A note on graded outlines

There are different ways to approach the outline assignment. You can have them all turn in an outline a week or so before the speeches and return them soon afterward or you can wait and have students turn in the outline on the speech date. I used a middle ground — staggered due dates. The students were assigned a speech day and their outline was due two classes before that day. That gave me one class to collect them and one class to return them. The advantage of this is that you do not get the outlines all at once and it is fair to the students because they all get the same amount of time with their outline comments.

The outlines themselves should not be worth very many points. I explained to my students that the outline will take a lot of time and be a lot of work, but it is the place to make mistakes. Because there are few points at stake here, any mistakes will not count heavily against you like they would in the speech so it is your chance to find and correct mistakes before the speech. I also tell them that I will grade the outlines assuming that everyone is planning for an A+ speech.

Outlines are best turned in on paper. I would

write a lot of comments, use arrows to move items, etc. and it would have been very hard to do this as well on an electronic form. Students who do e-mail me an outline lose 10% of the points because then I will have to print it and I do not wish to become a printing service. This system worked pretty well.

If a student did miss an outline due date, I had a standard e-mail that I would send explaining how the late points would be calculated depending on when it was submitted. Students who failed to submit an outline by at least 24 hours before their speech would have their speech canceled and would get a makeup date with penalty points only after the outline was submitted. Outlines submitted without a works cited page would get this same treatment.

When introducing outlining, I also introduce Catherine Patrick’s Creative Process (1955) — it is included in the Stuart and Sprague textbook. This lets the students know that the outline helps by getting them organized early and gives them time for the remaining steps in the process, specifically refinement.

Outline template:


Rather than take a lot of time going over exact numbering, indents, etc. I provide the students with an outline template. Some textbooks include something like this either with a CD or on their web site (I know the Brydon and Scott book is one that does). If you don’t have the textbook templates, it is not hard to make one up and offer it at a web site or through Blackboard. My templates include some basic instructions and an example of a main point, then the skeleton outline with reminders, and finally a list for visual aids and sources. The picture above shows the opening on one template. The students can copy or download the document then fill in their information. It helps save them time and save you from spending your grading time correcting format. I’ve included links to my templates with the web resources for each assignment. Students tell me that an outline takes them two to three hours with the template.

Having students do their outlines in advance does a lot to discourage procrastination and allow you to suggest corrections before the speech, leading to better speeches. It is good to let them know that doing an outline is not the same as writing out the speech. The outline should contain only about 30% of what will be in your speech and each point or subpoint (outside the introduction and conclusion) should be limited to a single sentence. The value of the outline is in getting organized.


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About teachingpublicspeaking

I believe public speaking can go from most dreaded class to favorite class. I'm a former public speaking college instructor who spent years seeking out activities, assignments and examples to make the class interactive as well as educational -- they are collected here. I welcome suggestions for additions.

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