How I Teach and Use Sketch Notes for Reading Comprehension

I know there’s a lot of information on the web about the power of sketch-noting in the classroom. I’ve read the blogs and watched many of the videos. Yet, I found nothing that worked for me as a teacher. If you’re like me – I need rules that make sense – sketch-noting can seem too unstructured. I loved the concept and knew right away it would be a game-changer in my classroom as a way for students to show their understanding, but I also knew that my students needed to be taught how; and if it doesn’t make sense and work for me, my instruction wouldn’t make sense and work for my students. So I came up with a few simple, easy to remember “rules of sketch-noting” for my classroom. Maybe these “rules” could also work for you. In my classroom, I’ve separated my rules by Fiction and Nonfiction.

Most importantly, what I’ve found is that it’s all about VISUALIZING!

Fiction

  1. Begin by writing the title of the text on the top or middle of the page. Take time to scan and predict before reading and sketch noting (it will make knowing when to stop and sketch note a little easier).
  2. We focus on setting, characters, and events. Each time one of these things changes, the students stop and sketch a new note to tell the story.
  3. Use simple pictures and words – stick people, very few details, basic images with labels or a quick phrase to retell each part of the story. When I say simple, I mean, I give the students 1-2 minutes at most to complete each note.
  4. Use arrows or numbers to sequence your notes. Use frames to separate each note.
  5. Summarize the story to complete your notes. In my classroom, we use an SSWBS (Setting, Somebody, Wanted, But, So) to summarize and the students write it out and frame it on their page.
  6. Start by using the “I, We, You” process. Do it in front of them for your first story and explain the process as you go. Involve them next time. Have them do a sketch note page while you complete your own. Talk about what to sketch note and how. Allow them to use what works for them as long as their note shows the important change in the story. (Everyone’s personal visual images are different.) Then, make a game of it. While I read aloud, each time they get a new visual image in their heads they can raise their hand or signal to me (signals based on the story for fun) and tell me what to sketch on the board. I was quickly able to make them responsible for stopping and doing their own, and this quickly became an independent task for them while I was reading during my whole group lesson.
  7. Allow time to share. Once the students are working independently on notes, it’s important to give time to share. My students learn so much by discussing and comparing their sketch notes with each other. They often want time to revise their own afterwards because of new ideas they got from their class mates.

Nonfiction

  1. Begin by writing the title of the text on the top or middle of the page. Take time to scan and predict before reading and sketch noting (it helps you become more familiar with the topic, making it easier to sketch note).
  2. Count the number of headings and/or subheadings in the text. That’s how many sketch notes you will complete. If there are no headings (this happens with test passages fairly often), count the paragraphs to determine the number of sketch notes. I have my students draw out the frames or fold their papers for the number of notes they’ll need before they begin reading.
  3. If there are headings, write the heading in each frame to organize the notes and make it easier to use the notes later on.
  4. Use simple pictures, words, symbols, arrows, bullets, and fonts – stick people, very few details, basic images with labels or a quick phrase. When I say simple, I mean, I give the students 1-2 minutes at most to complete each note.
  5. Sketch note the main idea of each section or paragraph. Include important vocabulary from the text. This can be more difficult for students if they lack background knowledge about the topic. I often tell my students that if figuring out how to sketch note is difficult, it could mean they don’t understand and should re-read. If it’s still difficult, I have my students tell me the main idea out loud, then I have them write it for their note instead of use images.
  6. Start by using the “I, We, You” process. My students have needed more “I, We” time for nonfiction. It can often be difficult to know how to sketch note the ideas in nonfiction, especially when you lack background knowledge about the topic.
  7. Allow time to share. Once the students are working independently on notes, it’s important to give time to share. My students learn so much by discussing and comparing their sketch notes with each other. They often want time to revise their own afterwards because of new ideas they got from their class mates. I’ve seen the students apply those same noting techniques later on with new reads after this.
Nonfiction sketch notes by a student reading a magazine article.

How I Use Sketch notes in my classroom

  1. Differentiation – What I love most about sketch noting is that all of my students can do it and feel good about their work. It’s not about the art, so there’s no talent involved. It’s not a lot of writing, so reluctant writers don’t feel anxious. In an inclusive classroom like my own, this is HUGE in ensuring success for everyone. For my talented and gifted students, they are able to use their creative and critical thinking skills. It’s like individualized differentiation because everyone chooses how to show their thinking. Everyone’s notes are different and personal to their own metacognition, which gives me a lot of information about their understanding and thinking while they are reading. Plus, my students LOVE doing it. They do it on their own while reading independently just because they enjoy the creativity involved. They love sharing their notes with each other and as teachers, we know how important that is for our students’ learning.
  2. Engagement – I’ve found sketch notes to be an easy to use engagement tool during my whole group read-aloud skill and strategy lessons. I’m reading to them anyway. No matter what skill or strategy my lesson is based on, I can teach the skill and strategy while my students sketch note to summarize the important details while I read. In my classroom, I’ve found that this helps my students stay focused on the text and they participate more because of it.
  3. Informal Assessment – I can get so much insight about my students’ comprehension when having them explain their sketch notes to me.
  4. Collaboration – My students love sketch noting with a partner. I have them read together, discuss their ideas, and complete one page of sketch notes based on their discussions.
  5. Test-taking – My students complete sketch notes for all of their test passages. It’s a way for them to monitor their comprehension while reading. If they don’t know what to make note of, they know to re-read. (For me it’s a way to ensure they are actually thinking while they are reading.)

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