Graphic Recording and Group Work Go Together: Free Facilitation Agenda

Graphic Recording and Group Work Go Together

Are you planning a highly participatory meeting with lots of small group work, and wondering how a graphic recorder could work in this setup?

Need an easy-to-read, and visually appealing, way of theming and synthesizing many small group discussions?

Unsure if this meeting should be online or in person to get the best results with a graphic recorder, since there’s small group work?

Need a sample agenda that does all of this, that you can copy-and-paste into your plan?

Great news – graphic recording and small group work can go together seamlessly for participants, facilitator(s) and the graphic recorder. Here are my tips and a sample agenda to help make it flow elegantly whether you’re online or in person.

Visuals Support Highly Participatory Meetings

We all want dynamic, participatory meetings – and often this looks like great conversations and small group work to help ideas emerge. We can increase value to these highly engaged meetings by adding graphic recording: Graphic recorders listen to what is said, and create images full of summary, themes, and synthesis. When we combine graphic recording and group work, we:

  • Help people see the patterns and themes as they emerge
  • Unlock creativity, by showing how art-making is part of sensemaking and deep thinking
  • Harvest the wisdom in the room and makes it accessible to more people through visuals
  • Encourage participants to continue the conversation, when we integrate the graphic recording visuals into the rest of the event or process

We need to set up a process for harvesting information as-we-go, as preparation for the full group share-back.

Avoid the Information Firehose

The most expensive way of integrating graphic recording with group work would be to have a unique graphic recorder for each and every small group, but most of the time that’s not feasible or needed. Instead, we usually have one graphic recorder, who we need to set up for success. We need to make sure they aren’t drinking from the “information firehose”. If we don’t get the timing right, we end up in a meeting where there’s a report-out from each table at the very end of the session.

Even when the insights are juicy and important, this presentation format is mostly boring – information is read out mostly in rapid, list form and it drains the energy from the room. The result is the graphic recorder “drinking from the information firehose” – and creating an image that is mostly lists, bullet points, and not a lot of summary and synthesis. We want to support a graphic recorder to create a meaningful image.

Sticky Notes with A-Ha Insights Between Rounds

We want to invite someone (it can be anyone) who is at the group work table, to write down three aha moments or insights on sticky notes.

These notes will be brought to the graphic recorder at the end of each question round.

Prompts for explaining how to write these 3 sticky notes:

  • What’s an aha-moment? What’s an important insight?
  • What’s something unique your group discussed?
  • What’s something important that needs to be in the visual?
  • Can you write this in a bumper sticker length?
  • Put your table number on them, if different groups have different topicsa
  • Please don’t write a small novel on the sticky- you don’t need to summarize all of the group’s discussion, because there will also be an opportunity to share back.

Group work and Graphic Facilitation Themes with post it notes

How To Do this Online: it’s Easier

This is one instance where online note-taking is easier and more effective for a graphic recorder. We’ll use the same process with sharing back between rounds and using post its, but instead we’ll use digital note-taking tools. Send people into online breakout rooms, and then ask a notetaker to write down key insights into a Google Slide deck, a Google Jamboard, a MURAL or other online space.

Set up the digital notetaking tool so the graphic recorder can see all of the groups’ notes at the same time (for example, Group 1 is on Jamboard 1, Group 2 is on Jamboard 2 and it’s all one file). This is a huge benefit to the graphic recorder, who can look at all of the data being generated in real-time, and they can begin to get acquainted with the themes, without waiting for the end of the small group work to be completed.

Online graphic recording and breakout rooms how to best practices drawing change

A Sample World Cafe Style Facilitation Agenda for You to Use 

Let’s say you have two hours for your session. Here’s how we could plan ahead, and structure that time to support participants and the graphic recorder to make the most of the conversation.

Before the session:

  • Work with the facilitation team to ensure the purpose and outcomes of the graphic recording are clear. What best role can the graphic recording provide for this session? What would make this a success? In what ways can we integrate the visuals into the room afterwards – a gallery set up next to the lunch lineup? Paired reflection work later in the day?
  • Ensure the graphic recording workspace is set up so all participants can see it be created in real time, and there’s a clear path for bringing the sticky notes
  • Print/screenshare this handout for all table hosts/facilitators, so they can have an easy reminder about the post-it note process. You can also put it on a powerpoint slide for the room to see:


During the session:

We want to break up the time between small group discussions, verbal report outs and open discussion, with aha insights provided to the graphic recorder throughout for each question.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

For the room:

  • Announce and explain to the entire room the role of graphic recording for the group work; explain the process for the sticky notes (different than any note-taking).

For the organizers:

  • Colour code the sticky notes based on the questions, or the group numbers if you prefer, in order to stay organized.
  • Identify who will bring the sticky notes over to the graphic recorder (don’t ask the graphic recorder to run table to tables).
  • Bonus: if multiple tables are working on the same question or the event is very large, a staff person can set up a blank flip chart with all sticky notes next to the graphic recorder and their role can be to triage and sort data.
  • Save all the sticky notes after the session and don’t throw them away. It could be hundreds of data points!

Sample facilitation agenda

Timing Activity Roles & Tasks
0:00 – 0:20 Question 1 –
small group work
Small group work: Table facilitator, note-taker, and someone to write 3 sticky notes for the graphic recorder.

Graphic recorder: prepares images for each discussion topic, titles, other relevant information.

0:20-0:30 Q 1 –
share back
Each table brings their 3 post-it notes to the graphic recorder.

A few tables (e.g. tables 1,2,3) share their ideas and insights so the whole room can hear.

Graphic recorder: listens/draws primarily based on the group/oral report out, and gets the sticky notes organized.

0:30-0:50 Question 2 –
small group work
Small group work: Table facilitator, note-taker, and someone to write 3 sticky notes for the graphic recorder.

Graphic recorder: integrates sticky note data from Question 1 for anything that was missed in the verbal report out.

0:50-1:00 Q 2 –
share back
Each table brings their 3 post-it notes to the graphic recorder.

A few tables (e.g. tables 4,5,6) share their ideas and insights so the whole room can hear.

Graphic recorder: listens/draws primarily based on the share back, gets sticky notes from Q2 organized.

1:00- 1:20 Question 3 –
small group work
Small group work: Table facilitator, note-taker, and someone to write 3 sticky notes for the graphic recorder.

Graphic recorder: integrates sticky note data from Question 2 for anything that was missed.

1:20-1:30 Q 3 –
share back
As above, hear from a few tables (e.g. tables 7,8,9 or a mix).
Graphic recorder: listens/draws primarily based on the share back and gets ready for plenary discussion.
1:30-2pm (or more) Open Discussion This is the most important part of any group work process – try not to cut this shorter than 15 minutes!
An open discussion here enables the group to identify their own themes, what is important, and to respond to each other. It could also be an opportunity for a fourth question such as “what bold next moves might we take?”Graphic recorder: listens/ draws. If there is a 4th question, visually the graphic recorder should make space for this on the page for any ‘next steps’ or other differentiations that the group needs.
At the end (flexible) Graphic recording share back Best practice would be to enable the graphic recorder to share back the images that have been created – what themes were noticed, what has been drawn and why.
You may choose to allow time for questions out loud, and/or for people to add silent stickynotes to the posters about what is meaningful to them.

Sometimes when graphic recording, the session requires us to just be in the information firehose and surf it – to create a summary in 15 minutes. I try to channel getting into my creative flow and try to work as accurately and quickly as possible. I also try to avoid transcribing post it notes – or working overnight – because the graphic recording process can help the group ‘memory’ if they can reflect upon and engage with the images right away.

When we can also set up some key processes like sticky notes “as-we-go” during group work, graphic recorders can be even more prepared.

Then, we can support participatory conversations and small group work while creating visuals that are clear, articulate, readable, and visually appealing.

Have great conversations!


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