Sketchnoting: Expanding Student Choice

I’m constantly consuming professional literature and find myself in a perpetually reflective/revisionary state regarding my curriculum and practices. I remain haunted by one of my more recent intellectual feasts, EMPOWER: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning, by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani (read more about it here). While I’ve been a PBL convert for a couple of years now and found Spencer and Juliani more or less preaching to the proverbial choir, the authors posed one question in particular that I just can’t shake: What decisions am I making for my students that they could make for themselves?


This question has lead me to make changes to both the elements and processes of my passion project (and will likely continue to do so), but it has also sent me on a hunt for more ways to make my classroom adjustable and flexible and to provide students with even more choice.

Enter sketchnoting.


I might be a little behind the curve on this one, but I had never before heard about sketchnoting until a colleague recently passed on an article about it, thinking it would be “right up my alley.” I was instantly intrigued and took to the internet to find more. Someone on the Twittersphere pointed me in the direction of Tanny McGregor, who, catching the tweet, sent me a link to the first chapter of her text Ink & Ideas, which you can find here. I would highly recommend McGregor’s text if you’re completely new to the idea, as she does a splendid job of breaking down sketchnoting into different design elements to consider: lettering and fonts, connectors and arrows, frames, bullets, faces and figures, word pictures and symbols, colors, placement, etc. McGregor also provides a variety of ways to introduce sketchnoting and use it in your classroom—she even provides a handful of templates if you prefer a little extra guidance getting started. In the spirit of sketchnoting, I even tried my hand at the process while reading McGregor’s text:



Sketchnoting doesn’t necessarily have to include pictures and drawings, though. If you or your students are like me, you may be more comfortable with a more text-heavy approach to note-taking—you can still sketchnote! Check out this brief video where Doug Neill demonstrates a no-drawing approach to visual note-taking.


Finally, if you’d like to see examples of sketchnoting, check out this TED blog post for examples of sketchnotes done while watching TED talks (something you can do with your students to introduce and practice the concept!).


I firmly believe that note-taking is essential to learning—to thinking, connecting, synthesizing, and even creating—and I always will. But just as there is no single writing process that works for all writers, there is no single note-taking strategy that works for all thinkers. Sketchnoting is simply one more tool I can offer my students; it is their choice to either place it in their toolbox or set it aside for something else they find works better. While I will always require students to utilize a note-taking strategy in reading and research, moving forward I will equip them with a variety of strategies—including sketchnoting!–in an effort to emphasize student choice and create a more flexible and adjustable classroom.


WVCTE is wondering what changes can you make to create a more flexible and adjustable classroom! Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!

Sarah Krause teaches Honors Sophomore English and Dual-Credit Senior English at Hurricane High School. Beginning her career as a full-time instructor for Marshall University, Sarah is entering her fifth year in public education. If she is not in the classroom, grading papers, or conducting research, Sarah enjoys working on developing her professional website and blog at You can also follow her on Twitter @teachtwdchange.