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Teaching Tips & Tricks, Truth for Teachers Collective   |   Aug 18, 2021

How to use visual notetaking, sketchnotes & one pagers for almost ANY lesson

By Kathleen Palmieri

5th Grade NBCT

How to use visual notetaking, sketchnotes & one pagers for almost ANY lesson

By Kathleen Palmieri

Students are very in tune with the world around them. They learn from words and images from social media, television, and even Tik Tok.

From logos to phrases, kids will latch on to the next great thing based on what they see and hear. Think about a famous brand and what comes to mind? Most likely the logo or symbol, and the catchphrases such as the Nike brand, “Just Do It” and the famous swish logo. Why not take this type of memory igniting method and use it in the classroom?

I like to use one-pagers and sketchnotes in my classroom to bring creativity and learning together as a way to stir up excitement and engagement in subject areas, especially language arts. Combining art and writing allows students to spill out their thoughts and ideas onto paper. Offering colorful pens, pencils, and markers and different types of paper (grid, dot, templates, blank, etc.) helps to engage students in this process. It is not about creating masterpieces or the quality of the art, it is about combining ideas, imagery, symbols, and even questions onto a page to express thoughts and wonderings.

If you are new to one-pagers and sketchnotes, let me help define what each can offer:


Sketchnotes are a form of visual note-taking. This is a way to understand what students are thinking: expressions take on the form of doodles, numbers, symbols to help remember key ideas (map skills, learning about states, countries, cultures, etc.). Studies have been done on the benefits of visual note-taking, such as “The Picture Superiority Effect”.

Sketchnotes are a great invitation for the teacher to ask students questions about their thinking. Just like the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words”, sketchnotes offer that opportunity for students to elaborate on their thinking, and many times lead them into providing more detail in their writing.


Provide visuals when modeling Sketchnoting.

Sketchnotes lead to greater student questions. As they sketch or notate with symbols, numbers, or words, even using an artistic font, students tend to be more relaxed and think deeper, creating questions and more ideas.

There is a social-emotional benefit to sketchnoting. Students who find themselves in conflict, whether with a peer or outside of school, can use this technique to share how they are feeling. Too often, students struggle with issues they simply don’t understand and when given the opportunity to express their thoughts through sketching, they find a release helping them to cope. Much like journaling to relieve the many thoughts that run through our mind, sketchnoting is very helpful to students in the same way. As educators, the insight student’s sketches can offer is invaluable.

Sketchnoting is also very useful in the margins of a printed out article or story. Where we’ve traditionally asked students to highlight or annotate, now students can sketch what they are thinking while interacting with the text on the page.

Point of View takes on a new light when students share their visualizations of characters, settings, or thoughts. Walking around my classroom while reading aloud, it is amazing to see the different variations of the main character in the story. It truly takes one notice of a student’s work to have students eagerly wanting to share their thoughts and ideas.

Vocabulary lists: If you search “sketchnoting” on the internet, one of the most common ideas is using sketchnotes to help students learn new vocabulary. The act of sketching out the definition  of a word helps students retain the meaning.

It truly is not about the quality of the artwork, but the thoughts that spill onto the page. There are times I look at a student’s sketches and have no idea of how their thoughts connect to the article, discussion, or story. This is many times a turning point as students share their thoughts and ignite the discussion as others eagerly want to share.

Elementary age students tend to be visual thinkers and as they grow into the middle grades the expectation of writing notes and thoughts on a page in words takes over. Sketchnotes help to bring visual learning back into the mix and offer a way for students to become more engaged in stories or text, as well as new curriculum or concepts. The visual learning aspect actually helps many students recall better.

Use sketchnoting with brainstorming ideas for writing essays or reports. Encourage that initial brainstorming session to include Sketchnoting, especially when responding to a text. Instead of paper, students can use index cards or sticky notes to sketch out ideas. This offers the opportunity to move ideas around and allows the student to get a sense of flow, then structure how they will organize and craft their writing.

Sketch quotes

Sketch quotes are a fun twist on sketchnoting as they offer the opportunity to highlight a quote that resonates or stands out in a meaningful way.

How sketch quote works:

  • Students use sticky notes as they read.
  • When they come across a quote that is meaningful to them,  they make a note
  • The quote is then rewritten on paper using symbols, sketches, and words written in creative fonts to create a “Sketch Quote”.

Example from Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery

Possible drawback  for teachers when using sketchnotes or sketch quotes with their students 

When this type of method is introduced with examples, modeling and purpose, students generally react positively and eagerly engage. However, as with any method or tool used in the classroom, there will be students who do not learn in this manner, or become overly stimulated with the creative aspect. Offering choice in paper and writing tools generally helps to alleviate, or at least calm, these feelings. However, there are times when a student simply wants to respond more traditionally. When this happens, I offer the traditional mode of note-taking or the writing process.


Where sketchnotes offer an “open” approach to spilling thoughts and visualizations onto the paper, one-pagers tend to be a bit more structured. Templates are generally used when creating a One Pager. Offering choice in writing tools is again a great way to entice creativity and allow students to really expand on their thoughts with expression in color or in sketch form. One-pagers are a great way to incorporate dual coding (drawing, writing, etc)

Using a template helps alleviate the anxiety that some students may feel when “stepping outside the box” and using art in their response to a text. Learning styles do come into play, so offering a variety of templates helps to ignite creativity and engagement. Here are several templates I’ve created.

One-pagers generally have requirements, or “must do’s”  that go along with the use of a template, and this helps keep students on task. A teacher can offer as many “must do’s” or requirements as needed, and having these stated in the beginning helps this activity flow smoothly. Here are a few examples of depending on the desired outcome:

  • Sketch the setting of the story and include words or phrases that create a picture in your mind
  • Create a symbol that can represent the main theme of the story.
  • Think about the main characters and create a sketch based on their traits.
  • Make connections between this story, your life, or another book you’ve read
  • Sketch the scene that reveals the main character’s thoughts
  • Write words around the border to describe the theme of the story.
  • Sketch a scene that reveals an important conversation between two characters.
  • Think about how a character has changed over the story and create a before and after sketch.

Time needs to be dedicated to demonstrating, as well as including student thoughts on what might wind up on a page. To model this skill, as a class, think about a previous class read aloud and brainstorm the setting, coming up with words, symbols, and having volunteers help sketch out a scene. Discuss and share different writing fonts, allowing students to come up and show their creativity with a word. Tap into figurative language and ask students to sketch words like onomatopoeia. Offering different examples helps to build excitement and an eagerness to get started.

Using onomatopoeias

Examples of one-pagers

Sketchnotes and one-pagers offer a creative and fun way for students to take notes and share their thoughts. Consider using sketchnotes the next time students annotate an article or take notes during a video, presentation, or lesson. Finally, think about assigning One Pagers as an independent reading share out, or when book groups/literature circles meet. Students can discuss different parts of the story, and each can create a one-pager of the story elements or the beginning, middle, and end of the book. Feel free to copy and use these templates to get started!

Kathleen Palmieri

5th Grade NBCT

Kathleen Palmieri is a National Board Certified Teacher and NBCT Professional Learning facilitator. She is a fifth grade educator and writer in upstate New York With a passion for literacy and learning in the classroom, she participates in various writing...
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