Thursday, March 20, 2008

How to Get Started in Outlining

I made an outlining form to use with the book I am using for the boys' outlining practice. The book is called Thirty Lessons in Outlining and is unfortunately OOP. It is very straightforward and targeted.

Here is an outline of how the book is laid out :

The first few lessons are about grouping things into categories. I have seen these exercises in thinking skills books but can't seem to find any online -- I don't think I'm typing in the right search phrase.

The first section has simple exercises like the ones my special needs child is doing in picture form for his speech therapy.

apple orange fruit grapes peach

The second section has the item types and has you devise your own category:

1 cat + 1 dog + 1 bird = 3 ?

The third section has items like the first one and a category heading, but there are TWO types of item and TWO headings:

dog bird cat bee ant beetle insect pet

These are just examples, obviously. It would be fun to try making your own and in fact, Jensen's Format Writing starts off with exactly this format..... topic and list of examples.


Then the book moves to finding the topic or main idea of a paragraph -- with a list of choices. Invariably, the list of choices divides into: Too Broad, Too Specific, and Just Right. For example, an entry on Cloud Formation would also include the possibilities Cumulus Clouds and About Air.

After a few lessons of this type, the child is given a paragraph and has to discover the topic for himself -- one that is neither too broad or too narrow. I am going to have Kieron make a "too broad" and a "too narrow" before he chooses one that is "just right".

This site has Reading Tests which are simple 1 paragraph readings that could be used for this.

Then we move onto the heart of the book, actual outlining starting from a simple level and moving to more detailed outlines.

The first goal is to find sub-topics, similar to what TWTM has you do in 5th grade. You have a 3-paragraph article with a title that expresses the main topic. Then you are supposed to find the subtopic for each paragraph within the whole. For example, a writing on Poisonous Snakes is divided into Rattle Snakes, Copperheads, Coral Snakes. The student has to read the paragraphs and find these subtopics.

The final step in the outlining book is to find details. The book has you break down the article to the sentence level with a numeral system. With my middle schoolers I am having them just list details at this level, not copy down basically every single thing in the whole article. That seems redundant to me.

The outline form I uploaded is for this final section. If you look up "reading comprehension" you can find simple paragraphs that are suitable for this kind of outlining. There are some at ABC Teach and at EnglishWorks. OR you could look up a topic that your kids are studying, like Explorers or Colonial History. Often there are brief information articles online connected with these, though I have to caution that some of them are poorly written.

If the book ever comes back into print, it is really nice to have if you read Well Trained Mind or other resources that tell you to "outline a passage" and your kids don't seem to know how to do this intuitively.... and who would, really? It was inexpensive when I bought it. It has a nice progression and is easy to just hand to the child, not much writing involved and it only takes about 5-10 minutes a day.

Usually I have the kids go through the book in the last term of 6th or 7th grade.

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