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Content, Form, and Function Outlines (ALC)

Using Content, Form, and Function Outlines activity to facilitate critical thinking in Active Learning Classrooms
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 the instructor can quickly review.


Use it when you want...

  • To elicit information on the student's 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

  • Laptop, tablet, or mobile phone
  • Classroom with campus wireless connection


The following workflow is meant to guide how to facilitate a Content, Form, and Function Outline learning activity within an Active Learning Classroom.


  • Choose a short text, passage, or other content representing 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 you will give students during class.
  • Create a Google Docs template 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 when you will have students engage in this activity (beginning, middle, end, or outside of class).


  • At their tables, have students complete the activity in groups of 3-4.
  • Have the group assign a scribe who will copy the Google Doc, put their names at the top of the document, and share it with the instructor.
  • Walk students through the activity, its purpose, and your example. 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 and complete the outline.


  • Review the results, keeping a tally of problem areas and questions 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


Example 1

Languages and Politics professor knew that one of his central goals was to help students get beyond the rhetoric of campaign speeches and better understand political language use. 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, 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 analyzed the content well. 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 to spend time in the next class discussing the need to separate the analysis of the message from the evaluation of that message (Modified from Angelo 173-174).

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 had seen before. This time, more students could complete it successfully, but still not at an acceptable level. She showed the commercial again and asked each table to work together to produce a group outline. Upon completing the group activity, students recognized that the two advertisements were almost the same in form and very similar in content but diametrically opposed in purpose (Modified from Angelo 173-174).


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

Keywordsoutline, analyze, solution, process, solutionDoc ID118473
OwnerTimmo D.GroupInstructional Resources
Created2022-05-10 14:52:24Updated2024-04-16 12:40:22
SitesCenter for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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