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310: Rock the Reading Block
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046: Sketchnotes are Awesome, with Mike Rohde

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Oh the hours I’ve spent doodling. I created a whole world of doodle characters in high school, with different expressions and outfits and pursuits. The margins of all my notes were stuffed with doodles that had nothing to do with what my teachers were talking about.
What a missed opportunity.
If only I knew then, what I know now. Doodling doesn’t have to be relegated to the margins. 
Enter, sketchnotes. When I first discovered the concept of sketchnotes, it was love at first sight. Finally, a way to make the listening process active and even, for those so inclined, artistic. If you’ve been with me on this journey for a while, you know how much I love one-pagers. I bet you love them too. Sketchnotes are like one-pagers that you create on the fly, making your choices rapidly as you process information and get what really matters down onto your notes through a combination of pictures and words. 

In a nutshell, sketchnoting is a powerful way of taking notes in which the listener processes the information while putting it on the page. Some things are bigger, some things are smaller. Some things are bolder, some things are brighter. Some things that don’t feel important just don’t make the cut. Drawings and experiments with different fonts, arrows, bubbles, icons, and more help to make the important information noticeable and memorable.  For me, sketchnotes make listening way more enjoyable, and they make information stick in my head longer. That’s why I am so excited to be sharing a conversation with Mike Rohde, the creator of Sketchnotes, on the podcast today.

Before we dive in, let’s look at just a few examples of sketchnotes in education that Mike was kind enough to share with me. It helps to see this work in action so you know what the end goal is as you begin to experiment with sketchnotes.

Take the case of Allison Huang, a middle school student who read Mike’s book on sketchnoting and began experimenting in various mediums with creating sketchnotes for her history and science classes, eventually working her way into producing amazing sketchnotes on blank paper and digitally. You can read her story here, and see an example of her work below.

Digital Sketchnote by Allison Huang, 8th Grader

Then there’s the story of educator Stewart Hudnall, who decided to sketchnote his own lecture on the board while inviting students to do the same. (That’s right, you can share YOUR sketchnotes with your students too!). Says Stewart, “I tried this on my two rowdiest classes and it was wonderful to see how the kids reacted to the change. All of a sudden they quieted down and were paying attention. They loved it!”  

Whiteboard Sketchnotes by Educator Stewart Hudnall
History teacher Brent Pillsburg has adapted sketchnotes as a way to review each chapter of the history textbook (again, making this sketchnoting assignment a lot like one-pagers). You can see an array of amazing work by his students right here, and one stunning example below. 
I could go on like this for a long time, but we better get to the podcast! Hopefully you are feeling excited to dive in, and ready to try sketchnoting yourself, because…
The Challenge
To help you experiment with sketchnotes and feel more prepared to share the method with your students, Mike and I are inviting you to sketchnote this podcast episode, then share it on Instagram with the hashtag #podcastsketchnotesparty and see what everyone else has created too.  

Tag us @nowsparkcreativity and @rohdesign, and we’ll be cruising around to see and applaud your experiments all week (August 23-30).

I’ll be choosing three random winners to receive twenty-five dollar gift cards to pick out fun teacher shirts at my favorite online teacher apparel store, The Wright Stuff Chicks.  

If you don’t have Instagram, join the fun in my Facebook group, Creative High School English. There will be a thread in there where you can post your photos if that works better for you.Just search #podcastsketchnotesparty inside the group. I can’t wait to see what you come up with! 

If you’re feeling a bit nervous, or you think your students might be intimidated at the prospect of sketchnoting, spend a minute with the video below and sign up for your free download of sketchnotes templates to help you get started.  I used one to create a sketchnote for this podcast (above) and I enjoyed having a little structure to get me going. 

If you’d like to get started with sketchnotes, this episode is definitely for you. You can listen below, or on iTunesBlubrry, or Stitcher. Read on for the written highlights.

In case you’re not in the mood to listen, I’ve outlined some of the main points of our conversation below, along with a lot of great visuals that it’s very difficult to put into a podcast! But if you really want the full conversation, please listen to the podcast this week. I’m just going to share a bit in these notes, as the CHALLENGE is to listen and take notes of your own!


The Origin of Sketchnotes

“Instead of writing all these notes with the idea that I would dig through them later and find the value… maybe what I should do is actually analyze what I’m hearing in the moment and make sense of it in the moment, and those things, I’ll put them on the page.” -MR 

Sketchnotes originated like so many great things. Mike had a problem he needed to solve. He hated taking notes, even though he was really good at. He filled solid page after solid page in his huge lined notebooks at work, and he hated every minute of it.

Then overnight, he had an epiphany.

What if he just put down what’s most important? What if he actually processed the information as he heard it and made choices about how to represent what mattered to him?

Suddenly, note taking stopped being a burden and actually became fun. He was able to listen and enjoy the moment, writing down the big ideas and suddenly finding himself with free time while taking notes, free time in which he was able to experiment with lettering and design and enjoy the artistry of the project.

Suddenly, his notes were a pleasure to look at, because he had already prioritized the important information. No more digging through pages of information to find out what really mattered.

Want to see Mike’s sketchnotes journey from the beginning up until now? Take a little tour through his amazing Flickr account.

“Ideas, not Art.” (13:20)

Because many people are not comfortable leaping into artistic activities, Mike has developed a saying, “ideas not art.” The goal of sketchnotes is simply to capture ideas in an interesting way. There is no need to get hung up on drawing skills. Those can develop later if you get into sketchnoting and you WANT to develop those skills.

So comfort yourself and your students that this is not a drawing competition. It’s a way to actively engage with listening and process information far more effectively than routine note taking.

Mike describes drawing as a simple practice of putting elements together – the square, the circle, the triangle, the line and the dot. You can check out my experiments with putting those elements together below, in one of the exercises I did for his book. If I can do it, you can do it! And so can your students.


Sketchnoting is a Powerful Tool for Learners (17:40)

“It involves the whole person. That’s the thing I like the most about it.” -MR

The great thing about sketchnoting is that it involves two important sides of the sketchnoter: thinking/processing AND writing/creating.

Often in school, there is a heavy focus on the verbal and the written.

But according to the dual coding theory, our brain has two ways of processing, the visual and the verbal. The combination of the two leads to the most powerful results. Students will retain information so much more effectively when they have used both parts of themselves to process what they have learned.

Sketchnoting is a powerful and positive redirect for doodlers, and a fresh way to engage for every student, whether or not they enjoy drawing.

Ready to Dive in! Where to start? (21:06)

“There are some resources that are free to get you going, and there’s a community on Twitter if you start looking around… there’s tons of teachers involved in it and they’re pretty excited about it.” -MR

Mike’s books, of course, are a pretty great way to get going. I love my copy of The Sketchnote Handbook. 
But if you don’t have the budget for a teacher copy or a class set, there are other places to start. 
Check out Mike’s mini-workshop to introduce sketchnoting below. This is a great resource to help students get started with sketchnoting. Watching this half hour video would make a quality lesson you could fit in just about anywhere to introduce the concept of sketchnoting. 
You could also explore the Sketchnote Army Podcast and Website to see how others are diving into sketch noting. 
If you’re more of a Twitter learner, check out the sketchnote hashtag and go from there! 
The Different Purpose of Sketchnotes (24:46)
When it come to taking notes, there’s a spectrum from full verbal to full visual. All sketchnotes exist on that spectrum, you just have to choose based on what you are listening to. Your goal with sketchnotes is not necessarily to get all the information down without bias, unless that really is a requirement of the experience you are having. 

A Powerful Sketchnoting Experience

In this part of the conversation, Mike and I each share a time when the experience of creating sketchnotes was powerful for us. Then we get into some ways that students can get going with sketchnotes.

It doesn’t have to be complicated!

  • Spend a half hour watching Mike’s intro video and drawing treehouses with your students (the project at the end of the video).
  • After introducing the concept, ask students to sketchnote a Ted Talk you are watching for class.
  • Invite students to sketchnote one class lecture, just to see if they like what it adds to their experience.
  • Share some examples of sketchnotes, then invite students to use sketchnotes to gather their ideas before writing a paper or taking a test.

The kids who love it are going to run with it.

Thanks for tuning in or reading up. I hope you’re just finishing up your sketchnotes from the show and you’re about to post them! 


Connect with Mike Rohde, Creator of Sketchnotes


Mike Rohde is a designer, author, and illustrator from Wisconsin. He created sketchnotes and now , as well as using them in a ton of different interesting ways, he teaches others how to use them through his books, podcast, and workshops for teachers. I have to say, I just love the way he sketchnotes his meals at restaurants over on Instagram, and I’m so impressed that he once turned down a job at Apple because he loves what he’s already doing so much! Check out all the ways you can connect with him below. 

Website (find his books and sample chapters you can explore here)
Sketchnote Army

Don’t forget to sign up for your set of six free sketchnotes templates! Pop into my newsletter below and they’ll be heading for your inbox momentarily.


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I'm Betsy

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