Outlines for Student Learning

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How can we use outlines to improve learning?

Outlines for Student Learning

An outline is a summary of an action or project containing an organized list of steps, information, and ideas that need to be included or completed. The points are arranged hierarchically under headings and subheadings. Outlining is a visual strategy that improves student learning by helping students organize, clarify, and structure information and ideas. Teachers can use the process of outlining to identify gaps in student knowledge and teach accordingly.

Outlining in Practice:

Although there are tech tools available for making outlines, teachers can incorporate a simple outlining template to facilitate learning. The following are some ways to use the strategy along with templates:

Aid for writing:

Outlining helps students improve their writing by enabling them to:

  • Research, organize and compile notes and information in an orderly manner.
  • Compare, prioritize and decide on topics and ideas to be included.
  • Derive a general structure to work with.

In this instance, an outlining template will have spaces for students to input:

  • The central topic or an overview about the central topic. What is meant by this topic? What information does this topic cover?
  • Core topics and sub-topics of the central theme. These can be organized using a series of numbers and letters.
  • Materials (facts, examples) supporting these concepts and sub-concepts.

By writing these outlines students can:

  • Identify extraneous information that does not fit with the central theme.
  • Use information gathered to rearrange and edit the outline.
  • Get an idea of the time, effort and steps required to complete writing tasks. This knowledge can help them plan ahead and schedule their writing goals.

Learning Tool:

Teachers can use outlines to improve comprehension, critical analysis and evidence-based learning. Conducted as a group task, each student group can be given an outlining template. The template will have space to fill in a central topic or a question, and sub-ideas with supporting evidence. Students can be instructed to read a specific reading passage to find answers to the questions. Students can identify and note down sub-concepts and any applicable evidence in the template. This way, the outlining template acts as a concise alternative to essay writing. After all groups have found their answers, they can present their answers to the class.

Formative assessment:

Teachers can use the outlining strategy in the beginning, middle, or end of class to check for understanding and learning.

Outlining is a useful strategy as it helps students to visualize, identify and arrange information into a logical flow. Students can use the strategy to brainstorm, generate ideas, and aid in writing cohesive and elaborate essays.


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