Sketchnotes for language teachers

Never heard of sketchnotes? A heads-up in a great TED talk

Here's one that I suggested in my session at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference back in February (yes, I've been kinda busy since 😉 !). I suggested sketchnoting for anyone who ever has to attend conferences and listen to presentations (etc), but also because some of the ideas behind it are of interest to presenters — and also to teachers in general.

My experience of language teaching is that as teachers we buy into the bullshit that "a picture is worth a thousand words" and assume that that means we use Google Images for everything — job done!

Wrong! Images are only worth a thousand words if you put them to work, and drawing live, in front of learners is doing that — using drawing to convey and clarify meaning and ideas and so on. And, as I suggested in my session, it's not just the teachers, but also the learners that can be doing the drawing.

In language teaching, where we're not lecturing (hopefully 😉 !), my suggestion is that we're not so much really sketchnoting as pinching the idea that drawing can be a powerful tool to aid understanding and learning.

My colleague at IH Barcelona Susana Ortiz suggested to me a couple of great examples of how sketching ideas could be used in language teaching. With trainees on pre-service courses for Spanish teachers, Susana gets them to illustrate how "communication" occurs by using circles and arrows; and with learners on Spanish courses, gets them to illustrate the difference between ser and estar with simple drawings (try the same with bring and take, if you teach English, to give you another example.)

Below, a further example, which I use when attempting to explain to trainees how we get swamped by too information on social media, and how we need to (a) "follow" fewer people and (b) "engage" with those we do follow somehow, either by actually using what we "like" or by engaging in actual dialogue with them (via tweets or blog comments, for example):

Diagrammatically:

Drowning in social media

The vicious circle of find-like-forget… Because on social media you forget the minute you instantly find something else

See also this post for a further example of a simple diagram to illustrate a complex idea to pre-service teachers.

More on sketchnotes
Sunni Brown's book, The Doodle Revolution (Amazon.co.uk), is one that I can recommend both for the arguments it puts forward but also because it will help you get started doodling — and sketchnoting.

And some great links:

10 tips for success with classroom drawing

By classroom drawing I mean the teacher and/or learners drawing quick, simple, not necessarily “good” or realistic doodles to illustrate activities of all kinds, and which are going to help us to convey or explain language or concepts, and which can also be used in activities that will generate lots of use and practice of language.

I repeat: and/or learners — because classroom drawing shouldn't just be about what the teacher does; nothing in a classroom should just be that! You'll see that most of the drawing activities previously proposed here on this blog have in fact been that: things that the learner, not the teacher, draws.

Success with classroom drawing
To succeed with classroom drawing (perhaps we should really call it classroom doodling), we need to be clear about what (a) what is required and (b) what our objectives are.

Classroom Drawing 101

Required for classroom drawing: practice, which gives confidence, which gives success. Not required, talent

Objectives of classroom drawing

Objectives: #1, explaining and generating language. NOT an objective: realism

Once we have those things clear in our minds, then we're already on the road to success. Once we and/or our learners have pens in our hands and we plug them into our imagination, we have a super-powerful, multi-purpose tool that offers us infinite possibilities in language teaching and learning.

After that, once you’ve set your sights artistically low but linguistically high, the following tips will take you a long way further down the road.

Tips

  1. Get yourself a set of cheap drawing pens with different nibs (I like 0.3, 0.5, 0.7 and something thicker), and use them appropriately (e.g. 0.3 or smaller for eyes, 0.7 for a very dark beard or hair, for example
  2. If you want to do flashcards, however, visible from the back of the classroom, grab paper from the recycle bin (ideally A3 size) and go for a nice thick board marker
  3. With each object you draw, know what your best possible starting point is, and build the rest of the drawing up from there
  4. Build up a repertoire of things you have practised and can confidently reproduce as and when required, including a set of standard “people” in different poses (like stick figures), animals, vehicles, places (beaches, forests, dentists' waiting rooms, dentists’ chairs
). Keep your eye out — everywhere! — for illustrations you can copy and use
  5. But never be afraid to have a go at something totally new, even in front of a class, or be scared of messing up or embarrassing yourself (if you never draw a space rocket or submarine, you won’t 😉 !) or of having people laugh at your drawings
 People laughed? Hey! You want laughter in a classroom!
  6. If necessary, go back home and find out (the Internet is a wonderful place — at times!) how you really draw (say) a crocodile, and then practise that
  7. Adding "clipart" to your search will give you lots of copiable illustrations – eg “clipart dog”; pick the simplest and if necessary, simplify those further
  8. Keep adding to your repertoire (if you think “The only thing I can draw is an elephant”, or whatever, you need to get yourself some practice doing other stuff!)
  9. At my Conference session back in February, I gave away some desk-top, page-a-day diaries that our sponsors were kind enough to let me have. A doodle a day, five minutes a day, is a brilliant way to improve your drawing skills
  10. Putting your work on a blog or Instagram (even if you share it with only a few people) is something that will make a huge difference as it will motivate you to reach higher

Practice is the key. Practice leads to improvement — as these amazing examples on Bored Panda demonstrate.

And it's vital to understand this:

It's not a question of having the ability to draw anything. Rather, it's a question of giving yourself the practice to have the courage to try to draw things that might convey and clarify meaning; convey ideas; add interest, generate language, etc.

Here you have ideas for activities that use classroom drawing and we have further activities (content in Spanish) on our Spanish teacher training blog.

Inspiring children to read with simple drawings

In my recent session on classroom drawing at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference, I explain how my son's primary school teacher had inspired him to do better at school by putting not ticks but quick doodles of football players on his work.

Toni, however, remembered not so much the football players as the drawings AgustĂ­ used to do on everyone's reading records…

As I suggested during the workshop, even if you never draw on your board, learn to doodle, and — especially if they are young — doodle on your learners' work!

Fun activity with cats and dogs and a biro

In my session this coming weekend at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference (February 5 and 6), I'm going to be talking about how both teachers and learners can use simple drawings in some fun, language-rich activities.

Here's one that requires both you and your learners to be able to draw cats and/or dogs. If you don't think you could do that, here's a simple cat that you can quickly teach yourself to copy; you'll then find a simple dog at the foot of this post.

What you're really doing is not so much draw as represent

How to draw a simple cat
Below, you have a step-by-step for an easy cat. Key to lots of classroom drawings is to pick the right starting point: here, start with the face, and after that it should all fall into place.

Classroom cat

As with all classroom drawings (which used to be called "blackboard drawings" when I started out as a teacher), what you're really doing is not so much draw as represent. And, as Andrew Wright, suggested in his wonderful book, you're copying, not drawing.

The activity, step-by-step
Colleagues and I have tried the following at various time (some going back a long time!) from roughly A2 level up to and including C2 and it's one that has worked well with both teens and adults.

  1. Make sure everyone knows how to draw a cat and a dog, teaching them if necessary. Draw my examples for them, with appropriate explanations and running commentary and you've got a live listening comprehension activity.
  2. Get the class to divide themselves into 4 roughly equal groups, of dog-lovers, dog-haters, cat-lovers and cat-haters. Anyone who says they have no feelings one way or the other must be persuaded and recruited into one of the four groups. If the groups are not of approximately equal size, have the smaller groups try to persuade others to join them. (It doesn't actually really matter what size the groups are, or how disproportionate they are, but what we want as language teachers is discussion and use of language!)
  3. On a square piece of paper (square so that it can be easily Instagrammed afterwards, you understand 😉 !), each learner should draw a cat or a dog, depending on which group they now find themselves in. I like to limit drawing time to 60 seconds maximum. This is not an art class!
  4. They should then pair up, pick the "best" cat / dog and collaborate to add to the piece of paper everything which they know or think about cats or dogs — cat lovers and cat haters writing about cats, dog lovers and dog haters about dogs, for example:

    What's wrong with dogs
    I'm not a big fan of dogs, as you can see 😉 !

  5. Share the work produced — either by just showing it to other people (great for a "mingle" activity!), or by posting the pictures on a wall or by photographing them and sharing them via Instagram or an Edmodo or WhatsApp group etc.
  6. Comment on the drawings and on the ideas included, either orally or digitally (the latter possibly outside class time, not necessarily in real time)
  7. Discuss the topic of which make better pets, cats or dogs.
  8. Optionally, get the learners to produce a piece of discursive writing on the subject, of appropriate length.
  9. Optionally, have the learners make a very brief, collaborative, formal presentation to the class of their conclusions

What does drawing add?

The sharing makes your classroom a creative space in
which we generate things we then share together, which is terrific for group dynamics

You could of course do the activity without anyone drawing anything but requiring the drawing adds a lot:

  • it makes the activity way more fun
  • it seems to generate a whole lot more language ("What's that supposed to be?! / It's supposed to be…" often prove to be useful expressions!)
  • its seems to generate more ideas
  • it generate more creative, more original ideas
  • it leads to the creation of artwork
  • the artwork can then be shared and commented on afterwards, if you have some kind of shared, digital space where that can happen

It isn't artwork for the sake of artwork, and doesn't have to be of a standard to really merit the term "art" but the creating and the sharing makes your classroom a creative space in which we generate things we then share together, which is terrific for generating good group dynamics. I belong to this community because we drew cats and stuff together…

How to draw a simple dog
Here's simple dog step-by-step. It's fun because people inevitably have lots of scope for adding (often unintended) "personality" to their dog when they draw the face and/or proportion the body.

Classroom dog

As I'll be suggesting in my Conference session, what you need is not talent but practice. You're not really drawing, as I've suggested above, merely copying, and by copying the steps a few times your practice gives you the other vital ingredient to classroom drawing — namely, confidence.

As the title of my session ("Yes, we can: not drawing, merely representing") suggests, "Yes, YOU can!"

 

ELT Conference session: Not drawing, just representing

No matter how you teach, learn to draw!

No matter who you teach, learn to do simple drawings: if you can draw a circle, you draw a face!

For my talk at IH Barcelona's ELT Conference this year (February 5-6), I'm not going to be talking about technology, but about what used to be called "blackboard drawing".

It's my belief that all of us can draw and that, no matter who we teach, it's well worth devoting the time and effort to a little practice, as it can be useful to us in class in so many ways. Key is probably not to see it as drawing at all (I'm guessing that you're already thinking "But I can't draw!"): what we're aiming for is the ability to "adequately represent" things.

The workshop isn't designed to teach you how to draw, but is intended to show you that you can, or at least that you could, with a little practice.

Things your learners can draw, too
As well as the teacher (or teacher trainer) "drawing" things, you can also usefully get learners to draw: it's fun and can produce lots of language.

There isn't going to be time in 50-minute session to look at a lot of practical activities, so let me advance some now, from previous posts here on this blog, with some fun activities that get your learners drawing simple things:

Further links and tips and ideas coming up between now and the session (and possibly afterwards!).