Teaching and Learning with Outlines

 
 

Introduction to Outlining

Students who don’t understand the benefits of outlining are inclined to skip the prewriting process, thinking it will save them time. Yet for most, this backfires. Students get mid-way through their essays and wonder, “What else do I have to say?” or “What was my main point?” and “Why doesn’t my essay make sense?”

Outlining answers these questions before students invest time in writing a complete essay. Dennis G. Jerz, an associate professor of English at Steton Hill University in Greensburg, PA, makes a great comparison of two students who begin writing with and without outlines in his blog post titled, “Outlines: How They Can Improve Your Writing.” He says that outlines can help students write “better work, in less time.” He argues that there’s little to lose by creating an outline. You can jump around with ideas, make multiple attempts, backtrack and explore the essay without investing too much time in a finished product.


Definition of an Outline

An outline is a preliminary summary of written work, typically hierarchically organized in headings and subheadings.

 

Benefits of Outlining

Used to organize one’s thoughts and information related to a project or paper, outlining helps students clarify their ideas. Structuring and organizing large volumes of information and research in a traditional outline is the first step in the writing process. Outlines help demonstrate the thinking process behind an essay or report which can help show a teacher where a student may need help or further instruction.

 

How to Outline

Viewed as the first step in the writing process and the best way to organize notes and large amounts of information, outlines help students build essays and reports in a structured way.

Before diving into writing a paper, begin with a main idea or thesis which is a short summary of the central idea about which the student will write. Divide and subdivide topics and ideas using an alternating series of letters and numbers:

Outline Example of how to transfer a graphic organizer to an outline in Inspiration® - for more essay outline examples click here

 

As students order their outline, they begin with a basic overview, broad ideas and concepts. Then students support those ideas with more specific examples or supporting facts. An outline can be fine-tuned by editing, rearranging and changing priorities of topics and subtopics.

Providing students with essay outline templates or graphic organizer templates like those found in Inspiration Software’s Inspiration® and Webspiration Classroom™ to begin their writing process can help them to better visualize how to outline and begin to understand how helpful outlining can be.

                              Outline Example

 

Outlining in the Classroom

By grouping bits of information and categorizing, students can begin compiling notes, building and organizing essays. As they place notes into categories they can easily find pieces of information that don’t fit with the overall theme of their subject and edit accordingly. Inspiration Software encourages teachers to emphasize the importance of pre-writing steps such as brainstorming and outlining, in order to help students write more cohesive and complete essays.

 

Tools to Help With Outlining

Inspiration Software®’s Inspiration, Webspiration Classroom and Kidspiration® all have powerful, but easy-to-use outlining tools built into the software. These outlining tools make it easy for students to arrange and rearrange their notes in a way that makes the most sense to them.

However, not all students find traditional outlining easy. For more visual learners, starting with a concept map or idea map feels more natural and makes the process more manageable. Inspiration Software recognizes that not every student learns in the same way. Inspiration, Kidspiration and Webspiration Classroom all contain integrated Outline and Diagram views. Students can begin the writing process with ease after visually developing and organizing information in Diagram View then, transform their diagrams into structured outlines with one click.