Notetaking For The 21st Century
Sketch notes–or graphic notes, or whatever term you like–are one of the single most important developments in note-taking history. Hold on, give me a second to explain.
Exactly why they matter has something to do with the way our brains work, and the explosion of technology, and a little bit of viral success.
The point of notes, it seems, is to capture important ideas for future reference. While it’s nothing new to take notes that combine images with words and phrases, sketch notes are actually an evolution of this idea. As an English teacher, I taught only a handful note-taking styles, primarily combination notes, and Cornell notes, concept-map notes, and a kind of mash of the three. As a matter of differentiation, I’d offer some students examples of outline-style notes and other styles, but that was it.
Then Ken Robinson’s Changing Educational Paradigms exploded across the internet, and the sound of the little marker squeaking across the whiteboard became synonymous with digital storytelling. Iconic even.
Why? Because sketch notes like these don’t just capture ideas, they tell a story. And that matters because human beings young and old love a good story. The video game industry, billion-dollar marketing campaigns, Hollywood, even sports teams and musical artists all live and die by their ability to relay a story we can connect with–and that matters in the academic world as well.
The water cycle has a story to tell that is exceptionally hard to document in an outline form–and impossible to do so engagingly or enthusiastically. Same with Faulkner’s use of Symbolism, the causes and effects of war, the need for education to evolve, or the merits of Freakonomics. Sketch notes, done well, can tell a story. Which means they can be curated and, more importantly, shared.
And in the era of mobile learning and social media, this means everything. It may not seem natural for a student to share their sketch notes on YouTube or Instagram, but why not? If it’s important and elegant and worth sharing, they’ll share it.
As you can see below, they’re not simple words and pictures together–well, done badly they are. But done well, they tell a story while recording and documenting important information in a highly-visible, elegant, and shareable way.
Helping students understand how to take proper sketch notes isn’t as simple as sharing these images and say ‘do this’ (though that’s a start). Like all learning, it’s a matter of modeling, scaffolding, and patience. Hopefully, these 10 examples–including the classic ‘How to Read a Book’ and Seth God’s ‘Stop Stealing Dreams’--will help.