Using a Sketch Notebook for Taking Notes

When I was in college, I loved to doodle while I was taking notes.  Even though it may have looked like I wasn't paying attention, the doodling slowed my brain down enough so that I could pay attention to what was being said.  Occasionally my drawings related to the materials, but more often than not they were were designs of randomness.

On Classical Conversations community days in Challenge A we would utilize white boards for jotting down math work or drawing maps.  While they were wonderful tools, they erased a minute later and by the time the students were home, exhaustion took over and the kids didn't have a thing to show their parents of their work that day.

When I was preparing to tutor Challenge B, I came up with an idea to keep the feel of the white board, but something the kids could take home and utilize throughout the week as they worked.  Each student received what we called: "The Not So White White Board."  It was a sketch notebook from Hobby Lobby that I tabbed to mark the weeks of our Challenge program.

tabs on a sketch notebook

The "F" stands for the fall semester and the "S" stands for the spring semester.  I made the tabs out of a piece of scotch tape and a small scrap of paper.  I allowed three full sheets of paper for each week, which turned out to be one side of paper for each seminar. (No tabs were used for week 15 as this was the week for Blue Book exams.)

The kids decorated the covers of their books at our orientation meeting with metallic sharpies.

sketch notebook for taking notes

Having a source for all notes for the year turned out to be a wonderful tool in class.  Not only did it serve as a communication device between class and the parents, but it was also very helpful to look back on past weeks as we started semester long projects like Mock Trial.

Additionally, the blank pages were a good stepping stone into taking notes on spiral paper.  Sometimes the students would run across various work that didn't fit neatly on lines, so the blank pages were freeing for note taking.

note taking in a sketch notebook

The journals also provided a great record of the work done in class.  Often, we would have races to write down memory work that we had been practicing at home.  It was nice to see improvement over the weeks on things like the square of opposition.  Also, after we had raced to write it down, they now could have a reference tool in front of them as we discussed the concepts.

sketch notebook note drawings

The books are now a treasure of material covered in their Challenge B year.  As I was glancing through trying to find pages to take pictures of, I ran across this page.  Even though I was my son's tutor, I don't always know what he's up to when he's taking notes.  The picture below shows the week his dad taught him the Greek alphabet and how much fun he had playing with it while we were practicing Genus Species trees...makes me giggle.

sketch notebook allows room for creative note taking

I think I would have enjoyed using this type of notebook to take notes in high school and college.  I'm a picture girl, and I love visuals.

Sketch Notebooks for taking notes

What kind of notebook do you like to use for taking notes?


  1. Sara W. on August 14, 2015 at 8:03 am

    This is such a great idea! I love all the class notes being in one place especially for my challenge A student who is new to note taking. I bet it would work in Essentials also rather than the whiteboard.

    • Betsy on August 14, 2015 at 8:34 am

      We tried it last year in Essentials, and it was nice for me as a Challenge director to be able to see what they talked about in class.

  2. amy on August 14, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    I am going to be tutoring Ch A this year: 3 boys and 1 girl in the room. I am a new tutor. I thought white boards would be nice because I could see their work from farther away (what steps are you missing in doing the math problem? I can look over your shoulder and see…). Do you think notebooks are just as easy to “monitor” in this way?

    • Betsy on August 14, 2015 at 8:33 pm

      The sketch books worked just as nicely. With the white boards I found that if they didn’t want me to see what they were doing they would erase their work quickly and act like they didn’t know I wanted to see it! Ha!

      • amy on August 19, 2015 at 8:02 am

        I bought some! But since they only have 80 pages – that’s 27 weeks of class @ 3 pages/week. I know they don’t need it for weeks 15, but that means that 28 other weeks. What did you do?

        • Betsy on August 19, 2015 at 8:16 am

          I just gave them 2 pages on week 14 of the spring and fall, and then left weeks 15 off. One of my girls liked to write more, so she bought a big post-it note pad and added pages to hers as needed. It all worked out in the end.

  3. amy on August 14, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    PS. the link to the Hobby Lobby sketchbooks does not work. Do you mean these sketchbooks?'s-Touch-Wire-Bound-Sketch-Book/p/10544

    • Betsy on August 14, 2015 at 8:33 pm

      Yes! That’s them. I will fix the link. Thanks!

  4. amy on August 14, 2015 at 10:47 pm

    Betsy!!! We used these today for the first time in our Ch. B group. Thank you for introducing me to this technique. It was a big hit (4 girls and 2 boys), and I cannot wait to see how it continues to be a part of our learning, note-taking, reflecting, etc. in our group this year!! Thanks, again.

    • Betsy on August 14, 2015 at 10:49 pm

      Yay! I’m so glad they enjoyed it. I hope you have a wonderful year!

  5. Beth Ann on August 17, 2015 at 10:18 am

    Do you have a good place to buy inexpensive sketch books? I’d like to ge these for my students…and I have 12 students. Since we have already begun the year and tomorrow is week 2, I would feel bad asking parents to buy another supply after I already told them what to get for the year. I may just bring it up in class though and see what they think 🙂

    • Betsy on August 17, 2015 at 10:22 am

      I got mine at Hobby Lobby for a little over $5 each. Our Essentials class just spiraled some blank paper. It was a bit cheaper because I have a spiraling machine, but it definitely takes more time! I like the idea of checking with the class…gives them ownership!

  6. Julie Lawson on April 18, 2016 at 7:22 pm

    Betsy – Love this!! I took notes on notebook paper for our first 2 tours of Essentials, and then tutored our third year. So amazing to have my first/second tour notes while planning!! I’ve already thought about composition books for moving into Challenge. They are really inexpensive if you order them by the case at Dollar Tree ($1/ea?)!! Thank you for all your ideas, and I love the bible verse doodle pages!! Blessings!!

    • Betsy on April 19, 2016 at 5:01 pm

      Thanks Julie! What a great idea to check at dollar tree for the composition books. I love a good deal!

  7. Paula on June 3, 2017 at 4:26 pm

    I think I’ll do this for my Challenge B class this coming year. Thanks!

  8. Stacy on July 30, 2019 at 9:26 am

    This was suggested by my trainer for Challenge 2. I struggle with the idea because I have 3 boys and 1 girl in seminar. I also wonder if it will interrupt discussion. For Challenge everything is discussion driven not lecture driven so how are they taking notes while conversing in seminar?!

    • Betsy on July 31, 2019 at 12:16 pm

      This is an important question. You are right – seminars are meant to be discussion driven, so it comes down to how you use the sketch notebook. It is important to know your students and discern whether this is worth experimenting with in your class. This post was written with Challenge A and B in mind primarily because that age has a greater tendency to forget what was even discussed in class, including tutor instructions and comments. It’s meant to be a kind of white board – they worked on it like they would work on a white board. Then, when parents who weren’t in seminar wondered what was done in class, they had some idea by looking at the Sketch Notebook. By the time they reach Challenge 2, they should be developing their own systems for note taking. They’ll be watching the Francis Schaeffer videos, which they should be taking notes on, following along with math problems, which I find important for them to write while we discuss, and noting Latin translations, which also helps if they have these ideas written down to refer to when they get home and are working on their assignments. It’s not for note taking like you would in a lecture setting, but writing down things to remember. Finding a balance is the key.

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