When I first found out about visual note-taking, sketch notes, or doodle notes (call it what you will), I thought letting students draw in class was crazy. Read more about that here.

But I quickly realized that drawing helps students encode information, as well as giving them a feeling of ownership over their notes.

Plus, using colors, illustrations, and symbols in addition to text can make it easier for students to remember content. And to make links between content.

One of my favorite tools to use to create worksheets myself is Canva (see my TPT store for examples). So, I thought why not use it with students?

A visual note-taking worksheet created in Canva for students to use when watching the Crash Course Navigating Digital Information video about data and infographics (episode 6).

It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s fun to use. With that in mind, I thought my fellow teachers might appreciate a quick and easy guide to using Canva with their students. Read on to find out 7 tips about how to use Canva with students.

Encourage students to use templates

One of the easiest ways to get students started creating visual notes is to use templates.

Canva has great templates for a whole host of document types (even some that teachers will use – hello worksheets). Templates your students could easily use in class include:

Infographic By Marketplace Designers, available as template on Canva

Templates make it easy for students to get to important part of classwork without worrying that their tasks will look hokey.

Plus, Canva is a real-life tool that students can use later in a professional capacity.

Tell students to use icons over elaborate illustrations

One of the things research suggests is great about visual note-taking is it’s capacity to link visual and textual information in a learner’s brain. However, many students dislike doing visual notes because ‘they can’t draw’.

Using Canva overcomes this obstacle. Further, using icons (of which there are plenty in Canva) is a great way to get students to think more symbolically when taking notes.

So, instead of drawing a detailed picture of the female protagonist in a novel, students might choose a girl icon. Instead of drawing a picture of a setting, students might choose an icon of a school, a farm, a house depending on where the action is taking place.

This not only makes visual notes quicker for students to create, it means they are engaging in metacognitive work by thinking about how to represent an idea. This is instead of trying to illustrate a scene or character etc.

Another example of a visual note-taking worksheet created in Canva.
Encourage students to use color to relate similar ideas

Another great tip for how to use Canva with students is to encourage students to use color to represent similar ideas. This may be while creating their notes, or after their notes are done to print and shade related ideas.

While creating notes, colors can be used to identify:

  • themes
  • characters
  • author information
  • literary devices such as symbolism, similes, and metaphors
  • definitions
  • events that occur at a similar time

If students choose to add color after printing their notes, they are going to be revising and seeing the connections they have made during the notes.

Ensure students use visual elements and text
The dashboard is easy to navigate and visual elements such as photos, layout templates, styles, and elements (including illustrations, lines, shapes, gradients etc) is on the left.

Another tip for how to use Canva for students is to ensure they are using both visual and textual elements.

The great benefit that visuals have when taking notes is lost when students don’t use them. And with Canva using visual is easy. Students can:

  • Use stock photos
  • Choose from a wide variety of stock illustrations and icons
  • Import their own illustrations, photos, and icons to use
  • Use a wide variety of fonts to affect how the notes are interpreted
  • Choose from a wide variety of font effects such as shadow, neon, and lift to draw attention to particular words
  • Use lines, shapes, colors, backgrounds, charts, photo grids, gradients, and templates to create engaging notes
  • Import audio and video files
Help students synthesize ideas first

The hardest part for students may be to synthesize their ideas before they begin. And no teacher wants to hear “I don’t know how to start.”

Great ways to help students synthesize their ideas may be to:

  • Give a list of question students need to answer
  • Suggest a series of topics that need to be covered
  • Use a thinking strategy such as 3-2-1 where students need to write notes that have 3 ideas/thoughts, 2 questions, and 1 simile/metaphor/connection to the wider world
  • Show students a model
  • Get students to create a set of revision notes
  • Set limits overs what students must include and what they can choose to include
  • Give students a choice board of elements to include

Harvard’s Visual Thinking Routines has a great list of thinking strategies students can use to synthesize their ideas.

A screenshot of the Harvard Visual Thinking Routines strategy of 3-2-1 Bridge.
Provide a rubric or checklist to show students the expectations

Similar to the idea above, using a rubric or a checklist to show students the expectations will reduce the number of students who use the activity as a time-waster.

If you choose to use a rubric, the note-taking sheet could become part of formative or summative assessment.

If you choose a checklist, students will know exactly what to include.

The video below shows a great way to structure a rubric, especially if students are concerned that you will mark them on their artistic efforts instead of their intellectual efforts.

Use to create a one-pager summaries or revision sheets

Another great tip to using Canva with students to take notes is to get them to create one-pager summaries or revision sheets.

For example, if students need to know about topic x, y, and z for an upcoming exam, but they had to look-up information for topic y to create their one-pager, then students know that they need to study topic y more.

This is also great to use when trying to encourage students to adopt a growth mindset. Visual notes are low-stakes and fun. Students can use their notes to reflect on what they know, need to know, and don’t understand.

Summaries are also a great way to get students to use Canva to take visual notes. For example, if students needed to prepare for an upcoming exam about a class novel, they could:

  • create a template with sections for themes, quotes, explanations of how the quote/theme are linked, how the theme changes throughout the novel or teaches the reader something
  • create a character analysis showing what a character wears, says, thinks, acts and how this affects the other characters in the text or relates to important themes
  • create a comic strip summarizing the plot of a text
  • create a Venn diagram comparing how the text is similar to of different from other texts about the same topic/theme
This is a comic-book strip template created in Canva. Student can use it to summarize the plot of a text, illustrate a scene from a novel, or show a silent character’s viewpoint of an event in a text.
Want to learn more about visual note-taking? See these blog posts:
Want to see more of our great visual note-taking products? Here are a few products you may find useful: