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Visual Note-Taking for Educators: A Teacher's Guide to Student Creativity

Many of us will recall the phrase “Stop doodling and pay attention!” from our years in school. Note-taking can be boring compared to doodling and drawing — and sometimes students who are taking traditional notes are so busy scribbling down words that they miss the important parts.

In Visual Note-Taking for Educators, Wendi Pillars shows that doodling and drawing in class actually gives students an advantage.

Pillars, a teacher who specializes in English language learners, discusses the concept and the brain science of breaking down information into digestible chunks and integrating words with pictures. Creating visual representations of information, after all, appeals to auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning styles. Children and adults naturally remember concepts and facts when presented with images. In the book, Pillars shows how visuals have empowered her students, as well as how easy it is to implement her techniques in the classroom.

Pillars illustrates the book with student examples. For instance, when students are learning new vocabulary words, she writes, visual note-taking can be a great help. One child, she writes, drew a picture of water and a sailboat to remember the word sail. Because this student created their own visual representation of the concept, the word was easier to retain.

Using images can especially help English language learners, Pillars writes. Students who would otherwise feel overwhelmed by the amount and speed of learning can sketch out concepts. That lets them better process what they are learning out loud from the teacher in their non-native language.

These sketches do not have to be elaborate, however. The idea is not to create perfect art but to draw something that will help that person learn.

And, Pillars writes, there will be students who are reluctant to draw. That’s okay, she says. As long as these students are using some type of note-taking or recall method, they are still working at it — and, in Pillars’s experience, they tend to eventually start drawing.

Positive psychologists and others often refer to the idea of visualizing success: research shows that picturing success helps a person make progress toward a goal. In her book, Pillars connects that idea to her visual note-taking techniques. Whereas some teachers have their students write about themselves at the beginning of the year, Pillars encourages instructors to have their kids create visual sketches of themselves. These can include visualizations of their goals for the year, their likes and dislikes, and their dreams for the future.

Overall, Pillars provides a useful resource to help students think in new ways and synthesize thoughts.

Visual Note-Taking for Educators: A Teacher’s Guide to Student Creativity

W. W. Norton & Company, November 2015

Paperback, 192 pages


Visual Note-Taking for Educators: A Teacher's Guide to Student Creativity

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Paula Lopez

APA Reference
Lopez, P. (2016). Visual Note-Taking for Educators: A Teacher's Guide to Student Creativity. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 29 Jan 2016
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 29 Jan 2016
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