Drawing pictures yes! Visual Note Taking

sols_6Visual Note Taking with 3rd and 4th graders –

I had three days left as a long call reserve teacher. This is the group of 3rd and 4th graders I have been working with all fall and winter. During these days we had to prepare and host our portfolio breakfast with parents and were scheduled for swimming at the local YMCA each day. Needless to say there was little time for new lessons but some how I did not let that fact stop me.

I loved what I read in Dana Murphy’s post over at Two Writing Teachers. The week’s posts were about writing in response to reading and she presented a quick post on visual note taking. See the post here!

I have always put pictures along with my notes. Not good pictures mind you but pictures that reminded me of what I was hearing and also keeping hands busy so my mind would stay on topic. (I have one of those over active minds that likes to wonder when listening to teachers and lectures. Taking notes has always been a great way to focus.)

Perfect lesson for the last few days I thought. I can start them working on one more skill since this group is always wanting to draw. Why not have them draw what they are hearing and reading?  So we began.

Mini lesson one:  I showed and did

  • We talked and recorded on chart paper the reason people take notes?
  • What were notes?
  • When do they take notes?

All of which lead to “How do I do this?  Do we write every word someone says?  I can’t do that!”  Yes – 3rd and 4th grades see things in very literal ways. So we talked about important words, thoughts and would it be easier to make a few pictures as well?

I showed them models from Dana’s post and visual notes I took while reading a book about Georgia O’Keeffe.  We ended there and I just let them think about it for the rest of our busy day.

Mini lesson two: We did it together

The next day after our portfolio breakfast with parents we needed a lesson to settle ourselves down. We needed to return to thinking about actual learning so visual note taking was perfect. I reviewed what we meant by visual notes. I shared my notebook again and then read them the same story I had taken notes – My Name is Georgia by Jeanette Winter. The room fell silent and pencil were moving.  A few wanted to know

  • If they had to use color – no these are your notes
  • Do we make pictures of everything – no what is important for you to remember and what does it remind you of, what are you thinking about as you hear the story
  • What do I do when my page is full? Can I use two pages? – yes remember I use four pages and made some big pictures.
  • Can I put words with my pictures? – yes, think about the models you saw did they have words?

( young students want to do it right even when we say these are your notes you may take notes the way it best helps you think and remember the story)

We finished our story and notes and were off to swimming.

Mini lesson three:  They do alone

This was quick learning and I had not yet stopped to see what their notebooks looked like after our group work but I had only one more block of time with these students and we had several tasks to complete so…

I ask them during independent work time to pick up the next Georgia O’Keeffe book to read and take visual notes on their own. Nice idea but it was a no go! They picked up the books and some of them actual read the books but none of them were able to focus on the task at hand. There was talking and wondering and who know what else but it was Friday, we were leaving for swimming and it was my last day. Focus was gone.   Oh well I thought – I tried. It was worth putting this idea in their heads and maybe they will come back to it.

I did feel sad – well disappointed but I realized I was asking a lot of these kids in a short time.  I did take time to look at their notebooks thinking they might not of even gotten the idea when we took notes on the read aloud. I was thinking maybe this was a task better saved until they are a bit older.

I started reviewing their notes and was pleasantly surprise at how much they had captured in their images and words.  Almost all of them had gotten the essence of  Georgia O’Keeffe’s story.

VN Georgia 5Yes!  This was perfect for this group – we just needed more time to model together and work through this process a bit slower.  We needed a few more days before we tried to work independently.VN Georgia 1

I learned a great deal as well. I learned to trust in their skills, give them time and model, model, model.   We tend to just jump ahead since time is pushing us to get things done and more on.  Sometimes it is best to just slow down – practice and return later for the next steps.  There really is more time if we choose to give it to our students.

Why not take some time – share a good chapter or picture book and see what your students will do with visual note taking!

VN Georgia 6

VN Georgia 3

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About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
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6 Responses to Drawing pictures yes! Visual Note Taking

  1. Tara Smith says:

    I loved Dana’s post, too – and look at all the great thinking your kids were able to do! This is definitely a strategy for middle and high school, too.

    • Joanne Toft says:

      My daughter drew pictures in her high school notebook to help her remember all the Greek Gods and Goddesses. She had a great time and it really helped with her memory and understanding of the material.

  2. jarhartz says:

    I loved Dana’s post and want to do this with my 5th graders. You really took these kids a long way. I am impressed and I appreciate your step by step lessons. By the way, 5the graders are literal too. Every step is necessary

  3. Dana Murphy says:

    Wow, you really went for it! This is so great! I think they did a great job! It’s amazing how much you can see about their thinking, isn’t it? I can’t wait to see more posts about this! I’m so glad you took the leap and just tried it!

    • Joanne Toft says:

      I am also glad I tried it even if there really wasn’t much time. It is amazing to see what they can do and what they understand. It was great fun to review their notebooks. I am hoping to work with a few other classes with this strategy as well.

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