You Can Teach Writing

Outline Template:

A graphic organizer for expository writing

Rather than teach conventional outlining, with what my students call "Roman numberals" and a zillion rules about symbols and alignment, I teach students an outline template for expository writing built on the thesis and support pattern

In the students' view, an outline, which often leaves them miles away from having an paper that actually supports its thesis, is some "dumb, English teacher thing." Students may even be so ungracious as to omit the comma. 

Who needs that unpleasantness?

I usually refer to my planning device as a graphic organizer, avoiding the term outline entirely. 

The graphic organizer/template is helpful in getting students to plan their writing because it allows students to build a visual writing plan in which every point is a complete sentence.

The template is helpful in getting students to plan their writing because it: 

  • indicates the information students must provide
  • shows relationships between document elements
  • gives students a place to park source information they will need when they compose.
  • is designed to be taught and used in the same sequence as the writing strategies are taught and used. 
  • eliminates unnecessary copying of information as students plan their work.

Bright students will catch on and plan their entire documents before struggling students complete the first step in outlining, but those slower students can learn to plan if you encourage them.

Here's how to teach outline template use.

Don't do what I did the first time I taught using an outline template: I made a detailed template incorporating every strategy students needed to use

When I handed it out, students nearly died of shock. 

Now I show students a specific box of the template for the strategy I'm teaching. I keep other parts of the outline template out of sight until after I've shown students how to develop the content that goes in that section of the graphic organizer.

Below in a bit more detail is how I teach the planning/outline process.

Begin by putting the working thesis into the template.

After I've taught students the general procedure for making a  working thesis, I show  students the rectangle in the graphic organizer that's where the working thesis statement goes.   It looks something like this:

The section of the outline template reserved for the working thesis statement.

Notice, that students don't need to remember where the working thesis goes in the outline template or how  to make a working thesis. All the directions are in the template. Students will memorize the information as they are learning it.

Then I teach students how to make a working thesis using the information in the formal writing prompt for their first writing assignment. As I teach that, I delete the placeholder text and I copy and paste the topic and assertion about the topic into the working thesis area.

I keep the section of the template containing the working thesis visible as I teach everything else about planning a piece of expository writing, adding the other planning elements to the template. 

It's vital that you train students to keep the working thesis in front of them all the time they are working on a particular document. That must be the focal point of their planning. If they start focusing on their topic instead of the working thesis, novice writers usually wipe out.

Teach making a writing skeleton™ within the template.

As I teach students how to develop a writing skeleton™, I show them just the portion of the outline template that holds the working thesis and the writing skeleton.  (If I haven't already put my working thesis for my demo document into it's place, I do that first thing.) 

Then I teach students how to enter their information for each bone of the writing skeletonas a full sentence in the appropriate boxes of the outline template following the pattern:

working thesis + because + reason.  

Since there must be at least three pieces of supporting evidence for the working thesis statement, students get three opportunities to practice completing that section of the template.

At that point, I have four sections of the graphic organizer on view: The working thesis and the three bones of the writing skeleton™.

Teach ripple strategy; enter sources and information about them in the graphic organizer.

As I teach ripple writing strategy, I show students how to enter their proposed sources and information about the sources' credentials as full sentences in the appropriate outline template boxes. 

Although ripple strategy shows students a process for identifying sources of information starting with themselves and other people they know, it's wise to point out several times that source means a person or persons; things like books and TV aren't sources. 

Since writers need at least three potential sources for each bone of their writing skeleton™, students get at least nine opportunities to practice summarizing evidence and recording source information. 

Summarizing is the best way for students to remember evidence. In combination with accurately recording the source of the evidence, summaries help students avoid slipping into plagiarism. 

Keep the outline template where students can see it.

While you're teaching the elements of the complete plan, the sections of the outline template you've already taught should be posted in your classroom and online so students can readily refer to them. 

Writing a complete plan is the last step in the planning process for expository nonfiction writers. The next stage of the writing process is the composition stage when students actually turn their plans into documents.

What to read next

For ease of teaching and learning, I teach one composition strategy along with the planning strategies: the evidence waltz strategy, which contains the rudiments of body paragraph development.

The writing strategies (WS) for students use are best read in the order in which students use them: WS1, Make a working thesis; WS2, Make a writing skeleton; WS3, Ripple for sources; WS4, Make a complete plan; WS5, Speed draftWS6, Do the evidence waltz; WS7, Revise to match the plan; WS8, Do single error editing.

Content on this page was first published 2009-03-23 and updated 2011-12-15 by Linda Aragoni at you-can-teach-writing.com. She published it to yctwriting.com 2018-01-01.

Linda says use outline template to teach planning.

Teach the writing skeleton™ and outline template as a way to plan a document. Planning is normal. Everybody makes plans. Outlining is a weird, English-teacher thing.

Linda's signature above comment about outline template