30 Creation of Multi-Level Outlines

Panteli Tritchew

Activity Guidelines

Suggested Course Level

Lower level undergraduate

Activity Purpose

  • Students will learn how to develop and organize ideas with structured outlines.
  • The basic premise is that a structured outline is an effective idea management tool that is used to group information into logical organizational patterns. The key skills required to develop an effective outline are pattern and hierarchy identification. Skilled and experienced writers can plan as they write, but most of us need to develop an outline when we wish to convey complex information.
  • Because this is a small group activity, students will also learn basics of brainstorming and consensus building.

Materials Required

  • One sheet of paper or a personal device to record the group solution

Activity Instructions


  1. Divide class into small groups of 3-5 students.
  2. Students pretend that they are working for the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education.
  3. They have been assigned the task of writing a brochure to help students in British Columbia choose the right college or university. The working title for the  for a brochure is Choosing the Right Post-Secondary Institution In B.C.
  4. Their primary audience consists of high-school students in Grade 12 who are trying to choose between different post-secondary institutions.


  1. Generate words and phrases that come to mind when you think of criteria for choosing a college. What kinds of factors should high-school students consider? Avoid single-word concepts, such as cost; rather, use phrases such as cost of education.
  2. Brainstorm at least 18 potential factors. Note that brainstorming implies random order.


  1. Scan through your brainstormed list and identify common elements/clusters/categories.
  2. Identify four-five categories (headings) under which the rest of the brainstormed ideas will logically fit. These will be level-one main headings.


  1. Review the two sets of data that you generated in stage one and stage two, and using the principle of subordination, sort the phrases from stage one under the appropriate categories that you defined in stage two.


  1. Revise all of your level-one main headings so that they are parallel with each other.
  2. Revise each cluster of level-two sub-headings under each of the level-one main headings so that each level-two sub-heading cluster has parallel structure.

Debrief Questions / Activities

  • How did you approach brainstorming? Did you have difficulty hitting at least 18 factors in stage one?
  • How much difficulty did you have on getting consensus on the 4-5 level-one headings. How did you resolve the difficulties?
  • How did you deal with “outlier” factors from your stage one brainstorming that didn’t fit into any headings, or that could fit under multiple main headings?
  • How did you choose which grammatical constructions to use in order to achieve parallel structure?

Activity Variations

  • If there are time limits, stage four can be given as an “individual” homework assignment and debriefed the next class as a primer/review for balanced and primary headings within structured outlines.

Tags: oral presentations, oral communications, audience analysis / context analysis, creating multi-level outlines, discussion, small group, creating a product or document, outlining, brainstorming, pattern identification, classification, parallelism


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