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Using Sketchbooks in Primary Schools

Some Ideas

(Note: this document was prepared several years ago and will need some alterations in order to match the NC 2000)

Along with children’s art portfolios the sketchbook can provide a record of the children’s learning and progress in art at school.

The sketchbook is much more than a book with blank paper in to draw on. The sketchbook can be used to develop all the strands of the National Curriculum expectations for Art. This document sets out some examples of instances where it would be possible to use the sketchbook. The individual class teacher should decide when it is appropriate for their class to do so as it would be undesirable to incorporate all these ideas for every single piece of work. The strands of the National Curriculum can be explored in many different ways and using the sketchbook is just one possible approach.

Aims for the sketchbook:

  • To provide a record of our childrens’ learning in art;
  • To make our children more independent and confident artists;

The rest of this document looks individually at the strands of art in the National Curriculum and gives some examples of how we could use the sketchbook to implement them.

Investigating and Making

Recording Responses

The sketchbook is used as an initial way of recording responses to various stimuli. The most common form of this is through drawings. However, the sketchbook is not the place for a final polished piece of work. The children are encouraged to think of it as the place to practice, develop and focus their work. Some teachers find it helpful to have their classes work in pen (or forbid the use of rubbers in their sketchbook) in order to try and make the sketchbook a place where it is okay to make mistakes.

Sometimes work started in the sketchbook will be developed into a finished piece of work elsewhere, in some cases it will not. The sketchbook will act as a reference source of what each child has drawn and will be a resource for future work. Where appropriate work by the children should be dated and be given a title so as to provide a suitable record for both the teacher and the children themselves.

Drawing in the sketchbook can take many forms:

  • The children might use the sketchbook as a place to focus on shape, to practice drawing certain features, and to gather information for use on a larger piece of work;
  • The sketchbook can be used to practice drawing techniques such as shading, perspective and drawing from different viewpoints;
  • As well as the sketch itself the children might record details about the item being drawn or sketched for future reference;
  • The sketchbook might include sketches and working drawings for ideas of things the children want to make (a separate ‘sketchbook’ is used for Design & Technology work);
  • The children might make investigative sketches. Through their drawings they could gather information to give specific knowledge of how things are made or work.

The sketchbook use isn’t limited to the confines of the classroom. It may be taken on trips or visits to record what the children see there. Of course there are times where it is more convenient to do such recording on separate sheets of paper but these could be stuck in at a later date.


Gather resources and materials

According to SCAA, by the end of year 4 children should be collecting visual information in their sketchbooks and they should be able to use it as a source material for their work. By the end of year 6 children should be selecting their own visual information to collect in order to experiment with ideas suggested to them.

The sketchbook can be used as a place to collect:

  • Photographs;
  • Photocopies of art works – even of other children’s work;
  • Pictures from magazines, comics, cards, calendars, stamps etc;
  • Samples of textures, fabrics, and other materials;
  • Titles of music used to stimulate a response;
  • Poem or stories that were used to stimulate a response; (many artists have interpreted stories and myths in their work)
  • Lists of resources that the children might need to produce a piece of art;

Obviously, we do not want the sketchbook to be turned into a glorified scrapbook so it is up to the individual teacher to try and maintain a balance between collected material and the rest of the sketchbook contents.

Explore and use media

The children can use the sketchbook as a place to keep records of their own, or other children’s, exploration of media. It is possible to use the sketchbook pages themselves to explore different media on although the children will probably explore the effects of most media outside the sketchbook.

The sketchbook is a good place to keep:

  • Colour strips from colour mixing;
  • Tone bars from tone work;
  • Studies of the effects of media on different types of paper;
  • Comments and notes on the use of media e.g. how to mix a certain colour or how to get a certain effect;

Where possible the children should be encouraged to comment on the media and techniques used, even at a basic level ("You smudge it with your fingers.").


Review and modify

The children can use their sketchbooks to record their thoughts on the artwork that they have produced. They can take part in a critical dialogue identifying positive features in their work and ways in which their work could be developed or improved. In its simplest form this could take the form of a list of comments (alongside a photograph or photocopy of their work) saying what they like about the picture and what they would do differently if they did it again.

Whenever the children decide that they have not drawn something right and decide to start again they are reviewing their work. It is important that their next attempt is modified in some way, in order that they make progress. Avoiding "rubbing out" or "throwing away" the earlier attempts provides the child and the teacher with a method of reviewing what has been done previously.

Knowledge and Understanding

The National Curriculum emphasises that it is important for the children to gain knowledge and understanding of how artists and craftspeople go about their work. Throughout the school the children are exposed to the work of artists and craftspeople, and some of this information is recorded in the sketchbook.

Develop understanding

The sketchbook is one place in which children can compare work of art, craft and design. The children might stick in reproductions of works of art around which they could write information or comments about the piece. By laying tracing paper on top of the work children can be encouraged to write in more detail about the picture.

The children can write comments and notes about the things that they have seen. These comments should be their own personal reactions.

Respond to and evaluate

The children can record their responses to the ideas, methods and approaches of artists and other children in their sketchbooks. The sketchbook could be a place to compare different approaches.

The sketchbook might include description of things that the children have made and notes on the actual technical processes involved.


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