentration and listening skills

    Sketchnoting requires concentration to focus on what the source material (a speaker or a text) is telling you and avoiding distractions around you. This practices of sketchnoting building your concentration by requiring this regular focus.
    This can lead to a state of “flow” where you are stretched by the challenge of listening, analyzing and noting all at the same time. A highly rewarding state to be in.

    3. Sketchnotes aid your memory

    Sketchnotes are better for remembering information. They require you to draw connections between data and show how they are connected in your notes. They also require personalization beyond simple words as you make choices over the correct font, graphic or item to include or not. And studies have shown that drawing information helps you to recall it better than simply writing a word down.

    4. Sketchnotes are creative

    Sketchnotes are also creative which helps unleash the talents of people who might otherwise feel put off by attending a session of having to take notes. This also makes them a fun thing to do, which makes the whole process of notetaking more motivating.

    5. Sketchnoting is relaxing

    These aspects can make sketchnoting a highly relaxing process where you don’t have to worry about writing every word someone says, but focus on the big picture and let your creativity run wild. You can also experiment with different things to sketchnote whenever you like. Such as sketchnoting your travels, or your lunch, or even a song.

    The net effect of this is that sketchnoting makes note taking more effective for remembering, more creative and a more enjoyable process. You’re also more likely to want to look at your notes again and share them. Wins all round.

    What are sketchnotes?

    Sketchnotes are a form of visual noting combining element of classic notes, like text, and more visual elements like icons, connectors, arrangements and colours.

    Why should I make sketchnotes?

    Sketchnotes are a more creative, more engaging and more memorable way to create notes. If you want to explore your creative side or take more effective notes for a course, you should use sketchnotes.

    Can I make sketchnotes with an iPad or other tablet?

    Yes! Although sketchnotes started as an analog form of note taking digital sketchnoting is a common approach and perhaps even the most common way now. While using a digital tool has some advantages, there are

  • You shouldn’t “Just Sketchnote” in the Classroom.

    One of the ideas that I think I’ve picked up on in sketchnoting circles is that teachers should just “start sketchnoting” in their classroom. I’ll admit that this might be my misinterpretation of what people say (sometimes we read into things what we want to hear) but I felt like this has come up in a few places, so I suspect that this isn’t just me. I believe this is a misguided belief born out of good intentions and I hope that this post will lay out why we can’t and shouldn’t just sketchnote in the classroom but I still believe that sketchnoting has a place in the classroom (but not neccaserily THE place).

    We need to focus on Pedagogy

    The main issue that I have is that this belief that we should start using sketchnotes seems to lack any pedagogy. It simply states that sketchnoting is better for memory (which seems valid) and suits different learner types (erm, learning types is probably a myth, but suiting different styles does seem to benefit all students so…I guess that’s okay?) and it’s good…so do it.

    This doesn’t consider the competing theories we have about how knowledge is acquired or how we teach in practice. In the past we used to teach via passing on knowledge from a source of knowledge (the teacher and later possibly textbooks) and students had to listen and make notes. Now we have different theories which are competing for favour but they generally have left this idea of “the teacher as the source of knowledge who instructs the students” to a model where the teacher is a guide and helps the students to find out what they don’t know. This might not sound very different, but in practice it can lead to students discovering something the teacher doesn’t know and generally favours more project work and learning as a group.

    This is not a universal truth, some schools don’t follow these ideas and some politicians insist that these are bad (sometimes with good reason), but sketchnoting isn’t an immediate fit into a class which isn’t another form of a lecture.
    I’m not saying that these classes can’t be sketchnoted or use sketchnotes, but it’s not a simple 1 + 1. Thought and consideration needs to be given. Is it worth getting students to create separate sketches as they write up a report, or should they use sketches in their report, or should they sketch after the report? There are possible merits to each but we need to back these up with teaching knowledge.

    Who is supposed to sketchnote? The teacher or the students?

    Linked into that point, there is a question of who should sketchnote in the classroom? The teacher or the students? If it’s the teacher then why not just use infographics and pictures in the students text books (or the type of board work that teachers have done for years). If it is the students, then what about students at a young age who struggle with their motor skills. I’m not saying they shouldn’t sketch, but you need to consider these things (as teachers do) and not just tell a teacher to “start sketching”.

    Conversely, older students (such as late teens and adults) might have an adverse reaction to the idea of sketchnoting in class (viewing it as a waste of time or something they can’t do) and as such we may need to work on subtlying introducing sketchnoting into their practice. Ultimately they may not choose to work via this style and that is something which a teacher may have to accept. After all, their job is to teach their subject, not teach sketchnoting. Sure it might help teaching, but it is a means to an end not the ends in and of itself (this is what just sketchnote promotes).

    Different subjects should be taught in different ways

    The way we teach different subjects varies depending on their content and skills required. For example, I didn’t read much about the history of the mathematicians who’s theories I learnt about in school. Paradoxically, I learnt (and read) a heck of a lot about the lives of different political theorists as it influenced their theories. With maths, I followed example exercises to understand how to do certain equations, with German I read texts and then had to identify the words which meant different things within the text.

    Different subjects require different things to be taught and in different ways. In some cases we need to apply sketchnoting differently and we may need to use different systems or set ups to do so.

    Classrooms have constraints

    There are also constraints within classrooms. These can be practical and physical (we don’t have any desk/enough paper/pencils etc) or imposed constraints (“follow the syllabus to the letter.”, you can do whatever you want but make sure you cover all the material (which you don’t have enough time to cover as it is). This is a terrible excuse, I agree, but when you find someone in this sort of situation, it’s hard to persuade them to do anything “extra” even if it could save them time in the future.

    But how can teachers start using sketchnoting in the classroom?

    Despite saying all those points, I believe teachers can and probably should use sketchnoting in the classroom (at least as an option for students). As such, here are a few ideas for how a teacher can start brining sketchnoting into the classroom.

    1. Show sketchnotes

    Some sketchnotes could also be described as handmade infographics. These can be used to introduce ideas and demonstrate idea or concept. By presenting sketchnotes, they may encourage students to experiment with making their own sketchnotes and it provides a regence point for activities where a teacher encourages students to create sketchnotes.

    2. Start with a single activity

    Instead of getting students to dive in at the deep in, we should instead start with single activities and build up to using sketchnotes more and more. This might be starting with just sketching an icon for a group of words they learn. It might be sketchnoting a short audio recording, video or book that they have to digest. It could be summarizing the lesson at the end of the class.

    3. Provide note frameworks for students

    In my experience, this has helped my students get into sketchnoting the most. All we do is provide some guidelines or framework for their notes during the lesson. (I absolutely stole this from Dana Ladenburger) By providing a framework, we give guidelines as to what our students should write and sketch and where. They can then focus more on the content and how it fits within these guidelines. Furthermore, we also provide some insight into the lesson content and what they should pay attention to.

    4. Use a single element of sketchnoting where appropriate

    There are lots of different elements of sketchnoting and introducing them all at once can feel very overwhelming. It might be better to introduce one step at a time and then get students to try to incorporate more as they go along. For example, maybe you start with focusing on different types of text, a heading, main text and call out text. Then you might add in dividers and content blocks, perhaps you’ll add icons next and so on.

    This helps break sketchnoting down into different skills and highlights different aspects that students who “can’t draw” might be more drawn (pun not intended) to.

    5. Present students with the option of sketchnoting

    I believe it is also good to present students with the option of sketchnoting and not necessarily enforcing it where we don’t need to. Providing the option can help build intrigue and allow the students who are naturally drawn to sketchnoting to try it. Meanwhile, the students who are uncertain can simply notice what the other students are doing increasing their interest which may lead to them experimenting with sketchnoting later.

    6. Check out the book “Visual notetaking for educators”

    This is a bit of a cheat but the book Visual notetaking for educators has some useful ideas for sketchnoting in the classroom as well as a lot of the evidence for why sketchnoting can help students to learn more effectively.

    What ideas have you got?

  • How to learn a language on your own with sketchnotes

    As soon as I came across sketchnoting I knew it was suitable for language learning. How? Because I recognized that my own language learning notes were a form of sketchnotes. Instead of using only words, I used icons and diagrams as well as words. That was because I was encouraged not to use my first language in the classroom and instead seek to “think” in the second language.

    It made sense to aim for this in my notes as well, but there was an issue. I often couldn’t describe what a new word meant (try clearly and accurately describing a dog with very basic English vocabulary). Doodles and visuals helped to provide clarity in my notes and yet keep them focused in the target language. However, sketchnotes can be used for more than just recording vocabulary via flash cards. Here’s how to learn a language on your own with sketchnotes.

    Recording vocabulary with flash cards

    In the Sketchnote workbook this is one of the ideas that Mike Rohde introduces. These are useful as you can have a clear visual representation of the word you are trying to learn (so its meaning is clear) and you can practice these words on the go via the principle of spaced repetition.

    Sketching your own flashcards is very useful as it allows us to personalize our images and add in connections that we think. The process of creating the notes is also very powerful for helping to remember the target vocabulary.

    However, stopping with a single word is a real shame, but often what we do. Let’s take the word “dog” for example. I would probably draw a dog differently to how you would. Maybe yours would be a big German Shepherd, or perhaps a small Yorkshire terrier. Well, now we have some adjectives along with our noun. It could be as simple as “a small dog” or more complicated like a “cute bag-able dog” (when you have a dog in someone’s handbag). With verbs we can look at the grammar that goes along with them. “She’s playing football” for instance or “he wakes up at 9am everyday”. Focusing on “chunks of language” that frequently occur together helps take flash cards further than just a single word.

    Sketch out your day/week/etc

    One of the activities my Polish teacher used to get me to do was to sketch out the big events in my week before I came to class and use them to present what I had done. This allowed me some time to prepare what I was going to talk about and not have to worry about misspelling certain words. She would then ask me some questions and I could add to the images “what was the weather like…why don’t you add that in?”

    If you are self studying, you can then use your phone to record yourself talking about your week, save a picture and the audio together and you can keep track of your progress (or get feedback on how you are doing). You might also be able to show these notes to a more proficient speaker of the language and get their feedback on your errors.

    Idioms and Phrasal verbs

    English is full of interesting idioms and phrasal verbs. It makes the language rich and beautiful, but also difficult to learn. The fact that their meaning is not obvious or tied to the parts that make them up, makes them difficult to understand and remember. With sketchnotes, we can use visual that highlight the actual meaning as well as the literal meaning. This can be useful to help remember words…plus pictures of people with feet in their mouths are fun.

    Grammar diagrams

    Most of this post has been focused on vocabulary but grammar is also important. Languages treat time differently and in some cases we need extra grammatical tenses or aspects to describe two things where we’d use the same one in English or our own language. That’s not even touching on cases in Slavic languages.

    Timelines for tenses

    Timelines can be useful tools to help get to grips with tenses. The involve a line which represents time (including now, the past the future) and where we can show an action, whether it is a process, a finished action, a recurring action and so on.

    Colour codes for cases

    Cases aren’t a major problem in English (it’s only really the pronouns which can cause a problem) but in other languages (I’m looking at you Slavic languages), they can be a real headache. When it comes to cases, I have found using colour codes to be very useful. So if I write, “the boy is eating the apple” I might draw “the boy” in blue and “apple” in red and write those words in the same colour with bold for how the noun has changed form. That’s pretty simple, but when you add in adjectives in different cases, as well as indirect objects and locations, it can be more tricky and require more colours.

    Make a sketch a movie/story/podcast (receptive skills)

    Listening and reading practice can be enhanced by making a sketchnote to record what you are listening or reading. Simple follow along and make note of the key events and most important information. You might come across a new word, or hear an expression which you quote. Plus you’ve then got a record of the big things picture and plot which you can refer back to, this can help you understand what is going on at that moment from the bigger picture (top down processing skills).

    Here’s some examples of Doug Neil learning Spanish form a film.

    Conversation flow charts

    One of the things I used to do in Ukraine was try to anticipate interactions I’d have that day. So if I knew I needed to buy something in the pharmacist, I’d think through my conversation trying to anticipate their questions. Likewise, when I was meeting a friend, I’d try to do the same. The problem is that often I’d think “what if they say this…or they might say THAT”.

    Decision trees are a great way to build in these different routes a dialogue could take and help you think through your interaction. You can then add to them as you find out what really happens.

    Bonus: Find sketchnotes and sketchnote resources related to topics you are interested in

    Of course, if you like sketchnoting then you can use that interest to spur on your language learning. Find someone who makes sketchnotes in that language, find books on sketchnotes in that language. There can be issues with the type of language that people include in sketchnotes (it might not match up with the type of language people speak) but being aware of that will help, and maybe they can help guide you through the primary source? Find a TED talk, someone’s sketchnote for it and then follow.

    Any other ideas?

    I started this post because I had been researching this topic for my IATEFL talk on using sketchnote or visual notetaking in the young learner classroom and it surprised me how many posts there are online which go “get your students to sketchnote kthxbi”. Hopefully these give you some more ideas which you can use to teach others or use yourself (and you can expect more to come).

    Have you got any other ideas?

  • Brilliant Digital Sketchnoting Tools to Take Your Sketchnotes to the Next Level

    Although analogue sketchnoting tools like pen and paper are great, you’ll probably want to use some digital sketchnoting tools at some point, especially if you are thinking of using what you or your students create online or in a digital medium.

    As such, you’ll need some digital sketchnoting tools. There are two broad groups, those where you make an analogue version and then digitize it so you can use it digitally, or those tools where you make a digital version of a sketchnote from the start. I’ll look at both starting with scanning tools which you can then adapt.

    Scanning tools

    Although you could use a flat-bed scanner or a DSLR camera to scan sketchnotes, the easiest tool for most people is their smartphone. It’s something that is so widespread that most people have them where ever they are. Plus the fact that they are a mini computer with an internet connection lets you get your scan where it needs to quickly. There are a lot of different scanning apps that you can use but I’d recommend checking out

    • Scanbot (for sending scans to different locations and the ability to turn scans into PDFs)
    • Adobe scan (you can send this to a graphics editing program as a vector or a picture. This is more useful for editing.)


    There are lots of different hardware options for making sketchnotes but there are two options that stand above the rest in my opinion

    Wacom tablet

    These plug into a laptop or desktop computer and allow you to use a pen as your input style. They come in a wide range of sizes and styles with different features. If you want to write and draw directly into your computer, this is probably the best option.

    iPad Pro and Apple Pencil

    Personally, I use an iPad Pro for everything I do, not just drawing but it is exceptionally good at helping to make sketchnotes and doodles. The Apple Pencil is an incredibly accurate stylus and the portability of the device makes it great to use at a desk, at home on the sofa or on the go.

    Of course, there are some android tablets (and windows ones) which also have styli. Some of which are apparently very good but seeing as I’ve never used them, I can’t vouch for them.

    iPad Sketching Apps

    I’ve tried a few different sketching apps on the iPad and I honestly don’t think there is a best app, there are just apps which are better at different things than others. Some of these are more expensive than others and they can all help. Here are some options

    • Paper by WeTransfer (simple, few options and fun. The pen tool works well. Plus it’s free. If you have a non “pro” ipad, you can buy their stylus)
    • Linea Sketch (Slightly more complex than the Paper app, there are useful built in templates and layers)
    • Concepts (free with an in app purchase. It uses vectors letting you adjust afterwards, not a wide range of brushes)
    • Procreate (multiple layers, beautiful brushes, lots of options, can record videos. My personal favourite)
    • Adobe sketch (one that I don’t really use but apparently it is good and support Adobe’s creative cloud apps)
    • Affinity Designer (an vector based app that has a mac app to go along with it. Really powerful)

    Personally, my favorites are Linea Sketch and Procreate. I use Linea for quick sketches and unimportant items, and Procreate when I want to make something really special.

    Icons to use in graphics

    If you really “can’t draw” then you can steal icons that other people have made and use them in your own work. There are a few services and sites out there which offer this service but the best is the noun project. They have a wide range of icons which you can pay to use royalty free, or give attribution and use for free. A great way if you really can’t do a good drawing of something tough. It’s also a great source of ideas for nouns (both concrete and abstract) which you can then adapt.

    Check out these great digital sketchnoting tools!

    These aren’t the only tools but they are a great start that will help you get ahead.

    Do you know of any great digital sketchnoting tools?

  • 4 Fantastic Sketchnote YouTube Channels and Videos to Boost Your Sketchnotes

    YouTube opens up the possibility of seeing a visual note and sketchnotes being created in real time. This is great for us who make visuals or who want to help our students make visuals as well. Seeing the order and items as they are created help. Check out these great sketchnote youtube channels that will boost your Sketchnotes.

    Verbal to visual

    As I mentioned in a previous blog post, verbal to visual is a channel run by Doug Neil who shares videos around sketchnoting. Some of these videos center around how to sketchnote better (perhaps the organizational elements or drawing skills) and others show examples of how he sketchnotes different topics.

    The Sketchnote video podcast from Mike Rhode

    Originally, Mike shared a short collection of 12 videos walking through some of the basics of sketchnoting as well as showing off some people’s sketchnoting works. Now, he has every episode of the Sketchnote Army Podcast Available in video from too!

    Drawing in class (TED talk)

    Here is a single TED video about sketchnoting in the classroom. It’s aimed at general education but it helps address some of the reasons why it’s a good idea to use sketchnote in the classroom.

    Will Paterson

    Okay, this isn’t a channel about sketchnoting but it is about lettering and logo design as well as design in general. These are tangential skills to sketchnoting that can help add some class to your images.

    What Sketchnote YouTube Channels do you like?

    Do you like another channel which focuses on Sketchnote videos? Maybe you even run one. Leave a comment below with the channel and I’ll check it out.