April 4th, 2017 by Jakub Mastalerz

Sketchnoting Without Skills

Sketchnoting without skills thumbnail graphic
Sketchnoting Scott circle white backgroundWe’re thrilled to welcome guest blogger Scott Sheeler, an Educational Technologist at Ohio State University, to discuss the benefits of sketchnoting!

First off, I’m not much of an artist. When I think of art, I have a flash back to high school art class, which I only took because they wouldn’t let me take PE every semester of high school.

Explain Everything Guest Post SketchnotingMy sketchnote of Alice Keeler’s Q&A session on February 19, 2017 at #ASTE17

It’s true. And here’s how most of my interactions with my art teachers went:

Art teacher: That is a really good looking bowl of fruit you painted Scott.

Me: It’s a firetruck.

Art teacher: Oh … nice looking firetruck … Scott … C-

(end scene)

Although I don’t see myself as artistically talented – my mom does, but you know, she’s my mom!   it doesn’t stop me from sketchnoting. If fact, it is the best way for me to take notes. When I take notes, I use Explain Everything to sketchnote for four specific reasons:

  1. It engages me with the content.
  2. It builds a natural bridge between my prior knowledge and the new information.
  3. It is fun for me. 
  4. It is sharable.

I’m going to expand on these points below. If you have heard enough, skip down to where I talk about my process. If you want to read more, you’re beautiful, and in the right place to read more!

Sketchnoting Its mobile worldMy sketchnote of Ryan Seilhamer’s “It’s a Mobile World” session on July 20, 2016 at #InstCon2016

It engages me to the content

Sketchnoting engages me with the presented content because it keeps me busy listening, designing, drawing and thinking while there is a speaker or presentation. It is a challenge that keeps me wanting more and wanting to display my knowledge in as interesting of a way as I possibly can.

Let’s look at how I might otherwise behave during a lecture that I am not engaged in:

  • I open the Messages App I read a funny text from group message. I then decide to play with fire ask my wife “How’s it going?”, which is totally just a non-committal hope that things are going well with the kids. Next, I think of a funny response to previous group message, send it. Then I realize I just sent it to my wife. Busted! I move on to another app, most likely something related to buying her stuff.
  • I open my RSS Feed App – Let’s see what is going on. I’ll save that article for later, I’ll save that article for later, okay, I’ll save that article for later as well. Then I think, when will I get to all of these articles? I move on to the next app.
  • I open Twitter – Oh, my friend is participating in an EdChat. Good for her, I wish I did more of those. Oh cool resource, I’ll tweet that out before I read and hope it’s actually good information. I then read a hot take about politics. Then I read a hot take about sports. Hey! Don’t insult my team! Only fans of my team can make fun of my team. I move on to another app.
  • I open Facebook – I first see a cute baby reveal video. I scroll down and see “I don’t usually post political things like this….” No! Force close, force close! I’m off to another app.
  • I open Instagram – I see some cute toddlers and babies. Well, that food looks delicious. Oh, funny screen shot, friend!  I see a cute puppy video now. I move back to Twitter.
  • I open Twitter again – I see the media says the Browns still need a quarterback. I also see Michigan still hasn’t beaten Ohio State in football in over 1,945 days…
  • You get the idea.

Let’s look at how I might be at a talk that I am engaged in with sketchnoting:

  • I hear a good point from the speaker. I write down the first point. Hmm. That reminds me of the episode of that show I love. I’ll add a picture of that episode next to that quote.
  • Alright, another good point. I write that one down too. I decide to draw a related icon and place it with the point.
  • Oh wow, another great quote from the speaker. I decide to write it down. I’m going to find an image related to the context of the story and quote to help me remember the context of that quote.
  • Next a stranger taps me on the shoulder, “What app is that?” “Oh, Explain Everything. It’s great!”
  • After making a new friend, I hear another story that I want to remember. I add a picture of me that I have saved to the sketch note that is related to story to connect myself to the story.
  • Oh no, I missed point 3! How am I going to share a sketch note that is missing point 3?! It’s incomplete! I decide to check the Twitter hashtag of the conference. Oh yes, a random Twitter user tweeted the missing point. I can now write it down and no one will know I missed it. Crisis averted.
  • You get the idea.


It builds a natural bridge between my prior knowledge and the new information presented to me

Like many, my mind is most creative when it can jump from idea to idea to idea. The way that I sketchnote allows me to build those natural bridges between the information given to me and the mound of information that is already in my head. Admittedly, my bridges look like the path that Billy from the Family Circus comic strip takes, but still, they are bridges none-the-less.

Here are some examples of how my brain might build bridges:

A speaker tells a story about how they loved playing “heads up 7-up”  in grade school.

  • Possible Brain Path 1: “I loved that game. I used to win because I would put my head down but keep my eyes open and see the shoes of the person that tapped my back. Speaking of shoes, I think my favorite shoes of all time are the Team Zissou shoes from Life Aquatic. Those were awesome.” On my sketchnote, I would add an image of Life Aquatic next to my notes in that section.
  • Possible Brain path 2: “I loved that game. I think any activity where you put your thumbs up is a fine choice of an activity, very positive. When I put my thumbs us, I feel like the Fronz from Happy Days or even better, Chuck Norris from Dodgeball.“ On my sketchnote, I would add an image of Chuck Norris or Henry Winkler next to my notes in that section.
  • Possible Brain path 3: “I loved that game. Grade school had the best games like Red Light, Green Light, Sharks and Minnows, and dodgeball. Oh man, speaking of dodgeball, that scene in Billy Madison, is so good. I’ll never forget how he shouts: ‘Now you are in big, big trouble!’ ” On my sketchnote, I would add an image of Billy Madison next to my notes in that section.

Do these paths only make sense to me? Absolutely. Do I appear to be a bit crazy and neurotic? Absolutely, my wife thinks so too. That is okay, as long as it brings back a flood of knowledge and emotion to the notes when looking back at them.

It is fun to me

My sketchnoting process is like solving a Rubik’s Cube. For people like me that aren’t smart enough to solve a Rubik’s Cube. It is a puzzle, it is a challenge. It allows me to be creative and express myself WHILE TAKING NOTES! The process makes doodling meaningful and can make it part an important part of the learning process. Yes, note taking can be fun if you don’t have to do it everyday. Enjoy it. Make it fun and interesting to you.

It is sharable

Sharing, while difficult for my young children, is a practice that benefits everyone. Friends, peers and strangers can see them and learn from them. Sharing your sketchnotes is a great way to connect with others and and lets you share your work with a global audience. The fact that others will see my notes drives me to put a greater effort into them because I know that others may be using them to learn, and I want what I create to be valuable. In turn, that raises my effort and engagement.

Sketchnoting Ignite session 2This is my first ever sketchnote. It is of an Ignite session on February 19, 2017 at #ISTE2016

My Process:

My process of sketchnoting is fairly straightforward:

  1. Get your tools together – I use the Explain Everything app with an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil to do all of my sketchnoting.
  2. Write down main points, great quotes – In the least surprising aspect of my note taking, I write down any main points or quotes that I really like in the center of the Explain Everything canvas.
  3. Add something that reminds or connects me of the point or quote. (draw or add clip) – I try to add at least one drawing or clip per each main point or quote to help connect each quote.
  4. Group the related items – Using the inspector’s grouping tool, I group the written text and the image I just added.
  5. Resize, move and rotate around the canvas – Once my text and image are grouped together, I can pinch to resize and move the group using the hand tool. I also like to move things around as I am working, because I don’t know what I will be drawing in advance.
  6. Rinse and Repeat (Note: don’t put your device in water, that is just a saying)

Last note: Practice. It takes practice to get better at it (like everything else in life). Try it a few times to see if sketchnoting your notes is for you.

Sketchnoting Gaming Badging SnapshotMy sketchnote of Patrick Donovan, Keli Kinsella & Amber Paynter’s snapshot session on June 29, 2016 at #ISTE2016

College Ready Ohio

I’m fortunate to be a part of a program called College Ready Ohio. It is a unique and awesome partnership between higher education, K-12 school districts and regional service providers. A lot of the work we do is partner with an awesome cohort of teachers from 10 different high schools around Ohio and work with them to make positive pedagogical changes in their classrooms, buildings, districts and professional learning communities that will contribute to better preparing their students for college. Follow our Twitter account and Youtube channel to find out more of what our talented Catalyst Teachers are doing in their classrooms and feel free to visit our website to learn more about our program. Also feel free to use the hash tag #CollegeReadyOH to join the conversation.

Sketchnoting george courosMy sketchnote of George Couros’ keynote session on February 21, 2017 at #ASTE17



One thing I learned from my time in the classroom, as well as with these awesome teachers is that Explain Everything is a great student creation tool. Think about giving students Explain Everything and letting them display their knowledge in beautiful and meaningful ways. Sketchnoting is just one way that students can do this, but it could be a great start in your classroom. Although I don’t see myself as an artist, I’m still able to use sketchnoting to gain understanding and to display my knowledge.

To see more of my sketchnotes as I do them, follow me on Twitter at @SheelerTech. Also, feel free to share your (likely more artistic) approaches to sketchnoting with me as well!