Back 'er Up: Using Reverse/Descriptive Outlining to Understand the Documented Essay

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SWBAT analyze how to a research-based argument by constructing a descriptive outline of "America: Made in China."

Big Idea

"Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only...notes...." --Jane Yolen

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Time Frame and Context

This is lesson #3 in the research unit. Before students can successfully compose their own arguments, they need good models of writing to examine. 

The essay featured in this lesson is a high school student's essay, "America: Made in China" and is in the excellent writing text Expository Writing: Discovering Your Voice. What makes this book superior to other writing books? First, it is by two high school teachers, Gary Anderson and Tony Romano, both of whom I've known for several years and whom I respect very much. Second, it incorporates both professional and student writing from across the country. Indeed, Gary crowd-sourced student examples from his PLN from across the country. Third, the book comes from a company devoted to authentic instruction rather than the crap generated by Pearson and its ilk. 

In this lesson, students use the student argument to create a reverse/descriptive outline. I prepared scripts for their use prior to class and discuss the technique for doing this in Reverse Outlining.mp4.

Initial Reading of a Mentor Text: "America: Made in China," a Student Example

15 minutes

First, read through the essay America Made in China with students. This is important because many students struggle with reading, and hearing the teacher read the essay helps them understand the text while they follow along. 

Additionally, before reading the essay, I ask students to think about how writer articulates his ideas as well as what ideas he shares. 

What is Reverse/Descriptive Outlining?

10 minutes

Now I explain reverse/descriptive outlining to students. The Purdue OWL offers a good explanation of reverse outlining

I tell students that in annotating w/ identify ideas in a text, but in a reverse outline, we want to tell HOW a writer expresses those ideas. For example, does the writer use statistics, example, cause/effect reasoning, analogies, expert testimony, etc. 

A reverse outline identifies the topic of each paragraph and how the writer develops that topic. 

Teachers can make the reverse outline formal (Roman numerals and Arabic numbers) or informal (a bulleted list). 

Two by Two: Reverse Outlining with a Partner

45 minutes

Rather than having students complete the descriptive outline alone, I asked them to pair up for the task. This allows them to discuss the essay and to work a bit faster on outlining a long essay. 

What's important is that students observe structure and technique in the writing so that they can transfer these to their own writing. 

For those who struggle, I ask: "What is the passage saying?" Then I ask, "How does the writer develop the idea?" or "How do we see evidence for the idea?" These questions help students clarify the task in their minds, as America 1.pdf shows via student work. America 2.pdf also shows student reverse/descriptive outlining. 

Be Sure to ___________ in Your Paper: Peer to Peer Discussion

5 minutes

The last five minutes of class, I ask students to share something they learned about writing an argument from having completed a reverse outline. I ask them to phrase their comment the following way: "Be sure you __________ in your paper." I tell them to fill in the blank with something they learned and to share with at least three people. 

Answers included things such as

  • Be sure you use transitions.
  • Be sure you have parenthetical citations for your research.
  • Be sure you use topic sentences.
  • Be sure you have a Works Cited page.