The Psychology Behind Doodling in Class


  1. Doodling and memory
  2. Doodling and stress relief
  3. Doodling and focus
  4. How to encourage productive doodling
  5. What is excessive doodling?
  6. Doodling is more than just simple drawings


A sun in the corner of the paper, hearts, cubes, maybe just a bunch of squiggly lines–everyone has their favourite way to doodle!

While these absent-minded drawings may seem like a distraction, doodling in class is actually beneficial to students. In a study published by Harvard University, researchers have found that doodling improves memory, relieves stress, and increases focus. These are all integral aspects of succeeding in school, and educators are beginning to take notice. Conventional ways of learning don’t work for all students, and doodling can be a novel way of improving a student’s ability to learn. In fact, some teachers are even beginning to integrate doodling into their classroom curriculum because it is so beneficial for students. 

On the surface, doodling may appear to be just a series of shapes and symbols, but it can actually be one of the most helpful–and easiest–learning tools for students. How exactly does doodling help students do better in school, though? We’re here to break it down for you.

child doodling on paper

Doodling and memory


Even with the most gifted teachers and dedicated students, it’s normal for school to be a bit boring at times! However, doodling can help alleviate some of that boredom, and in turn, improve students’ ability to remember material taught in class. 

When we’re bored, our bodies’ fight-or-flight response kicks in, doing it all it can to keep us alert and engaged. Doodling is a way to activate this engagement! A form of fidgeting, doodling in class keeps a student’s brain from 'turning off' during a boring lecture, or worse, completely falling asleep! Doodling keeps a student’s brain alert and actively consuming taught information, no matter how dull a class may be. 

Conversely, doodling is equally as beneficial when a student is focused and concentrating on learning. When we are continuously paying attention to something for an extended period of time, our brains naturally begin to fatigue and feel strained. Doodling provides a “brain break,” allowing the brain to focus on something less intensive without fully disengaging. Researchers have even  found that doodling helps medical students retain information. Medical students are expected to remember many new facts, so if doodling helps them, it can definitely help your student too! Ultimately, doodling helps the brain retain large amounts of information without becoming completely overwhelmed.


Doodling and stress relief


School can be stressful at times. With challenging courses, exams, deadlines, and interpersonal issues, it’s normal for students to feel overwhelmed! These feelings of stress can be distracting, and harm a student’s ability to remember information and do well academically. However, doodling can help relieve stress in an unexpected way.

Spontaneous drawings like doodles help the brain find order. Humans naturally try to make sense of our lives. Unfortunately, as we know all too well, this isn’t always possible. Through doodling, we can help fill the gaps in our brain’s stories. These seemingly random drawings are actually our brain’s way of communicating with us! Like any creative endeavour, doodling helps us feel more in tune with ourselves, and this, in turn, relieves stress. Many researchers have even suggested that doodling can reveal what is going on in the unconscious parts of the mind. 

Those hearts and squiggles in your child’s notebook are actually part of their all-important self-development!

More specifically, doodling can also be a way to cope with exam anxiety. By engaging in a simple and creative activity like doodling, students can release their exam-related worries. When a student is less anxious, they are more likely to remember important information and do well on an exam. A few mindless doodles before sitting down for an exam can help your student get the high marks they’re aiming for.

Doodling can even happen during exams as well as when awaiting results. Some people doodle while waiting for their GCSE results. Others will doodle as they process A-Level results. The same goes for those awaiting Leaving Cert results.


Doodling and focus


It can be challenging for a student to focus in school, even if it’s a class they love! The typical classroom set-up offers only one method of learning, and the monotony of it can make it hard to stay focused. Doodling helps eliminate this issue. This activity engages and stimulates the brain in a new way, allowing students to stay more focused in school. Additionally, doodling helps unlock the creative parts of the brain. When stuck on a complicated topic or problem at school, doodling can help a student approach the issue from a new, more creative angle. 

Doodling isn’t just beneficial in the classroom, though. It can also be useful at home when completing homework or even during a tutoring session. Though you may think your child isn’t paying attention when they’re scribbling on their assignments, these doodles are often a sign that their brains are engaged in a new way of working, and that’s a very good thing.


How to encourage productive doodling


Doodling can undoubtedly be an unconventional tool to increase classroom engagement, test scores, and student satisfaction. Structuring doodling into the class curriculum (or encouraging it as part of a homework routine) can make the activity even more productive. If you’re a teacher, parent, or tutor looking for ways to use doodling to improve productivity, we’re here with some great tips.

Free doodling 

Before starting a lesson or completing homework, encourage students to spend ten minutes doodling to get their creative juices flowing. Play some classical music in the background, too, to stimulate the brain even further. Set a timer, and once the timer is off, it’s time to begin working. If you feel it will help students, you can schedule more “doodle breaks'' into the lesson, giving them further opportunities to work creatively as a complement to the lesson.

Connect doodling to the lesson

Not all doodling has to be random! In fact, you can use doodling to reinforce whatever topic is being taught. For example, if students are learning about weather patterns, encourage them to doodle things related to weather, such as clouds, suns, or lightning bolts. If your students are studying a foreign language, they can doodle things that are related to that language’s country of origin. By connecting drawing to the lesson, it further reinforces the new ideas presented in the lesson. This helps increase the chances of the brain retaining the new information. 

Talk about the doodles

As discussed, doodles can be a real insight into the subconscious parts of the brain. Though this may not be directly related to schooling, it’s important to consider all parts of the child when assessing their academic performance.

At the end of the lesson or assignment, talk with the student about any doodles they created. Ask them why they choose that shape or symbol, for example, and how they felt while doodling. This kind of self-reflection is important for a child’s intellectual and emotional growth. Don’t get frustrated if the student doesn’t have concrete answers, and don’t pressure them to have perfect responses, either. This exercise is just a way to get students thinking in a new, creative way.

Doodling can be a distraction

Though doodling has many benefits, it can also prove to be a distraction for students. If you find your student is more focused on their drawings than their lessons, it’s important to figure out why. Using doodling to relieve boredom or stress is a positive thing, but when it becomes a hindrance to a student’s learning, start by talking with your student. Try and determine what is making them seek out distractions. If your child is bored in class, it’s possible they aren’t being challenged enough and need to be in a more advanced academic setting. 

If your child is seeking distraction during class because they are overwhelmed by their course and feeling stressed, tutoring can be the solution. GoStudent’s expert online tutors are equipped with the skills to help your student better understand their courses, and can help make school exciting and engaging, not stressful and overwhelming. 


What is excessive doodling?


When doodling becomes a distraction, it’s likely because it’s being done in excess. Excessive doodling can look like doodling to avoid work, the inability to complete work without doodling, or unable to multitask while doodling. 

If you are a parent, teacher, or tutor and worried that your student’s doodling is indicative of a bigger problem, it’s important to start by talking with the child to determine why they are doodling excessively. It could be because of an easily remediable reason, but it could also point to a larger issue. Inability to concentrate and hyper-fixation on menial activities can be indicative of disorders such as ADHD or OCD.

If you suspect your child may be living with such a disorder, speak to a medical professional to determine a diagnosis. It can be a scary idea for a parent, but if your child is indeed neurodivergent, there are solutions. By working together with your child’s teachers and medical team, you can come up with ways to help them focus better in school.


Doodling is more than just simple drawings


Doodling may seem like a simple, mindless activity, but it can also be an effective tool for improving a student’s academic performance. By finding ways to implement doodling into learning activities, students are presented with a fun and engaging new way to learn. 

Next time you see your child’s homework covered in hearts, cubes, or a bunch of zig-zags, take notice. It’s not just random scribbles, but likely a sign of their brain hard at work learning.