How to Arrange Ideas in a Reading Selection in an Outline

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  • 3:47 Outline Example
  • 6:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kara Wilson

Kara Wilson is a 6th-12th grade English and Drama teacher. She has a B.A. in Literature and an M.Ed, both of which she earned from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Organizing ideas presented in a reading selection can seem like a tricky task. But, in this lesson, we'll discuss how to do this effectively and why it is an important skill to master.

Arranging Ideas as a Reading Strategy

Sometimes informational texts will include some really interesting or surprising information, but it isn't actually important; it's simply used to grab the reader's attention. For instance, a science chapter on fungi might mention a man hunting for truffles with a pig on a leash. While this would definitely be a sight to see, it distracts readers from the important information that should be focused on, comprehended, and remembered.

In order to avoid these types of distractions, readers cannot passively follow along, hoping to merely absorb all that they read. They need to be actively engaged with the text by:

  • Identifying the main ideas of each section
  • Clarifying confusing or unknown words or phrases
  • Understanding the relationship between different concepts
  • Summarizing information covered

Arranging ideas in an outline after reading a text will help readers do this, and it will also create a study guide to help them remember the important information covered. A traditional outline with Roman numerals and capital or lowercase letters, like this one, can be an effective way to arrange and organize ideas. However, there are many ways to create an outline, and they don't always need to be this formal.

Outlines can be tailored to fit a specific reader's needs. Some people prefer jotting down key sentences, while others prefer writing down short phrases or only key words. As long as the main ideas are listed in the order they are written about, with key details beneath each sub-section, then the overarching concepts can be summarized and the important information from the text can be understood and remembered.

Sometimes readers think that they can approach an informational text like a novel, reading the information once and then moving on. But the best way to fully comprehend and retain the information covered in a textbook, news article, or scholarly journal article is to follow these three steps:

  1. Read the article or chapter through once, noting any words or phrases not understood and finding their definitions for clarification.
  2. Read the article through a second time. This time, take notes, starting with the topic and writing the thesis or main point that the author wants to make in your own words. Beneath that, begin arranging the key concepts covered based on section titles, bold subheadings, or the main idea communicated through each paragraph. Under each section title or main idea, list important details related to that sub-topic.
  3. Go back over the article, checking that you've noted all of the main ideas and key details. Then, summarize the main idea of each section in a word, phrase, or sentence.

Taking the time to really comprehend the text and put it into your own words greatly improves comprehension and retention. Developing habits as an active reader can seem time-consuming at first, but over time, it helps readers automatically search for and identify the important concepts and key details without getting tripped up on seductive attention-grabbing starters that distract from the main idea of the text.

Visual learners, who learn well using illustrations, diagrams, and charts, can better understand and process information when it is arranged using a graphic organizer like this hierarchical model. Although the formal outline using Roman numerals shows the hierarchy of important ideas using Roman numerals and capital letters to arrange concepts, a graphic organizer creates a picture of this ranked structure. When readers are able to organize information from a text into a hierarchical structure, it shows that they understand the relationships between main ideas and supporting details.

Outline Example

Let's say we are studying the historical period from the Roaring '20s to the Great Depression. We read an article, and we want to organize the ideas from it in a traditional outline using Roman numerals so that we can remember and review the information. So, we carefully read each section and then begin forming our outline.

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