Outlines are an incredibly useful tool for writing. Find out how to teach students all about writing outlines.
Why Writing Outlines Is Important
Students generally don’t like writing outlines. They see it as an extra step. And they are right; it is!
But that extra step can save time and energy. It will also result in a better paper.
Whether your students are writing one-paragraph assignments or five-paragraph essays, an outline is the first step to creating an organized paper with a logical flow.
Outlines are also a huge help to students with organizational dysgraphia.
By writing outlines, they can develop content without focusing on structure or style.
Once they know what to say, they can express that content in sentences.
Format for Writing Outlines
An outline serves the writer, so there is no hard and fast rule about how an outline should appear.
That being said, there are tried and true methods that work well.
Use Roman Numerals for Main Sections
If your writing assignment is multiple paragraphs, chances are you have more than one section.
A five-paragraph essay typically has 3 sections: Introduction, Body, and Conclusion.
For each section, you use a capital Roman numeral, such as I, II, III, IV, or V, followed by a period.
The Roman numerals are aligned all the way to the left-hand margin of the paper.
Use Capital Letters for Paragraphs
Typically a main section will have 1-5 paragraphs. These paragraphs all have main topics.
If you have only a one-paragraph assignment, you will only need a capital letter (not a Roman numeral).
Say you are writing the body section of a multi-paragraph paper on turtles. Your outline would look like this.
Use Arabic Numerals for Supporting Sentences
The topic of each paragraph is listed by the capital letter, but the supporting details are written by Arabic numerals.
These will be the individual sentences of the paragraph (minus the topic sentence and concluding sentence of the paragraph.
For example, in the paragraph about the turtle’s appearance, you might write:
- Hard shell of bone cartilage = “carapace”
- Color markings indicate species
- 4 webbed feet for swimming
- 3 eyelids, 3rd is clear membrane
Writing Outlines: Phrases or Sentences?
When writing an outline, there are two ways to fill in information. The first is to write complete sentences. The second is to write short phrases.
In general, students should use the phrase method. This takes the least amount of time, and it prevents students from accidentally plagiarizing (if their paper requires research on a topic).
It is perfectly acceptable to use numbers and abbreviations when writing an outline.
The clincher is that the student must remember what the abbreviations are for.
For example, here are two supporting details on a turtle’s eggs.
- egg temp det. boy or girl
- Mom T lays < 100 eggs
Both of these are acceptable as long as the student knows what they stand for.
“Egg temperature determines whether a baby turtle will be a male or female. A mother turtle lays up to 100 eggs at a time.”
Writing Outlines Using Templates
Filling in an outline template is a terrific way to start using outlines. The student does not have to worry about formatting and can focus on transmitting his ideas to paper.
The outline also provides support for those who struggle with the invention process of writing.
You can find a sample outline for a paragraph here.
An outline template is essentially a graphic organizer, which helps students immensely.
Outlines Can Be Flexible
Outlines can adapt to the purpose of the writing assignment. So feel free to construct your own outline template to help your student arrange his thoughts before he works on structure and style.