Reimagining Outlines as Visual Representations of Essay Structure


  • Ariel Goldenthal George Mason University



student writing


NOTE: This teaching activity showcase is one of two during the 1:00pm-2:30pm session. àIt will be presented within that session from 1:50pm to 2:30pm.


Many students understand outlines for writing assignments to be in the traditional format with numbers, letters, and Roman Numerals, but todayââ¬â¢s students are often more familiar with the visual than the written. This activity showcases and analyzes visual representations of essay outlines from John McPheeââ¬â¢s New Yorker essay, ââ¬ÅStructure,ââ¬Â and then asks students to visually represent the structure or organization of their own writing assignments. Faculty across the disciplines will be able to use this short activity for any major writing assignment. Instructors can also reverse it by having students create a visual representation of the structure of a piece of discipline-specific writing in order to better understand the genreââ¬â¢s conventions. Participants will be able to describe how to use outlines as visual representations in their course.



Student writing can take many paths and many forms. In my English classes, I have found that although longer writing assignments often require students to write an outline, that outline does not always help students to see the importance of an essayââ¬â¢s structure. This session proposes a visual learning alternative to the traditional writing assignment format. The first part of this activity asks students to analyze drawings of essay organizations from John McPheeââ¬â¢s essay, ââ¬ÅStructure.ââ¬Â Students will view each drawing and consider the writing assignments and topics that would be best suited for that structure. The key to this part of the activity is the emphasis on creativity, and showing students the variety of structures that they can choose from. The second part of the activity asks them to create a visual representation of their own writing assignment. Students can emphasize a particular element of their essay, make a drawing that represents a detailed plan, or visually represent the structure as a whole. No matter what path they take, thinking visually about their writing assignments can help students to see the options that they have, and the power that organization has to change an assignment.

Author Biography

Ariel Goldenthal, George Mason University

English Department,àAssistant Professor





1:50pm-2:30pm Mini-Workshops, Panels, & Roundtables