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Drawing on memory

Perhaps more of us are visual learners than we thought. Verbal note taking, long the standard taught by teachers and accepted by students, could be inferior to drawing. One study suggests that drawing information that subjects needed to remember was more effective than writing the information down ( As well, Illustrator Rachel Smith, who facilitates meetings by taking graphic notes, recently shared anecdotal evidence that visual note taking strategies are superior to written notes.

How can we take advantage of this when working with children? Drawing the meanings of new vocabulary words is a great place to start. Most mathematical concepts taught in grade school can be represented visually too. Older children who take notes for homework can benefit particularly from incorporating drawing into their work. Have them try illustrating a scientific concept like photosynthesis or cellular respiration. Historical chains of events are also a great place to get into the drawing habit.

Self-criticism can be a common roadblock when kids use drawings in an assignment. “That’s not a good drawing,” I often hear. I try to direct the conversation away from judgment by reminding my students that the point of the drawing is to help them understand a concept. As long as what is on the page is meaningful and understandable to the author, it has served its purpose. I will share too the importance of prioritizing a reasonable work pace over amazing artistry. If a child seems to be hampered by perfectionism, I’ll set a timer for the activity to help him move on.

Now let’s all get to doodling and boosting our memories!


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