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Outline Activity: Creating Quick Outlines for Essay Prep 

Subject: English

Grade: 8

Lesson Objective: Students will learn to create and use a quick outline to plan and prepare writing an essay.

Common Core Standards:


Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to the task, purpose, and audience.


  • Blank lined paper
  • Writing utensil
  • Display (Whiteboard, projector screen, flip chart - somewhere you can show a blank example of what the outline is supposed to look like)

Prerequisite Skills:

The following are skills that your students should know before attempting this lesson. If they have not reviewed these skills in a previous class, consider teaching other lessons before moving forward with this specific lesson plan.

  • Writing Effective Introductions & Conclusions
  • Basic Essay Structure
  • Providing Evidence for Claims


  • Display a simple writing prompt on the board.
  • The goal of the prompt is to help your students work and focus on creating the outline rather than the content of the writing.
    • Example: Should all students have to wear a uniform to school?
  • Ask students to take a few minutes to think of their stance on the question and develop at least three reasons for their decision. They can quickly write them down on a piece of paper to help them remember their ideas for later.
    • If students seem stuck coming up with three, have them turn and talk with a peer who has taken the same stance to share their ideas. Students can use the same ideas for this activity.


  1. Discuss with students that they will often have to write essays through their educational careers—for classes they will take, for standardized tests, and even for college and scholarship applications. These essays will often ask them to make claims and support them with evidence. The most common expectation through middle school is five-paragraph essays.
  2. Explain the importance of outlines in organizing their thoughts and ensuring that their essay has the necessary components. Tell them you will show them a quick and easy outline they can make any time they need to. Tell students to get out a blank sheet of paper and a writing utensil. 
  3. Direct students to draw five large, rectangular boxes, each the width of their paper. Next, they will add labels. Above the first, they should write the label “Intro,” above the second they should write “Reason #1,” above the third they should write “Reason #2,” above the fourth they should write “Reason #3,” and above the fifth and last rectangle they should write “Conclusion.” Ask students to put three bullet points in each of the three middle rectangles.
  4. Show an example of the outline to display your preferred method. Circle the room during this step while explaining the structure to ensure that students are outlining correctly. This helps ensure that your students are working from the correct structure.
  5. Ask students to fill in the outline with their thinking from the beginning of class. You may choose to do this in pairs, especially if the students worked together in the starter activity. Have students write each of their three ideas on top of the three middleboxes. Explain that each bullet point should provide details about their reason for being for/against uniforms; these points will eventually become thought-out sentences in a paragraph. Encourage students to use exciting introductions and clearly restate their claims in their conclusion.

Individual (Feedback):

Students will significantly benefit from individual conferences about their outlines with a teacher. Students will likely be at different levels of success in using an outline and will likely require one-on-one feedback rather than whole class generalizations to improve their outline creation and use.

Discussion can focus on strategies to improve structure and creation of the outline in future essays. Students may be able to identify elements of using the outline that is challenging for them, while a teacher can provide further explanation or other methods for an outline.

Extension Activity:

Increase the difficulty of the writing prompt so that students are meeting grade-level standards. Have students create the outline and complete it with their thoughts. The teacher can then utilize peer conferences to improve student use of the outline and expression of ideas.

To prepare for standardized tests, it may be a good idea to have your students recreate this outline multiple times throughout the year, especially leading up to those tests. It is also a great idea to leave the blank outline displayed in your room throughout the year.

Written by Jackie Sugrue
Education World Contributor
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