Developing Early Learner Listening Skills by Creating Sketchnote Drawings on an iPad During Oral Reading


Developing Early Learner Listening Skills  by Creating Sketchnote Drawings, with drawing of a girl with an iPad

Fostering active listening skills among early learners is crucial for their cognitive development and academic success. One innovative and effective approach to enhance these skills is having students create iPad sketchnotes while listening to stories or chapter books that are read out loud by the teacher. Here is an overview of some ways to introduce and use the sketchnote drawing strategy to improve student listening, visualization, and comprehension skills, especially for K - 2 students.

The Role of Sketchnotes in Learning

Sketchnoting involves the creation of hand drawn visual notes that combine drawings, symbols, and text to capture key ideas and concepts. Research suggests that making a drawing can significantly enhance memory retention. (Wammes, Meade, & Fernandes, 2016). For early learners who may not yet be able to write, making a sketchnote allows them to draw their ideas before they are able to communicate with written language. 

More Information on Drawing and Learning:

The Science of Drawing and Memory

The act of drawing something has a “massive” benefit for memory compared with writing it down

Making Learning Visible: Doodling Helps Memories Stick

Using iPads for Sketchnoting

While traditional sketchnotes can be created using paper and various drawing tools, iPads offer unique advantages. Digital environments allow students to easily start their sketches without the need for physical supplies. Apps like Apple Notes, Freeform, or Tayasui Sketches School provide a digital canvas with tools that simulate crayons, markers, and paint in every color of the rainbow. Digital drawing apps have features that let students erase, undo, pinch in for details, and even work on an infinite canvas. Finally, these sketches are a great way for teachers to digitally capture and document student growth over time.

Combining Listening with Sketchnoting

Integrating sketchnotes into daily listening activities can be seamlessly achieved in early education classrooms by:

  1. Reading Aloud Sessions: During story time or when reading aloud a chapter book, ask students to create a simple sketch on their iPad to represent the main idea or scene they hear. Kindergarten students could simply draw an individual picture without text, using an app like Apple Notes. As students get older, they could write a few words of text to reinforce their understanding of the story. It may be helpful if the teacher pauses periodically during the story to assist students who might struggle with keeping up or with multitasking while listening.
  2. Progressive Sketchnoting: With older learners, such as first and second graders, use apps like Freeform that offer an infinite canvas. This allows students to expand their sketchnotes over multiple sessions, developing a visual narrative path of the story's progression. The sketchnote provides a way for students to reflect, review, and revise along the way.


Progressive Drawing Sketchnote of the book The Mouse and the Motorcycle
Progressive Drawing Sketchnote of the book The Mouse and the Motorcycle

Tips for Implementing Digital Sketchnotes

  • Introduction to Apps: Start by introducing the students to the app that you wish for them to use. Show them where the drawing tools are located and explain how to change the size and color. You may wish to test only a few drawing tools at a time and discuss their characteristics and what things would be good to draw using them.

Apple Notes App

Apple Freeform App

Tayasui Sketches School

  • Exploration Time: Give students time to play and explore the drawing tools. Show how to undo, erase mistakes, and pinch to zoom in/out in to add details. Let students work with a partner where they can share any tips and ideas they have learned. 
  • For Younger Learners: Avoid using typing/text boxes in their sketchnote because it slows them down. Rather encourage them to make basic drawings and write by hand. Sketchnotes are about ideas, not art, so simple drawings and shaky letters are fine.
  • Analog Sketches: If using an app to draw seems overwhelming or distracting to students, they could also use paper, pencil, and other drawing tools. Students can take a photo of the drawing with their iPad and could even annotate over top of it with digital tools.
  • For more information on sketchnoting: check out my resource page at

Extensions and Applications

Sketchnotes can be used with any subject area including science, history, and math. This strategy can be used when students are reading text, watching a video, listening to a podcast, or organizing ideas. They are beneficial for any age group, even adults. Additionally, you could use the iPad microphone to add an audio recording of the student explaining their sketchnote.

Engaging our youngest writers with a show and tell activity using Freeform by Jeremie Coplin (Kindergarten sketchnotes for listening)

Improve Student Comprehension: Using Digital Drawings for Visual Learning by Audriana Vigil (upper elementary sketchnotes for listening)


Incorporating iPad sketchnotes into the early education curriculum not only cultivates essential listening and comprehension skills but also nurtures creativity and critical thinking in young learners. As students grow older, they can continue to use the sketchnote strategy to help them with processing and remembering information that they hear and read.

If you have ever used sketchnotes with a listening activity with students, I’d love for you to share about it in the comments.

1 reply

July 15, 2024

What a great way for students to stay engaged and make their learning come to life while listening to stories. I think this would be a great way for students to “take notes” during a science lesson as we’re exploring the informational text in the unit. Designing an sketchnote to help them remember the key vocabulary and science concepts would be a tremendous help in keeping them engaged and useful for sharing what they are learning with others! So many ways to use this ideas with my students! Thank you!

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