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Hands-On Outlining


  • Arts and Humanities
    --Language Arts
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Special Ed


  • 3-5
  • 6-8

Brief Description

This fun hands-on activity engages students as they learn about outlining.


Students will
  • learn about outlining.
  • distinguish between main ideas of a topic and supporting details.
  • write an outline in the correct format.


outline, outlining, note taking, notetaking

Materials Needed

  • colored construction paper
  • wipe-off markers

The Lesson

Before the Lesson

Prepare sentence strips in advance. You might laminate four large sheets of colored paper (12 inches by 18 inches) and cut that paper into large strips (e.g., cut each sheet into three strips measuring 4 inches by 18 inches, for a total of 12 strips). Use a wipe-off marker to write

  • three headings (main ideas) and
  • three subheadings (supporting ideas) for each heading
related to a topic on strips of the same color.
For example, for an outline headlined Sports, the first main idea might be Football, and its three supporting ideas would be Superbowl; helmets and shoulder pads; and touchdown. Two more main ideas (e.g., Baseball and Basketball) will each have three subheadings. Mix up the strips and bundle them with a rubber band. Attach a sticky note with the title of the overall topic/subject -- Sports.

In the classroom, push desks to the corners of the room so students will have enough room on the floor to work with the outlines. Place one outline topic with all of its strips -- in random order -- in a stack on a desk near one side of the cleared area. Place the strips for the other outline on another desk on the other side of the cleared area. As students enter the classroom, assign them a number (1 or 2). Direct the 1's to one of the outline areas and the 2's to the other outline. Students will work together as a team to put together the outline.

Using the Activity With Younger Students (Grades 3-4)
For younger students, you might prepare in advance two simple outlines such as the one below. The outlines might be about holidays, units of study, or other topics of interest to students. Create each outline on paper of a different color. For example, the outline below about Fall might be created on orange paper.


A. Things to See
  1. Leaves changing color
  2. Skies getting darker earlier in the evening
  3. Thermometer dipping
B. Things to Do
  1. Pick apples
  2. Rake leaves
  3. Carve pumpkins
C. Special Days
  1. Columbus Day
  2. Halloween
  3. Thanksgiving

Using the Activity With Older Students (Grades 5-up)
For older students, create two outlines based on topics of interest to students or on parts of the textbook related to the current week's lessons. Prepare outline strips similar to those prepared in the younger students' activity above. Provide students with time to piece together the outline. You might let them use their textbooks to help; or they might try first to build the outline on their own, then use the textbook to confirm or change their first impressions.

Additional Topics for Outlines
Following are a few more topics for which you might create outlines for students:
For younger students

  • Sports
  • School Subjects
  • Authors
  • Continents/States
  • Literature Genres
For older students
  • Causes of the Civil War
  • States of Matter
  • Math Vocabulary
  • Presidents of the Depression Era
  • Cities of the World

Extension Activities

  • When each team has completed an outline, they might switch places with the other team and construct the other outline.
  • When the teams have completed both outlines, review them as a class.


Have students transfer the information in their on-the-floor outline to a work sheet with the outline format printed on it.

Submitted By

Jessica Maroney, Armstrong Elementary School in Fayetteville, North Carolina

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