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Use sketchnoting in the classroom to get ideas flowing

By Julie Randles
August 2, 2017
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Digital sketchnoting offers a creative way for students and educators to express their ideas and thinking about learning. But educator Manuel S. Herrera has tapped into a non-digital version of the movement to inspire collaboration in the design space he runs.

Herrera, coordinator of 1:1 programming for Affton School District in St. Louis, Missouri, says drawing is a rapid-fire way for students to get ideas out, experience hands-on collaboration and determine work flow.

That’s why he provides all sorts of tools and surfaces where students can draw it out, including table tops, small whiteboards, an 8-foot-by-12-foot writable wall, paper and sticky notes.

The idea came to him after watching students at his 1:1 school work in isolation his classroom.

“I found that we were missing something. When I would bring kids into work, they would grab the technology and start typing in a Google Doc. What was missing was the kids interacting with each other,” Herrera said.

More than just collaboration

Sure, Google Docs allow for collaboration, but Herrera finds students understand each other better when they draw their ideas as they work in teams, especially when they’re asked to come up with a biomedical innovation like high-tech shoes or an air filtration system, two projects his students have worked on.

The collaborative drawing begins at the brainstorming stage. Students who were designing a high-tech shoe sketched out their ideas – what would go in the arch, the heal, the toe  – using simple shapes and arrows.



That drawing might lead to another sketch that narrows down the best ideas. At design stage, another quick drawing helps them envision work flow, providing a visual to-do list and creating the structure for where their invention is headed. 

“Now everyone in the group can see it and contribute to it,” Herrera explains. And students who miss class still have that visual representation of the project and its work flow in their mind’s eye.

Drawings can also help students see when they get off track in their project management. Say students’ visual flow chart has everyone working on the right side of the drawing when they need to be on the left. That’s their cue to adjust.

A different way of thinking

Herrera refined his drawing approach by having students use the “seven basic building-block shapes” referenced in Draw to Win: A Crash Course on How To Lead, Sell and Innovate With Your Visual Mind by Dan Roam.

The seven shapes students can draw with are: dot, line, arrow, square, triangle, circle and a blob. Hererra explained how the marks might be used by showing them the basic shapes needed to draw an animal. He also pointed out to students that this type of drawing is not used to show off artistic ability, but rather to convey ideas.

“You have to stop seeing drawing as an artistic process and see it as a thinking process,” Herrera says. “It’s a different way of thinking about sketchnoting that teachers can do tomorrow with their kids. We used to do this in the past, but we moved away from it. Now we’re back to showing our thinking.”


Next, Herrera plans to work with teachers on using basic drawings to communicate content to students. Rather than using bullet points or text to explain abstract concepts, he points to drawings as another way to see relationships.

Let’s say you’re using slides in history class to talk about events in sequential order. Perhaps somewhere else in the classroom a sketched out timeline would help students visualize what happened and how one event relates to another. In science class, drawings might illustrate the steps to an experiment.

“If you want to show your ideas to help students learn and grow, this is going to be your jam,” he says. 


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