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In The Classroom - Scaffolding upon Doodling


In The Classroom - Scaffolding upon Doodling

Cathy G. Johnson

“Where do ideas come from?” Ideation is something that can stump many art students. We never want to tell students what they should make! On the flip side, doodling is spontaneous, free, and unrestrained drawing. Every student, no matter their artistic skill or background, can doodle. How can the power of doodling be harnessed to help students create, develop, and feel confident in their original ideas?

The following is a three-day lesson plan to encourage students to use doodling as a method of ideation. The lesson plan includes in-class drawing exercises, group discussions, a reading, and a culminating 2-page comic assignment. I developed this lesson plan for teenagers, but it’s adaptable to other age groups! Below I share the text of the lesson plan, and then samples of my own students’ work to see the plan in action!

Skills: Ideation, drawing, cartooning + comic books, confidence, class discussion, individual work, peer support.

Age: High school, but adaptable to other age groups.

Materials: Sketchbook, paper, pencils, markers, colored pencils, pens.

Lesson Plan

Day 1:

  • Drawing Exercise:

    • Doodle in our sketchbooks while listening to music.


Students begin this lesson plan by doodling silently for a full hour listening to music. I personally like to use soundtrack music so songs don’t have any words to distract students from their own thoughts. I recommend music by Griffin McElroy, which has energetic tracks as well as calmer tempos: Link (exterior link)

  • Sample work: Here is one student’s doodles, a fine example of the exercise! Filling up multiple pages and letting loose!

Lesson Plan, Day 2:

  • Students partner up and trade notebooks, discuss sketchbook pages from yesterday.

  • Group members will each have 30 seconds to present a specific doodled image from their classmate’s sketchbook that they have never seen before (We aren't looking for "good." We are looking for "exciting," "unique," "unexpected.")

  • Discussion Questions:

    • How can doodles be note-taking for images?

    • What is the relationship between word and image?

    • How can doodles be developed? How can doodles just stay doodles?

  • Continue assignment:

    • Fill new doodle pages riffing off your doodle your classmate found "exciting."

    • Empty your mind; allow yourself to be swept away.

    • 15 min left: Think about story, word and image.

  • Homework, reading: What It Is by Lynda Barry (excerpt)

    • Assigned reading to discuss next time.


Students look in each other’s sketchbooks and find one small image they find interesting, then share it with the class. By having others discuss their work, students are able to see more in their doodles. They are then asked to expand upon that one doodle, building it up into a larger drawing.

  • Sample work: On the left is a student’s first doodle page. A classmate chose the astronaut as an interesting element. On the right, the student developed their astronaut into a larger drawing, adding new details, which naturally create narrative elements.

Lesson Plan, Day 3:

  • Discuss reading: What It Is by Lynda Barry (excerpt)

    • What are connections you found between Barry’s work and the doodles we did earlier this week?

    • Consider: Simple lines, building stories

  • Give out assignment: Scaffolding upon Doodling.

Assignment: Scaffolding upon Doodling

  • In the style of Lynda Barry, create a 2-page visual story based off of the doodles you created this week in class.

  • Create “finished” artwork, as you see fit.

  • Think about sketching, ink and color.


Discussion about Lynda Barry’s work helps students realize the freedom and potential of their doodles. Her work helps highlight the freedom of ideas. This allows students to move freely into the final assignment, creating a 2-page comic story based off of their doodles. They are able to pull interesting narrative elements from their own artwork, allowing the scaffolding of ideas to be a natural progression, and offering students full ownership over their creations.

Student Work Summary

Student 1

Day One: Free doodles.

Day Two: Building upon the first day’s doodles, thinking about story + word, in addition to image.

Final Project: Creating 2-page comic story, building narrative from doodles in previous days.

Student 2

Days One + Two: Free doodles, and expanding upon one specific image and building detail into it.

Final Project: This student chose to create a wordless narrative for their astronaut character. Story was developed from the details added in day two’s drawing.

Student 3

Days One + Two: Free doodles, experimenting with image.

Final Project: This student built upon the free imagery they created with the yarn man from day two’s doodles. From this image, the student created a surreal narrative world, + developed a character moving through that world.

Student 4

Final Project: This student embraced a small flower pot from their original doodles, expanding it into quite the character story!


With this three-day lesson plan, students begin to build their individual voices. Each student is able to develop their own doodling into a distinct narrative style, unique to themselves. By harnessing the spontaneous power of doodling, students learn how to develop their own ideas into full narratives!