Using Sketchnotes & One-Pagers for Remote Learning



As a student, I loved visual assignments. I'll never forget my biology teacher passing back my tenth grade plant collection, though, and sarcastically saying, "Here's Betsy's Ode to Crayola." I had beautifully lettered each page with the plant name and information, and I guess she saw no value in that at all.

But I do. Everywhere I go, I see words and visuals combined. Politicians need great speeches AND great logos and signs. Journalists need to be writers and tweeters, yes, but they also need to craft infographics and compelling Instagram feeds. Small businesses better have their sales copy in order, sure, but they're also going to need beautiful ads, memorable stickers, and lovely menus. And don't even get me started on websites - every single one is an inseparable mix of imagery and writing.

That's why I think it's important to help students combine the skills of ELA and the arts. Their lives are highly interconnected with visuals - on snapchat, on Netflix, on every website they visit, at every store and restaurant they go into. They know our world has moved this way. They're more prepared than we sometimes realize to step through this interdisciplinary door.

Last week on the podcast, Laura Deisley talked about how powerful it was when she and the other leaders of Lab Atlanta gave every student a camera and asked them to document their research and work in the city. The results far exceeded their hopes. Students loved adding this visual element to their work.

Now, at a time of distance learning, I think giving students space to process what they're hearing, reading and seeing on paper, using their own combination of words and imagery, is extra powerful. They're constantly taking in stimuli, they need time to make their own meaning out of it. They need a chance to put their eyes off the screen and decide what they have taken away that is of value to them.



Sketchnotes of an article on Sketchnotes at Jetpens.com 

In my view, having experimented a ton with both, sketchnotes and one-pagers are basically the same thing, except that you take sketchnotes on the fly and usually mull over one-pagers more after taking in information. Both simply represent what you have seen/heard/read/learned using a variety of easy elements that combine to become powerful.

For distance learning, that means you can mix and match them however you wish. By working on either one, students' abilities with the other should improve. Assign sketchnotes for a quick check-in with what students are taking away from a video, podcast, short reading, or novel section. Assign one-pagers for a more major assessment, where you really want students to think through a text (any kind of text) and show what was most important in retrospect.

Take a look at a few examples of sketchnotes here, below.



My sketchnotes of the film, Most Likely to Succeed

My sketchnotes of the book, In Search of Deeper Learning

You're probably noticing there are a few basic elements that usually show up in a sketchnote. Giving your kids this roundup of ideas can help them begin to learn the form. As you can see in the image below, some basic categories are: lettering, little sketches/illustrations, written information in students' regular handwriting, dividers, arrows, bullets, icons and containers. This is a sketchnote of the elements included in Mike Rohde's fun book, The Sketchnote Handbook.

These elements are also pretty much what go into a one-pager. Both are an effort to link words and images to ideas, and place them in a way that is striking and memorable.


Don't let yourself (or your students) get intimidated by sketchnotes. Just begin. Mike Rohde, the inventor of sketchnotes, famously says "ideas, not art." You're putting down ideas, and the fancy bits and pieces comes along the way if and when you're ready.

David Rickert has a great blog post called "Say NO to Stick Figures" that you can check out if your students really want help with improving their illustrations. I also like the pages below from The Sketchnote Handbook  that simply ask you to combine five simple elements - a square, circle, triangle, line and dot - to make really basic tiny pictures you could use to represent things in a sketchnote. Illustrations do not, by any means, need to be 3D and beautifully shaded! Know what I mean?


Start simple with your students. Ask them to create a sketchnote for a video they're watching for class or a podcast they're listening to. Have them snap a photo, then put the photos up on a digital bulletin board (get four options free here) and let them see how everyone processed what they viewed or listened to. Go from there. Sketchnotes are a great way to check in with students about what they're taking away from, well, just about anything.

The beginnings of a sketchnote for a fabulous book

Another fun way to use sketchnotes is during a First Chapter Friday activity. If you'd like a fun way to end the week right now, take twenty minutes to read fabulous first chapters of novels out loud to your students on video or audio. You'll be joining a happy community of First Chapter Friday teachers who are encouraging varied independent reading with a fun tradition. Asking kids to sketchnote while they listen helps them stay focused.


Now, one-pagers are just a slightly more formal version of sketchnotes, and they also provide a great chance to get kids taking an active role in their highly screen-based learning right now. You can send out your instructions and have them work with paper and a pencil (or any art materials they might have) at the table at home. The most successful one-pagers usually come with a specific list of required elements, and I like to also match those elements to locations on a template to help ease the anxiety of art-resistant one-pager creators. You can read more about how to structure a successful one-pager assignment right here.

Template-Based One-Pagers

You can get the PDF version of my most popular one-pager set by signing up for my free Friday emails below. You'll hear about new blog posts, podcasts, and curriculum sets, and are free to unsubscribe at any time.



But if you prefer to keep all your assignments in Google Drive right now, that's also totally doable. I've been experimenting, and it's quite easy to create a one-pager template in Google Slides.

Here's what I do:
1. Open a Google Slide. Adjust the page size to be 8.5 X 11 with a blank slide.
2. Design my layout in Powerpoint in vertical layout, which I do for all assignments that I create. (Powerpoint is just so much easier if you want your handouts to have any visual elements at all).
3. Save my powerpoint layouts as "PNG" files. This way, I'm just making each page a picture that I can use later.
4. Upload my "PNG" pictures as the background of my Google slides.
5. Now students can drag in images and insert text boxes, creating a digital one-pager.

While I do think digital one-pagers have fun potential, just remember that if most of your assignments are digital right now, students might really benefit from jumping off screen. Or you can just give them the option and let them do what works best for them.

I hope you're feeling ready to incorporate the rich combination of imagery and words that comes from sketchnotes and one-pagers into your distance learning. I get pretty fired up on this topic, as you can probably tell, so I'm rooting for you from over here!

Questions? Ideas? Share in the comments below. And I hope you decide to participate in this week's CHALLENGE.

Challenge: I'd love to see the one-pagers and/or sketchnotes that you and your students create! Please post a photo or screenshot on Instagram during May and tag me @nowsparkcreativity so I can come see. If you're not on Instagram yet, this time of distance learning is a perfect time to join the Insta educator community. Authors are doing readings there, cooks and bakers are doing such fun demonstrations, and everyone is sharing ideas to help cheer each other on.


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