Teaching the Essay Outline

Writing is a process, and one of the most crucial steps in the writing process is brainstorming and organizing, so it only makes sense that I spend a considerable amount of time with my students on brainstorming and outlining their essays. Students need to know how to think of ideas, gather information, and organize their thoughts in a logical manner. Once our students are in college, professors will expect them to know how to do this for much larger and more comprehensive papers, so it is essential that we take time to break this process down for our students and make it a more manageable task.

In my classroom, I use this essay outline with my students. Not only does this essay outline break down the essay into manageable pieces, it also provides students with detailed descriptions of what they need to do for each part of the essay. For example, for their introductions, the outline includes a space for the hook, background information, and thesis statement. Body paragraphs have designated spaces for topic sentences, quotes, and explanations. This essay outline also includes a cover page that provides students with an overview of the essay outline as well as a dedicated space to write important due date information.

When I have my students outline their essays, I require that they include their full thesis statement, complete topic sentences, and all of their quotes (or other pieces of evidence/concrete details if quotes are not required). It may not sound like a lot at first, but outlining their essays like this is, in my opinion, more difficult than actually writing their essays. They have to know exactly what their paper is about, how they will present their evidence, and which quotes will best support their argument.

This typically takes one or two full class periods (two if it is an argument essay, because the counter argument takes more time to explain). Generally, plan to spend more time than you think on the essay outline in the classroom. Once students have their essays outlined and organized with relevant examples and quotes, it is much easier for them to complete the rest of the writing process.

As they are outlining their essays, I make sure that I tell them several times that this is one of the most difficult parts of the writing process. I tell them that they are putting in the hard work now, so that it will all pay off once they draft their first draft.

After spending more time in class with my students on their outlines, I’ve seen their essays improve tremendously! They have more confidence in their writing, their essays are logically organized, and they stay on topic!

In addition to the essay outline featured in this post, I also have a free essay outline available in my TpT store.