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Empty Outlines

Facilitating Empty Outlines active learning activities in physically-distanced learning spaces.

Time and Effort

Instructor Prep TimeMedium
Student Activity TimeLow
Instructor Response TimeMedium
Complexity of ActivityMedium


Empty Outlines has the instructor provide students with a blank or partially completed outline of a presentation or assignment and gives students a limited amount of time to fill in the outline.


Use it when you want...

  • To find out whether students have identified the critical points in a lecture, reading, or other types of assignment, or
  • To help students recall and organize the main points of a lesson within an appropriate knowledge structure — aiding retention and understanding.

What students will need


The following workflow is meant as guidance for how you can facilitate an Empty Outlines learning activity within a classroom with a physical distancing layout.


  • Create an outline of the lecture, presentation, discussion, or reading on which to base the assignment. Decide the level on which you will focus the activity and, thus, the students’ attention.
  • Decide if students are to supply the main topics, the main subtopics, or the supporting details? These decisions will determine what information you provide and what you leave out.
  • Create a template of the outline for students to use in Google Docs.


  • Have students work in pairs to complete the activity.
  • When students complete the form from memory — without notes or other information — limit the number of items the activity elicits to fewer than ten.
  • Let students know how much time they will have to complete the outlines and the desired responses (words, short phrases, or brief sentences).
  • Announce the purpose of the assignment and when the students will receive feedback on their responses.
  • Share the method students will use to work collaboratively on the activity. 
    • Option 1: Students speak with one another across the empty seats.
    • Option 2: Groups follow a link that creates a new version of the template in Google Docs. The document is shared among the group members and with the instructor.


  • Review outlines.
  • Provide feedback/grade to group participants.

Accessibility and Room Considerations

  • Classroom furniture is not to be rearranged to facilitate activities. If you need a different general assignment classroom to meet your instructional needs, contact your curricular representative.
  • If students are to move around the room during an activity, consider the mobility, location, equipment, and furniture needs of all students.
  • The physical distance between students (particularly in large lecture halls) may make it difficult for students to hear one another when they are asked to speak.
  • This same physical distance may increase the noise level in the room as students try to speak to one another. This noise level may cause issues for some students. To this end, it is recommended that group size be limited to pairs (ideally) or triads at most. Activities requiring larger group sizes should utilize text-based chat solutions like those found in Blackboard Collaborate Ultra.
  • The technologies recommended here should meet most campus accessibility requirements. However, you should check with the McBurney Disability Resources Center for guidance on any specific accommodations for your students.

Technical Documentation


Angelo, Thomas A., and K. Patricia Cross. Classroom Assessment Techniques: a Handbook for College Teachers. Jossey-Bass, 1993. pp. 138-141.

See Also:

Keywords:empty outlines, prior knowledge, active learning, remote instruction, physical distance   Doc ID:104170
Owner:Timmo D.Group:Remote Instruction
Created:2020-07-20 15:24 CDTUpdated:2020-10-30 15:59 CDT
Sites:Remote Instruction
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