Is It Necessary For My Students To Outline What They Are Going To Write About?

Although it isn't necessary for students to write formal outlines to prepare for writing assignments, most students do benefit from spending some time organizing their thinking in the early stages of the writing process. This can easily be done using graphic organizers, software programs, or a variety of other methods of organizing.

In Tools for Thought: Graphic Organizers for Your Classroom, Burke (2002) describes the graphic organizers that he uses with his students as "a vocabulary of shapes" which can help him think about teaching, learning, reading, and writing (p. xix). In this text he offers sample graphic organizers, copy-ready versions of the same graphic organizers, and instructions for using them that can help students generate ideas, identify what is important and why, compare ideas, assess their understanding of concepts, synthesize information, and prepare to write. Sample graphic organizers are widely available in many different writing texts and on the web.

Software programs such as Inspiration and Powerpoint can help students organize their writing because they have to make decisions about how to order information, what information to include, and how to create "sub-topics" for some larger topics.

Students can use webs to easily identify main topics and details that relate to those topics. They can even web off of the details to continue their elaboration. To do a web, a student can put a word, thought, or idea in a circle in the middle of the page. Then, using lines that extend out of this circle, he or she brainstorms associations, details, questions, and ideas. Some of these may then be circled so that additional webbing can be done out of them. Webbing goes beyond listing because it involves organizing information as well.

Students may find that by putting subheadings on note cards or printing out and pasting paragraphs on note cards they can manually sort them to think through different organizational patterns.

Some students may find that they have their own way of outlining information. They should be encouraged to use what works for them whether it means using a formal outline with parallel structure, an informal list of subheadings, or an outline format available to them using technology.

In Teen Living, students use a graphic organizer called a "Decision Tree" when writing an essay about decisions teenagers must make relating to school, home, or the community. The Decision Tree diagram allows the writer to pose a question across the top of the paper and then have several lines coming down from that question with possible decisions that could be made in response to that question with the possible consequences of each decision (Burke, 2002).

In Psychology, students use Inspiration as an intuitive technological tool to organize their thinking as they compose a definition essay on "the self."

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