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Lesson Plan

Creative Outlining-From Freewriting to Formalizing

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Creative Outlining-From Freewriting to Formalizing

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Five 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Laura Hennessey DeSena

Sparta, New Jersey


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three

Session Four

Session Five


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • analyze Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" by exploring themes for insights into the human condition.

  • participate in a process of writing that validates their unique voice and vision.

  • freewrite in a study of both self and text, writing to explore how their own internal world encounters the external world of Poe's literary text.

  • synthesize from their body of freewriting the central idea for a formal analysis paper on Poe's story.

  • organize interpretations in an outline for a literary analysis essay.

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Session One

  1. Have students define freewriting in their own terms.

  2. Write students' answers on the board to validate their responses. Students should give definitions that indicate an understanding of stream of consciousness writing, freely following ideas rather than abandoning them before their full development, drawing on their own experiences and insights in relation to the theme, and allowing the thought process to guide rather than impose a form on their response to a piece of literature.

  3. Tell students that during freewriting they should allow their thoughts to meander, writing as ideas come to mind. They should go down alleyways in the mind that could not be explored in a formal essay requiring transitions and logical placement of ideas.

  4. Emphasize that in freewriting grammar and mechanics are less important than writing down thoughts as they naturally come to mind.

  5. Discuss any questions students may have regarding the process of freewriting.

  6. Tell students that they will be using the computer to freewrite about "The Fall of the House of Usher." Explain that you do not want them to rehash the plot of the story in their freewriting but to offer their own insights on the story. Their freewriting should stray from the narrative (story line) established by Poe and indicate their original thoughts about the story.

  7. Model freewriting vs. rehashing the plot by responding to the image of the tarn and how that image connects to theme and to character. Share the examples from the Freewriting or Rehashing the Plot? overhead or PowerPoint presentation.

  8. Emphasize that grammar and mechanical errors will be forgiven in their freewriting in favor of fine critical insights into Poe's story. They need not make any corrections to their freewriting to enable them to focus their energy on responding to the text.

  9. Have students spend the remainder of the session freewriting on the computer. Remind students to save their work so that they can return to it in later sessions.

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Session Two

  1. Have students reread their freewriting from the previous day.

  2. Ask students to review their own writing and note whether they lapsed into retelling the plot anywhere in the response.

  3. Remind students not to retell the story but to analyze it. On the board, post some examples of authentic freewriting from your students who wish to share.

  4. Advise students who found they rehashed plot in their freewriting to abandon following the story line of the text and instead write about image, character, or theme. The goal is to keep students out of "book report mode" and in "analysis mode."

  5. Allow students to resume their freewriting.

  6. By the end of class students should have a printed copy of their freewriting in hand. Remind students to save their work as well, so that they can return to the file in later sessions.

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Session Three

  1. Have students read through their freewriting and underline or highlight intriguing insights they wrote in response to Poe's story.

  2. Have students look for the threads of a thesis idea in the making-a true and an original insight into the text. Have them trace these ideas in their freewriting with a highlighter pen or pencil.

  3. Ask students to look for separate points, claims, or insights in their freewriting can be synthesized or unified into an all-encompassing understanding of the text.

  4. Have each student draft a thesis idea gleaned from his or her body of freewriting on an index card.

  5. Tell the students you will evaluate each of their thesis ideas to determine that it is indeed an interpretation and not a fact, that the idea is sophisticated and not obvious, and that the student has used precise diction in articulating the thesis statement.

  6. Collect the index cards, and review and comment on them prior to the next session.

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Session Four

  1. Hand back the evaluated thesis statements.

  2. Model how to make the necessary revisions using the Developing a Thesis Statement: Examples overhead or PowerPoint presentation. Demonstrate how the student reflected and revised the initial statement each time, until arriving at a solid thesis statement.

  3. Have students make necessary revisions to their thesis statements by writing the original version of the thesis at the top of a clean sheet of paper. They then should rewrite it with changes, creating several versions (with one underneath the other, as shown in the examples). Ultimately, they should have a well-articulated thesis statement from these several revisions.

  4. Next, have students review their freewriting, looking for ideas related to their thesis statement for use in an outline for a literary analysis essay on Poe's story. If they cannot find sufficient ideas in their freewriting, they can brainstorm additional ideas.

  5. Have students use the ReadWriteThink Notetaker to turn these ideas into an outline of points that speak to their thesis statements. They should have at least five points, in addition to the thesis statement, for the outline to be complete.

  6. Finally, have each student print out or transcribe the final copy of the outline so that each student has two copies of the outline. Students will need both copies for the final session.

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Session Five

  1. Ask students to cut out the separate points (other than their thesis ideas) from one copy of their outline, saving the other copy as a backup.

  2. Tell students to throw the strips of paper with the separate points onto the floor next to their desks and stir them around to mix them up.

  3. Have students randomly pick up one strip at a time and, using a glue stick, paste each strip in turn onto a clean sheet of paper.

    Note: This process moves students away from following the story line in their own essays, which should bear the imprint of their own organizational strategies and personal insights, not Poe's narrative strategy. This creative outlining exercise may produce some funny and strange juxtapositions of points, but it teaches students that outlining is a creative process. This process emphasizes outlining should be original to the student writer as much as content should originate with the student writer. This exercise is worthwhile even if only two points together make sense and can be used in the new order created from this creative outlining process, because it injects a fresh outlook to a process students often find tedious.

  4. Ask students to merge the two outlines into a final creative and unpredictable outline.

  5. Allow students time to share their outlines in small groups and get feedback from their peers in writer's workshop format.

  6. For homework, have students add textual evidence to their outline to support each point.

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  • Have students use their outlines to compose a literary analysis essay about "The Fall of the House of Usher."

  • Extend the literary analysis essay into a mini-research paper by asking students to integrate three secondary sources into the original framework of their essays.

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  • Evaluate student-generated thesis statements by commenting on the quality of interpretive risk taken with text, on diction, and on sentence structure.

  • Monitor student feedback in student groups to assess quality of feedback and gain a sense of their progress in the outlining stage of the composition process.

  • Evaluate the final outline for clarity of thought, logical organization of points, and appropriate textual evidence.


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