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Content, Form, and Function Outlines

Active learning

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Using Content, Form, and Function activity to facilitate critical thinking in a classroom

Time and Effort
Instructor Prep Time Medium
Student Activity Time High
Instructor Response Time High
Complexity of Activity High


Content, Form, and Function Outlines have students analyze the what (content), how (form), and why (function) of a particular message (ex. poem, newspaper story, critical essay, advertising, or commercial). The student writes brief notes that address the what, how, and why questions in an outline format that can be quickly reviewed by the instructor.


Use it when you want...

  • To elicit information on the students’ skills at separating and analyzing the informational message, form, and communicative function of course content, or
  • To see how well students can critique not only the message itself but also its presentation and purpose.

What students will need

  • No special requirements for this approach.


The following workflow is meant as guidance for how you can facilitate a Content, Form, and Function Outline learning activity within a classroom.


  • Choose a short text, passage, or other content that represents the concepts you want students to review.
  • If subsections of the content are not explicitly defined, highlight them so students will organize them correctly.
  • Create an example using a parallel text that you will give to students during class.
  • Create a blank outline for students with the top row being What, How, and Why as columns. Place each subsection listed under the What column (unless you want students to define the structure of the content themselves).
  • Determine how you will break students into groups.
  • Determine when you will have students engage in this activity (beginning, middle, end, or outside of class).


  • Set up students into groups.
  • Hand out and display the document template
  • Walk students through the activity, its purpose, and the example you provided. Leave time for students to ask questions about the assignment and receive clarification on the activity. Let them know when the activity is due.
  • After you are confident that students understand the technique, present the message they are to analyze.
  • Have students review the content, complete the outline, and submit it for review before the next class.


  • Review the results, keeping a tally of problem areas and questions that are difficult for students to answer.
  • Provide feedback/grade based on the quality of the outlines.
  • Discuss the results of the activity at the next class meeting.

Accessibility and Room Considerations

  • None

Technical Documentation

  • None


Example 1

Languages and Politics professor knows that one of his central goals is to help students get beyond the rhetoric of campaign speeches and to understand the use of political language better. To help students do so, he analyzed a speech given by a presidential candidate. The class went through each paragraph and outlined the analysis on the whiteboard. He then passed out a copy of another speech and asked students to complete a Content, Form, and Function outline he had prepared for them and asked them to complete the outline and bring it to the next class session. In reading through the outlines, he noted that most students did a very good job analyzing the content. The form was not much of an issue in the speech. Instead of analyzing the political purpose of the paragraphs, however, most students responded by agreeing or disagreeing with the content. This feedback helped the instructor know to spend time in the next class discussing the need to separate the analysis of the message from the evaluation of that message (Angelo 174).

Example 2

An instructor wanted to assess her students' skills in her Advertising Design course. The topic of concern was their ability to take apart and learn from television commercials. She created an activity in which students watched a famous cigarette commercial. They were asked to fill out a Content, Form, and Function Outline worksheet to analyze it. Students appeared to have a problem breaking the commercial into its component segments. She responded by leading them through the activity together step by step, inviting comments from those students who had done well. In the next class period, the instructor asked students to watch and study an anti-smoking commercial that parodied the commercial they saw before. This time, more students were able to complete it successfully, but still not at an acceptable level. She broke the class of 30 students into groups, showed the commercial again, and asked them to work together to produce a group outline. Upon completion of the group activity, students recognized that the two advertisements were almost exactly the same in form, and very similar in content, but diametrically opposed in purpose (Angelo 173-174)


Angelo, Thomas A., and K. Patricia Cross. Classroom Assessment Techniques: a Handbook for College Teachers. Jossey-Bass, 1993. pp. 172-176.

See Also:

Keywords:content, form, function, critical thinking, analysis, active learning, classroom   Doc ID:104112
Owner:Timmo D.Group:Center for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
Created:2020-07-17 12:34 CDTUpdated:2023-07-19 09:38 CDT
Sites:Center for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
Feedback:  2   0