Sketchnoting as a Pedagogical Tool for Teaching

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How can sketchnoting for learning be used by teachers and students in the classroom?

Drawings are critical ways to communicate science, teaching visual representation techniques such as sketchnoting can improve science students’ ability to identify and solve problems; subsequently improving their long-term success.

In a“Drawing” your Own Conclusions: Sketchnoting as a Pedagogical Tool for Teaching Ecology new 17-page paper, published March 2021, Sketchnoting as a Pedagogical Tool for Teaching by Gansemer-Topf et al explain how this “active learning tool has shown potential for influencing student learning.”

As a design technology teacher, you can imagine that I’m a big fan of using sketch notes in my own classroom.

For years I have helped students create sketches to help problem-solve – part of a knowledge-rich approach to teaching aspects of the design process in a curriculum area shunned by the current government.

It warms my heart to see academic pieces of research advocating sketchnoting as a learning tool to support long-term retention.

Dual coding as a teaching strategy

More and more teachers are becoming familiar with the cognitive science term, dual coding; a process used to support working memory and help complex classroom ideas easier to manage, manipulate and aid the learning process.

Sketchnoting is a visual representation and a form of assessment. It’s a design-based methodology that has “shown potential for student engagement, understanding, and retention of material” (Paepcke-Hjeltness et al, 2017).

There’s no doubt that the technique is becoming increasing-popular to communicate concepts; I believe short and snappy social media GIFs and video posts are partially the reason for this, as well as general engagement by teachers, researchers and those in business.

There is an enormous body of research offered as evidence in this paper.

In terms of a theoretical framework, “deeper learning occurs when individuals process words and pictures rather than words alone” (Paivio, 1990). The researchers write that there are three assumptions of the theory include:

  1. individuals process visual and auditory information differently;
  2. individuals have limited capacity for processing information; and
  3. individuals actively select, organise, and integrate knowledge.

Examples from Sketchnoting as a Pedagogical Tool for Teaching

This study investigates the potential of sketchnoting as a technique to enhance learning in an ecology course and suggests areas for future study.

In terms of limitations, the results are based on one class with a small sample size, thus limiting our ability to generalize the results to other populations. As ever, be cautious with research findings being rolled out across your school.


As with any new strategy in the classroom, implementation can be challenging.

“By introducing sketchnoting, a technique unfamiliar to a majority of students… we provided students with another approach to learn and communicate science.”

The results were not statistically significant and produced mixed results. We know not all techniques we use with all our students can always be beneficial.

Nonetheless, providing students with new tools for learning, [offers] insights into how students learn and communicate “through a systemic process of assessment [that] can improve future teaching and assessment approaches.”

What works, works somewhere.

Sketchnoting is a technique I’d use in my secondary design and technology classroom, but it may not be something you will use in your primary PE classroom, so be cautious, but also be aware of the benefits it can bring to other teachers and students.

Source: Sketchnoting as a Pedagogical Tool for Teaching, (Gansemer-Topf et al, March 2021)

3 thoughts on “Sketchnoting as a Pedagogical Tool for Teaching

  1. Hi Ross,

    Hope you’re well and refurb is coming along.
    Excellent timing for this! Thank you.
    Where would you advise to direct students too / support them with building up their basic sketch skills please?
    The images you shared about are really useful.



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