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Content, Form, and Function Outlines

Facilitating a Content, Form, and Function active learning activity in a physically-distanced learning space.

Time and Effort

Instructor Prep TimeMedium
Student Activity TimeHigh
Instructor Response TimeHigh
Complexity of ActivityHigh


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


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


  • 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 when you will have students engage in this activity (beginning, middle, end, or outside of class).
  • Create a document template in Google Docs.


  • Set up students into groups. Note: Consider limiting the group size to 2-3 students.  Groups larger than 2-3 people are encouraged to use text-based chat features instead of speaking to one another to reduce the noise volume in the room and to prevent shouting across long distances between students.
  • Display the document template
  • Direct groups to how they will work on the document:
    • 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.
  • 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

  • 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 Zoom.
  • 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. 172-176.

See Also:

Keywords:content, form, function, critical thinking, analysis, active learning, physical distance   Doc ID:104112
Owner:Timmo D.Group:Remote Instruction
Created:2020-07-17 12:34 CDTUpdated:2021-06-29 09:24 CDT
Sites:Remote Instruction
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