Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How to Teach Your Child to Outline

"But this (narration) is only one way to use books: others are to enumerate the statements in a given paragraph or chapter; to analyse a chapter, to divide it into paragraphs under proper headings, to tabulate and classify series..." C. Mason
 As soon as I could write a sentence, my dad gave me a little notebook filled with crisp, white paper. He told me that I was old enough to begin writing down the important things the preacher said on Sunday mornings.  I was very proud of this moment because I had watched my older brother take notes in church and he looked so grown up doing it. Now it was my turn.

After my first few attempts at ‘note taking’, my dad checked my miserable little scribblings and then, using simple language, explained to me how to outline. He showed me examples of outlines he had made in his little notebooks and this helped me understand the process. It seemed simple enough and the following week I used my new-found knowledge while sitting in the pew. I have been taking notes ever since. When I went to college and my peers struggled to jot down the important ideas from the professors’ lectures, I had no troubles whatsoever. I had learned this skill somewhere around eight years of age.

I continue to pass this knowledge down to my children. Outlining helps a child to begin to pick out the most important information in a work of non-fiction. He sorts it and condenses it, while discarding the lesser details. We practice this skill throughout year five of our curriculum using brief encyclopedia articles about various countries we are studying.This skill is a pre-curser to writing summaries- a skill that will be needed in later years.

I began this instruction this week with my son by showing him an example page and explained why outlining is important. Earlier, I had found an article about the Pacific Islands. I copied it in a word document and condensed it to make it age-appropriate. (sample in forum files. I'm not really impressed with the available online encyclopedias. I recommend using real encyclopedias from the library for this exercise.) Then I gave him the article to read. Afterwards, he narrated it to me. Together, we went through it and picked out the most important ideas, one section at a time and added them to our outline.

This is Micah's finished work. He learned a lot and felt like he had accomplished something important. 

Click to enlarge

We will continue to do this about once a month throughout the year. In later years, we will outline Ourselves together and also, How to Read a Book. I will gradually introduce a more detailed way to outline. This is not difficult. You simply add more details whenever you want to remember more than just the basics.

Detailed Outline

I. (main topic)

A. (subtopics of I)
1. (subtopics of B)
a. (subtopics of 2)
i. (subtopics of b)

Helpful websites showing how to outline include:

 one step at a time...


  1. Thank you for the explanation and example. I just had my 6th grader do his first outline last week. This will help!

  2. Anonymous20.9.15

    thx ur the best

  3. Thnx for your help , we just start stadying outlining and this make it sound way more easy