The Grove’s Rachel Smith, educator and visual practitioner, recently traveled to Guatemala City to deliver a TEDx talk at the Universidad Francisco Marroquín. TEDxUFM featured dynamic speakers on the innovative use of play, questioning and imagination in education. Highlights follow from Rachel’s talk.

Personal Graphic Recording for Learners of Any Age
Graphic recording, Rachel emphasizes, is not just for the work world. At the personal scale it can accompany a conversation, class, book … any situation in which you are learning.

Most people assume there is only one way to take notes: that is, with words. We are taught that drawing doesn’t belong in the classroom. In fact, a combination of drawing and words can actually enhance learning.

Visual Notes as Personal Memory Aids
Notes with drawings help us to recall quirky connections between things. Our own visual notes hook the learnings to our own particular frame of reference by joining the new information to what we already know. Such connections are the foundation for personal learning.

Rachel’s 13-year-old niece Elizabeth is already a budding graphic recorder. She takes visual notes in class because, she says, “It helps me remember better.”


Learning While Doodling
Rachel recalls her own childhood experience of doodling in class: “I did not know back then that you could draw to take notes in a meaningful way. So I doodled about other things as I took notes.”

Now Rachel’s artistic sensibilities and deep listening skills are richly expressed in her work at The Grove.

Drawing to Hear Better
After Rachel finished her TEDx presentation, she was delighted when a student came up to her to thank her. He said, “I thought I was crazy—I could not hear my teachers unless I was drawing.”

Rachel’s experience growing up had been similar. Their teachers did not comprehend that for some students, drawing can deepen the learning.


Rachel’s 5 Tips for Visual Note-Taking

1) Choose a tool that works for you. Paper, pen, pencil, tablet computer, or iPad? Many colors, or one color? Use what you are most comfortable with. Be sure to practice using the tool before you record an important conversation.

2) Build a library of mental imagery. Start with one or two icons. When you see an image that you like and can draw easily, add it to your library of icons.

3) Listen for the key points, and capture what you are hearing in a way that is memorable for you. It needs to be relevant to you personally, as well as connecting to what you heard.

4) Don’t make up images on the spot. Images for visual note-taking need to be things that you already know how to draw. When you create a new icon, your attention is sidetracked. All of your attention needs to be directed toward listening and capturing the key points.

5) Draw quickly. As Rachel’s niece Elizabeth points out, “You don’t want to take too long, because you get sucked into the drawing and you can’t hear what they are saying.” Just make a note of any details that you want to be sure to incorporate into the drawing at a later time.

Whatever the setting, at its core visual note-taking is about listening and capturing key meanings. You’ll know you have done it correctly when you can look at the notes and repeat the story that you heard from the speaker.


Rachel Smith is a senior consultant and the director of Digital Facilitation Services at The Grove Consultants International in San Francisco, CA. She is the author of Digital Visual Facilitation, a blog for visual practitioners.

The Grove offers workshops on Virtual Graphic Facilitation and Principles of Graphic Facilitation.

See also: Visual Meetings: How Graphics, Sticky Notes and Idea Mapping Can Transform Group Productivity by David Sibbet for many ways to expand your visual communications menu.