Writing Revolution Part 2: The Power of An Outline

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post on building better sentences based on the Hochman Method of writing. The writing strategies require continuous practice starting with sentences so that students build their expository writing skills, clarify their thoughts, and express themselves with precision, accuracy, and clarity. The two primary goals of the program are  “to raise linguistic complexity of students’ sentences and to improve the organization of their compositions” (2014).

When it comes to paragraphs and compositions, a quick outline can help students structure their ideas and understanding for larger essays. Outlines enable students to develop their writing as a cohesive whole and visualize a beginning, middle, and end in their writing. Outlines can also help students distinguish essential versus nonessential material and sequencing information.

An outline has the following benefits:

  1. Provides Structure
  2. Eliminates Repetition
  3. Improves Adherence to Topic
  4. Aids in sequencing

Teachers should model a quick outline for the class before requiring students to complete outlines on their own.

Before beginning outlines one might give students a Topic Sense and Supporting Detail and have students identify which is the TS and which detail is SD. For example:

__________ Mitosis is a process of cell division.

__________ In the cell nucleus, chromosomes are separated into two identical sets.

This might be a do now for a science class posted on the board. Once students can identify the topic sentence, the class might follow up with a conversation to articulate their reasoning.

Another activity would be to give students four (4) sentences and have students sequence the sentences for a paragraph. For example:

_______ Harriet Tubman helped slaves to freedom.

_______ John Brown led a small rebellion against slavery.

_______ The anti slavery movement began to grow in the 1850s.

_______ Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election.

A third strategy that can be used as quick do now or exit ticket is to have students identify the topic sentence and eliminate irrelevant details by listing different information or giving students an entire paragraph of information.

All of these activities help students to think about the elements of paragraph writing and building stamina and critical thinking for essay writing.

The Hochman Method’s Quick Outline includes a Topic Sentence, Four details from the text and a Concluding Sentence. A teacher might give students a topic sentence and then ask students to find four textual details based on the course material before having students draft a concluding sentence that synthesizing the information learned as a way to scaffold the outlining process.


Note the dotted lines for the textual details. The dotted lines suggest to students that the do not have to write in complete sentences, rather include key words and phrases. The TS and CS are solid lines that require a complete, specific, and detailed sentence.

The Quick Outline template above is for a single paragraph.

Additional lessons for outlining include:

Students are given details and must generate a topic sentence.

Generate concluding sentence from a given topic sentence and details.

Given a paragraph, convert it into a quick outline.

Given a topic, generate a Quick Outline independently.

I will be embedding some of these practices into my lessons to help students develop their writing and make connections with the material we are studying. These strategies work across the content area as well. For the next essay assignment my students will write at the end of the month I am considering have them outline their thinking and grade the outline rather than write out the entire essay. Again, my intentions are to help my students become better communicators and write with clarity and precision while effectively articulating their thinking about reading.

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