Sketchnoting students: surprising experience!

“Sketchnoting is a form of taking notes wherein the sketchnoter visually represents his or her thoughts and ideas”. This is how Silvia Tolisano begins her explanation of this strategy, very useful as a visual platform for Documenting as/for Learning (Chapter 8 of her brandnew book A Guide to Documenting for Learning: Making Thinking Visible, Meaningful, Shareable and Amplified).

I have been using sketchnoting for more than one year now (remember an old blogpost  with one of my first ones?)

After an attempt last year to introduce it in my classroom, but still not mature enough, this year I decided to give it a more decided try.

Two months ago, I explained this method to my HealthEd Students, and challenged them with sketchnoting the contents of a video explaining correlation and causality in science. The results were mostly dissapointing, mainly to the fact that it is a difficult concept, that they had to sketch in real-time (with no experience at all!), and that many did not get the main point of the explanation. In another class I did some sketchnoting practice before the video (sketch some nouns, some verbs, and -most difficult- abstract values, learned with Silvia at LEC2017). These students performed better.

Our last approach was to replace a traditional test with a sketchnote: the immune system. I provided some resources on the google classroom and asked them to sketchnote the functioning of the immune system. As a biologist, I can tell you with certainty, that the immune system is extremly complex, probably one of the most difficult topic I have learned in my career.

I thought sketchnoting would be a great way for the Ss to connect, hierarchize, summarize and curate the information I provided.

Two weeks later I began to receive the results. I was so happy about them! So many students performed so well that I just had to show them to everyone (colleagues, my husband, my kids!). The clarity of the concepts depicted, the balance between the graphs and the text, the dedication. And one of the most beautiful things about this, is that the sketchnote is so personal as a fingerprint. The personality, the creativity, the emotions of these 15-years olds are so clearly transparented in their sketchnotes. Most important: how they think, this was really a first-hand experience of VISIBLE THINKING.


I replied to every individual sketchnote with an appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of each production via “private comments” on google classroom. Many students replied to me, thanking my helpful comments.

I also sent a feedback G-form to see how they felt the experience, here are some results:

The majority of the Ss like this technique, they enjoyed doing it.

Around 60% say that sketchnoting helped them to understand immune system better than if they had to do a traditional summary.

70% of the students consider sketchnoting could be an option for doing their next own summaries when they have to study or understand something in other subjects.

But: most of the students find this technique still difficult. Obviously, they are new to it, it´s all about training.

  • Some reflections of the Students in the end:
  • “I never do summaries and I did this one because it was an obligation. I had fun doing it and found it a very good way to learn something”
  • “I really liked it, I think it was original”
  • “They are different methods. With the usual one making a summarize is MUCH faster, but I have to read it over and over until I understand/memorize it. With this method however, I retain MUCH more information. I would need to read 1 or 2 times to fully understand and memorize each part.”
  • “I think that this way to do the summary is a very didactive way, because we learn about the topic, and have fun doing it”
  • “once that I finished the skethchnoting I understood the subject a lot better, but the procese was long, and I had no idea where to start”
  • “I prefer doing a small text with the important information and words, the writing helps me remember the information.”
  • “I enjoyed doing the sketchnote because it was fun to do the drawings and be creative. On the other hand, it took a lot more of time than a normal summary, which is a lot easier and, for me, just as effective as the sketchnote. I think it is a good exercise to do once in a while and it would be great if we could go over the topic in class to clear up any doubts we have left.”

Some students didn´t like it. Other didn´t find my feedback clarifying enough, and they fairly state that they would like to know their mistakes. Giving personal written feedback to 90 Students is an enourmous amount of workload. I still have to try not to attempt the same approach in all 5 classes at the same time.

Here are some of the most representative sketchnotes


This sketchnote is in a storytelling format. Clear, a good balance between graphics and text, colourful, organized.














 I love this one, it is so representative of the personality of this student. My observation of chances for improvement where that she should try to use less full sentences, try to summarize the written information, so she will gain a clearer oversight on her ideas and their connections.


In this case, the concept of the sketchnoting method was not fully understood yet. This student tried to make an approach to using colours and some structure, but it still has the format of a traditional summary. We just have to keep on trying!

5 Responses

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  1. Liliana 6th junio 2018 at 9:01 pm | | Reply

    Evelyn, es maravilloso lo que documentás en tu blog. En una forma muy visible mostrás tu propio recorrido en la transmisión de la técnica del sketchnoting y el recorrdio de tus alumnos. Decís que cada sketchnote es único como las huellas digitales, seguramente vos los alentás y les permitís esta variedad. Ojalá que ver lo valioso que es darse cuenta cómo aprende cada uno y con qué recursos se identifican más. Un tema tan árido como puede ser el sistema inmunológio, se transforma desde una obra de arte hasta un resumen con estilo.
    Pensate en armar una cartelera con los trabajos? Cuántos alumnos trasladarán este aprendizaje a otras áreas?
    Valoro los 90 feedback que hiciste! Pasión por el aprendizaje!

  2. Sylvia Duckworth 6th junio 2018 at 10:44 pm | | Reply

    Thanks for sharing your experience with sketchnoting, Evelyn. Your students are well on their way to becoming prolific sketchnoters thank to your role-modelling and instruction. Bravo!

  3. Janet Hale 15th junio 2018 at 2:10 am | | Reply

    I really enjoyed your post, Evelyn, regarding your own implementation journey, as well as your students, concerning what it means to become a comfortable sketchnoter!

    As you shared, there is a learning curve, and that curve includes the ability to convey one’s thoughts concerning the most important information being captured and conveyed in a sketch based on a student’s (and teacher’s) personal life and learning experiences.

    The metacognition taking place while sketching is equally as important (if not more important) than having a finished product. A worthwhile discussion to have with students is asking them to share what they were thinking as they were drawing a figure, writing a word/phrase, or creating a flow arrow in the context of “why was it important to you to do X the way you did.” The responses are often eye-opening and revealing about oneself as a learner. And a result of having to formulate their reasoning to answer this question aids them in becoming more cognizant of how to best convey their thinking about a topic or concept when creating future sketchnotes.

    I also enjoyed reading your thinking about your students’ sketchnotes immunity concepts–who appears to have an understanding of the complexities involved, and who still has misconceptions. One benefit to using an app, such as Paper 53, students can go back into the app and copy (for documenting growth purposes save the original and make a copy for one or more iterations) and have them revise their sketchnotes once they realize their misconceptions need to be addressed based on feedback or further learning applications.

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