The Art of Visual Note-taking

Contributed by Jessica Farris

Meetings, meetings, meetings. Perhaps you, like early childhood music teacher Susan Lawler, are a natural at note-taking. Any time I see Suan jotting away on her yellow legal pad, I am intensely jealous – her notes thorough, her penmanship pristine. Her green Ward planners are just as thorough and perfectly cataloged in her black cabinet. I wouldn’t be shocked if she still has every note and planner since her first coming to SA. If you ever have a question about anything – What was the May Day theme in 2005? What was the schedule three years ago? – Susan is bound to tell you, “Hold on. Ah, here!” So what about those of us who just aren’t that amazing at note-taking? Or perhaps you are, but you aren’t the best at retaining that information? Or do you have students who could use a little something to help them stay actively engaged during your lecture? Whatever your reason, visual note-taking can be both a fun and helpful alternative form of note-taking for teachers and students alike. 

As the Lower School Art teacher, many folks often tell me, “Oh you’re so talented. I can’t draw a stickman!” I’m here to tell you that you can! Several years ago Virginia Buchanan,  Marks McWhorter, and I all attended a simple, visual note-taking class at Nueva, and they were employing their visual note-taking skills long before me! Please see some of my personal tips below. I’ve also made a Tips Visual if you’d like to print it out for yourself or your students. 

  1. Pick out a LAYOUT. Do you want to start in the middle of the page and work your way out? Do you want to work from left to right? Top to bottom?
  2. COMPREHEND + SIMPLIFY You’ll be translating this information into a different language, a graphic one, so comprehension is imperative. Translating can take time, so simplify the process by only writing down the most important words. 
  3. SCALE Draw/write the most important words the largest. These words will function as your umbrella terms, thereby creating visual order/hierarchy. The easiest and fastest way to do this is simply to invest in some larger-tipped markers/pens.
  4. FONTS can be a great way to make words expressive, thereby doubling down on their meaning. 
  5. COLOR is so powerful. It can be a great way to emphasize the most important information, create contrast for different types of information, and much more.
  6. ARROWS can help guide our eyes from one cluster of information to the next.
  7. Use PICTURES when necessary! Visual note-taking is 90% words, and if you can write words, you can draw anything! All contour drawings are made up of two things: straight lines and/or curvy ones. Beyond that, it’s combining those two things in various ways and/or orienting them in different directions! If you can write words, YOU CAN DRAW! Please see the “Basic Math” section in the visual above for an example! 

Interested in seeing some more examples of visual notes? Click through the slideshow below to see how Jessica experienced the various components of our October Professional Development Day:

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