Writing an Outline for an Informative Paragraph

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Students will be able to write an informative account of what happened to Emmett Till by drafting a rough draft outline.

Big Idea

Writing outlines before writing rough drafts helps students focus on ideas and organization.

Daily Grammar

15 minutes


Explicit Modeling of an Outline

20 minutes

Today we had a delayed start due to the small storm we had.  It was a good thing we had a delayed start, because even at 8:50, I slid a couple times getting out of my neighborhood.  And I live on a bus route!

However much I love delayed starts, they do throw a monkeywrench in to lessons that have been planned. I'd planned on having students take their weekly grammar test, write an outline for their Emmett Till paragraph, and then write a rough draft.  What we did instead was take the grammar test and write an outline.

In order to write the outline, I did a mini-lesson on the parts of the paragraph and how they connect to each other.  By now, they know the definitions of topic sentence, concrete evidence, commentary, and concluding sentence.  What their reading log paragraphs and in-class paragraphs show me, though, is that the connection between the concrete evidence and commentary is unclear.  The connection between the sets of concrete evidence and commentary to the topic sentence is unclear.  Therefore, I did some direct instruction in how all of those things relate to each other. Here's a video of me teaching this lesson.

The picture to the left shows the directions and a blank outline.  TS stands for topic sentence, CE is concrete evidence, CM is commentary, and CS is concluding sentence.

The thing that confuses students is the concrete evidence and commentary.  Concrete evidence is facts, proof, citations from a text.  Commentary is additional explanation, interpretation, insights, and sometimes opinion.

 In this type of paragraph, then, the commentary shouldn't consist of how awful the writer thinks Emmett Till's murder was. This is a paragraph on a historical event that describes what happened to Emmett Till, not how the writer feels about it.  The commentary will actually be additional facts, insights, and explanation. 

I wrote an example of my own to provide explicit modeling.  I used a text that we had read months ago for our big National History Day unit, an article about the Little Rock Nine.  I chose that one because it was also a historical article and I didn't want to steal any of their Emmett Till thunder. It was a passage that we'd read together and shared together, so we were all on an equal ground. Except for the new student I'd gotten since then, but there's only so much a teacher can do. 

The picture to the left shows my example outline. It's got a lot of information on it, so I'll walk you thorough it, just like I walked my students through it.

I start with my main idea in my topic sentence.  Then I think of two facts that can be used to support that main idea.  Since my main idea is that the Little Rock Nine were denied their right to an equal education, I should have two different facts about how they were denied their education.  Both adults and classmates fits the bill, so those become my two pieces of concrete evidence. 

I chose to put the adults part as the first concrete evidence (CE#1), because that happened first chronologically.  Classmates came second, so that's the second piece of concrete evidence (CE#2).  Now for my commentary.  My commentary explains the fact that goes with it.  If I state that the denied them an education before they even got into the school, then I have to explain that in my commentary.  How did the adults do this?  What facts support my claim in the concrete evidence?  Well, they blocked the entrance and brought in the National Guard.  Since this is an outline, I'm not bothering with complete sentences.  I'm getting my ideas, my best ideas down. Yay!

I do the same thing with my second set of concrete evidence and commentary.  I've covered how the adults denied the Little Rock Nine an equal education, which means that this set should be about their classmates.  Chronologically, this happened after they got in the school, so it makes sense that this detail comes second.  In my concrete evidence (CE#2) I state that classmates also persecuted them.  If I'm claiming that, I need to support it.  How did they persecute them?  By pushing them, shoving them, spilling their bags. 

At this point, I pointed out that I had also included where I got my information.  I'm citing my evidence!  In my paragraph, I've only got one source, which means that I need to do some more research.  Luckily, my students have that covered since we read not one, not two, but three! sources. Go ahead, say thank you.

The only thing I have left is my concluding sentence.  This sentence summarizes my key points.  It repeats (in different words) the main idea and explains why it matters.

Click here for a bigger copy (in a PDF) of my outline.

Writing an Outline

10 minutes

When it was all said and done, students only had about ten minutes to work on their outlines, which meant that I assigned it for homework.  I can do that with honors.  For my co-taught classes, I would certainly need to spread this out over two days, and work with a small group of students while my co-teacher works with another. 

Here's a blank copy of the T3C Outline.

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