Outline of a Paper (or Paragraph)

Students outline a paper (thesis, main points to prove the thesis, examples and arguments to prove main points, consideration of objections, and conclusion). Insist that each outline item present a single idea and a complete thought. You may also want limit the outline to one page, single-spaced. 

Students must do the thinking for a paper without so much of the writing. Since many students have trouble writing because they haven’t done much thinking before they start writing, this assignment may help reveal the actual source of a student’s writing problems. 

You will also see more easily and quicker when students have little to say because they cannot rely on all the empty words behind which they usually hide lack of content. In addition, you can see who has trouble developing an idea and who has trouble establishing logical connections between ideas. 

Because this assignment focuses on thought development, it will indicate what students haven’t really understood and where they need more help. (When you first give an assignment like this, you may be shocked to discover the weakness of students’ thinking skills. But this task offers the opportunity to strengthen their thinking.)1

A variant of the outlined paper is a simple outline of a small portion of the class text. This assignment helps students learn to recognize the difference between main idea and supporting detail, to look at the logic of argument that exists in a text and to become more perceptive readers. (Here again, you may be surprised to discover poor student reading skills. Good reading is, of course, a foundational skill in good thinking.) 
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1You can ask students eventually to develop an outline into a paper in order to allow the student to experience how much a good outline makes writing easier and improves the quality of the resulting paper.