Standard Lesson

Creative Outlining-From Freewriting to Formalizing

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 50-minute sessions
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Students prepare for this lesson by reading a short story in class. After a minilesson on the difference between freewriting and rehashing the plot, students freewrite a response to the story to generate an original framework for a literary analysis essay. Students discuss what makes a solid thesis and then develop a thesis idea from their body of freewriting. This central idea serves as an organizational principle for creating an outline for an original literary analysis essay.

Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" is used to model this process, but any short story of equal literary merit may be used.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

In Preventing Plagiarism: Tips and Techniques, Laura Hennessey DeSena notes that plagiarism is a common and frustrating problem that many teachers face. Learning ways to generate original ideas and in turn write about those ideas helps students avoid plagiarism while thinking critically, creatively, and independently. When students learn to use the subjective I/eye in the writing process, they are better prepared to construct an original framework of understanding and analysis. This knowledge of the I/eye requires students to value their own interpretations, in turn building their confidence as independent/critical thinkers and readers of literature and building their writing voice.  In this practice, students can learn how to fashion a thesis by synthesizing their insights into an all-encompassing central idea. Students learn how critical thinking skills emerge from the freewriting process, and they gain organizational skills for shaping an outline of a literary analysis essay.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

Materials and Technology



Student Objectives

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


  • 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.

Student Assessment / Reflections


  • 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.


Juniper Paspula
K-12 Teacher
Your lesson plan is awesome! It worked wonders!
Juniper Paspula
K-12 Teacher
Your lesson plan is awesome! It worked wonders!
Juniper Paspula
K-12 Teacher
Your lesson plan is awesome! It worked wonders!

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