Sunday, May 6, 2018

5 Ways to Teach Doodle Note Skills

I’m going to start with a classroom fail, which is the main inspiration for this post. For as long as I can remember I’ve always been a visual note-taker.  When my 11th grade ELA teacher required an outline for a paper, I created a storyboard instead.  I doodled my way through undergraduate and graduate school and it definitely served me well.  So when I started teaching middle school science, I assumed my 6th graders would surely take to doodle notes quickly.  I mean, it seems SO much easier than more traditional note-taking formats right?  I'll never forget that biotic and abiotic factor lesson plan where it was clear that not a single student had visual notes that even remotely matched the learning goal! (Thank goodness that was not my walk-in observation day!)  Long story short...I learned by experience that (most) kids need a lot of scaffolding to become quality doodle note-takers.  

Here are 5 Strategies to Build Doodle Notes Skills in your class:

Guess my Doodle Game
Students pick a word from the current unit you are studying.  Using a post-it or small piece of scrap paper, they draw a picture that does NOT have any words. (I set a timer for 2 minutes.) Next, students circulate and share their doodles with the goal of having other students accurately guess their doodle word! For each correct guess, they put a tally on their post-it.  (I set a timer for 3 minutes for this because I usually use it to review before starting a lesson OR as an exit strategy at the end of a lesson.)

When kids get back to their seats I say "stand if at least 1 student guessed the vocab word that matched your doodle." 2? 3?  I keep going until only few kids remain standing.  As a class we give these "Doodle Champions" a round of applause!

Doodle Icons
Show students some well-known icons. For example, power button, volume, shopping cart and ask them what they mean. You can also have kids brainstorm icons they know from games and other electronic activities. After establishing the value of even simple drawings to activate memory, allow time for students to doodle small icon icons next to the words on their existing vocabulary list.  (I give the vocabulary words and definitions at the start of the unit for students to reference throughout.)  

Doodle Breaks
I’ve talked about these before, but they are worth mentioning again. Doodle breaks provide a brain break and an opportunity to connect with content. I find these are best for my most reluctant doodlers because whiteboard drawings are temporary and kids like that it easy to erase errors.  They can be used on the spot during any lesson to add doodle note practice to any topic.  Simply prompt students to stop what they are doing and using a whiteboard doodle a picture that represents the key concept or learning goal for the day.  These draws are also a valuable form of formative assessment and often help me pace my lesson based on student understanding.

DIY Doodle
I tried this recently and the response from my students was really awesome. Pick an image that relates to the main ideas of your lesson.  For example, atomic structure.  Instead of providing a picture or having all kids copy the same one from the board, charge students with the challenge of selecting a quality diagram to draw and label in their notes.   I like to have science magazines, a variety of books and a few pre-selected internet links ready to help kids stay focused.  This strategy puts students in the driver seat during note-taking which has proven benefits for understanding and retention of knowledge. After using this method with my class, almost every student had an atom diagram that was far better than notes students took during previous years when I had them copy my picture or label a pre-printed version.  What a great reminder of the power of student ownership in the learning process!

Learning from "what not to do" seems to work well with upper grade students.  Create some examples on the board of some different quality doodles.  I also save some photos of student doodles (names removed) from year to year for students to look at.   I try to regularly stress with my students the value of “academic doodles” vs “distractive doodles” so when I do this mini-lesson, my students have long been hearing about quality doodles.  I suggest having your students look at a few doodle samples (good, bad, average) and then share their ideas to create a class list of what makes a quality “academic doodle.”   I'm frequently surprised by what criteria kids come up with! (Here are some responses)
  • Simple
  • Clear and easy to study from
  • Neat but doesn’t have to be perfect
  • Labels are helpful
  • Use pencil lightly then darken and embellish as you go
  • Relates to the topic or brings attention to important details
  • Helps you study or recall the information 

There are many strategies to use to improve visual literacy and visual note-taking in our classrooms.  These strategies along with pre-organized doodle notes help provide foundational skills that serve to ready students for independent doodle-note taking! 


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