Julie Randles
Get students creating with digital sketchnoting

Karen Bosch has a theory about how students communicate today. She points to Instagram, Snapchat and the use of emojis as proof of what she calls “pic-ting.”

Pic-ting, as opposed to writing, is their language of choice. And digital sketchnoting is a perfect fit for this new dialect.

“It’s that picture element that moves it to the next level,” says Bosch, computer lab teacher and tech coach at Southfield Christian School in Southfield, Michigan. And research backs up her theory.

On his blog, Derek Bruff, director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching and a senior lecturer in the Vanderbilt Department of Mathematics, points to several reasons to use sketchnoting in the classroom.

Sketchnoting helps visual processing

“They promote active processing of information, they foster a useful balance of main ideas and details, they help students develop more robust knowledge organizations, and they aid understanding and recall through dual coding.”

Dual coding is a neuroscience theory that finds humans process incoming information through two channels, one verbal and one visual.

“When we activate both channels at once — so that they’re working together — we’re better able to understand and remember ideas,” Bruff writes. “When a sketchnoter comes up with a visual way to represent a new idea, often through some doodle or diagram, she is practicing dual coding.”

Bosch encourages her students to use the technique for brainstorming, sequencing, journaling and processing external content like lectures or videos. She also sees sketchnoting as an innovative way to identify main ideas, processes and sequences of events as students read fiction and nonfiction.

Plus, it’s a sure-fire way to stave off naps during videos. “I love that because kids tend to zone out while watching. Sketchnoting forces them to interact,” Bosch says. And students using iPads to view content can always hit “pause” to search for more information on the topic they’re studying – providing even more fodder for their sketchnotes.

For the youngest students, sketchnoting has the added benefit of being a non-messy, unlike working with markers, pencils and paper with lots of erasing. “It’s forgiving; use the undo button and you’re back in business,” Bosch says.  

Get started with these tools

Bosch has some favorite sketchnoting apps she recommends, even for the youngest students.

She suggests Drawing Pad as a great starter tool and also likes Autodesk SketchBook, Tayasui Sketches and Paper by FiftyThree.

She plans to try Clips, a new tool that lets you annotate sketchnotes with captions, arrows, music and narration.

Bosch’s sketchnote affinity led her to create a host of resources for educators who want to give it a try. Find out how to help students visualize learning with sketchnotes at her iTunes U course and watch her tutorials on her YouTube channel. 

When introducing sketchnoting, Bosch has students watch the tutorials she’s created on the various tools and try them out on their iPads. She says it’s helpful to give students “playground time” before using it for an actual lesson.

Young students view a tutorial on a single tool like Drawing Pad, while middle schoolers might learn about three tools and choose their favorite.

Connection to the ISTE Standards for Students

Sketchnoting is yet another way to bring the ISTE Standards for Students to the classroom. It’s an approach that targets Knowledge Constructor, Creative Communicator and Innovative Designer.

“The kids are taking the information, but have to view and visualize it in a way that makes sense to them,” Bosch says. “So they’re making a visual artifact that represents their knowledge and thinking and that fits with Knowledge Constructor.”

The visual and eye-catching nature of sketchnoting make it a clear tie to Creative Communicator. And because it helps students understand process – they can take information and use it to inform a design process like 3D printing or to create something new, so it operationalizes the Innovative Designer standard.

What students say

Maren Palmer, a sixth grader in Bosch’s class, says sketchnoting is an easy note-taking method that helps her remember things better.

“I really like that there are no set rules,” Maren says. “You can do it however you want. You can style it however you want. Just taking notes and writing words down is kind of boring.”

As a student in Bosch’s technology class, Maren created a five-step “how-to” sketchnote on an iPad using Tayasui Sketches that explained how to make an ice cream sundae. Her classmates sketchnoted about how to make a hamburger, the perfect s’more and how to draw something.


Students created the sketchnotes during three 45-minute class sessions after a lesson from Bosch and a question-and-answer session.

Maren envisions using sketchnotes in science and social studies classes, too.

And she has these tips for students and teachers: “No one else looks at them and judges. Everyone’s mind pictures things differently, so whatever works for you, that’s going to help you learn it.”


Start with the empowered learner course to bring the ISTE Standards to life through online PD.