Outlining a Plan: Beyond the Basics

When describing a process or plan, it’s helpful to know basic sequence words, such as first, second (and all the other ordinal numbers), next, then, and finally. However, in everyday situations be they at school, work, or home, English speakers make use of a greater variety of sequence  and time markers. How can we present them to upper level students and what forms of practice can help students internalize these structures?

1) Identify words in context. 

It can be helpful for students to hear an actual plan or process being outlined. As they listen, challenge them to identify sequence markers. On video hosting sites, like YouTube, do a search for how-to videos. Examples:

How to Start a Clothing Line  – This is an interesting choice of videos. The woman, Miriam, is a non-native speaker, and she presents a solid model with a few different sequence and time markers: Once…, then you… / Before doing so, you need to… / To sum up,….

How to Trademark Your Logo – An informative video by the well-spoken Mash Bonigala. His speech rate is fast, and the video is long, but from 4:40 on he clearly outlines the process of applying for a trademark. Sequence and time markers include: Before you…, you need to…/ Secondly,… / Once…., then you… / After…, then…  / Then next question is…

The Jim and Jen Show Stay tuned. Jim and I are working on Episode 7, which will highlight outlining a plan.

2) Watch and describe.

Another direction to go is finding a  how-to video that students watch and describe. Provide sequence and time markers as prompts, and ask students to write down the process after observing it. See the suggested video below.

Ben Tries New Things Episode 1: Ligthing a Fire with Sticks – A long, but humorous piece of work by Ben (Benedict Hudson). With minimal talking, he films his personal struggle to learn how to light a fire with sticks.

3)  Oral presentations.

When students have successfully identified a variety of sequence and time markers in context, they are ready to outline their own plan or process. You can invite them to suggest topics and write them on cards. Shuffle the cards and hand them out, one to each student. Allow them 5 minutes to work solo as they write their outline. Give another 5 minutes for students to rehearse in pairs. Partners should give feedback. Then come back together as a class and begin individual presentations. Have fun! Include topics such as how to wash a dog, how to get off a crowded bus, and how to ask someone on a date when they already turned you down once.


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