|This is the first draft of an outline my son James made. Later versions contained Roman numerals and letters to differentiate the levels of information. Using just Arabic numerals can make an outline confusing.|
Making an outline is one of those skills that I teach in several different ways before expecting them to create one on their own. They can then learn how making outlines can be used as supporting skills for larger projects such as a research paper.
I start teaching my students about outlines by writing them on the board as we go through a history or science lesson. They can easily learn the structure of going from the main topic to supporting topics and the use of numbers and letters. Start out simple with just a topic sentence or phrase which you number with a Roman numeral. Then add supporting sentences below, indenting and labeling each with a capital. Build as you go, including Arabic numerals and lowercase letters and further indenting, letting them know why you have added anything new as you do so. Learning this structure can begin at a very young age and it only takes a minute or less to explain.
Once you have shown the outline format for some time, have your student begin copying the outlines in his history and science notebooks as part of their copywork. Don't be surprised, especially if your student suffers from lack of executive functioning skills, that your student will suddenly and inextricably be unable to write it just like it is written on the board, even though they can apparently read them. Just remind them of the formula.
Next, have your student begin making his own outlines. I usually use their history or science texts for this, but you could use anything as long as it has clear topic sentences and supporting information. Have them make simple outlines at first, and don't move on to expecting more complicated outlines until Middle School. Sometimes students will transition to more complicated outlines on their own. For his first couple of outlines, he can copy the information word for word from the text, because he needs to be able to focus his attention on the format. For these outlines, have him cite where he obtained his information at the end of the outline with the words "taken from" and then citing the tile and author of the book, so that he begins to learn that using someone else's words without proper citation is plagiarism. Explain that in an actual report if he uses someone else's words he must use quotation marks. As soon as he can, have him begin writing the outline in his own words. He still needs to cite the source, by stating the title and author of the book used at the bottom.
Once he becomes comfortable with writing his own simple outline, he can begin writing his own short one page paper, which is really more a summary or paraphrasing of the text than a paper. These summaries/paraphrases will get larger as the outlining becomes more complicated.
Once he masters this type of outlining, you will want to help him learn the new skill of creating notes from a lecture. As you give a history or science lesson, pause after you have given them a bit of information and then ask them to tell you back what was the main topic and what were some supporting topics you have just told them. Help them through making an outline by writing his responses on a white board for him. Once he is able to do this, have him come up and outline the material himself. You can lengthen the amount of material and transition him to making the outline in his notebook instead of on the board.
Once he masters these steps, he will have some of the skills he needs in order to create an outline for a multi-sources research paper, but first let's focus a bit on summarizing, paraphrasing and quoting (what are the differences between them and how to avoid plagiarism) which is the topic of my next beginning writing post.