Sounding the Key Word Outline

Stone Soup Magazine
November 2017

Years ago, when I was doing contract negotiations for a small advertising agency, the CFO gave me some good advice at the start. Always know what you’re talking about, she said. If you do, you’ll do fine.

I’d never negotiated contracts before but nevertheless, was placed to work for their biggest client, JCPenney. I renewed our client’s media contracts with small circulars, monthly or weekly newspapers all over the U.S. I had to do a lot of talking. I had to know what I was talking about.

Now, I teach my son to read and understand what he’s reading. It is a skill, to comprehend what is unfamiliar. More still, it takes a good grasp of this unfamiliar material to be able to speak about it with others, to share it with confidence. My son, like me, is starting to hone that instruction I was given on the job. Sounds like tired advice, but really, it is something we tend to overlook.

In my previous post, I wrote about how young writers can use the reconstruction method into their writing process repertoire. I mentioned how in the homeschool, I give my son source material to create a keyword outline. This outline is what he uses to orally introduce his subject. He reads from the outline, summoning familiar information and details cued up from the outline. It is a rudimentary exercise, for my fifth grader, since he will produce a written work only after he can listen to himself present it in public speaking.

When we write, we cannot hear the words, until they are vocalized. And this is when we are able to catch nuance, extraneous information that may not fit our written purpose. It develops over time, to know the material well enough to the point where an outline is only a guide, and not a script. He is getting closer and closer to learning this well. Aren’t we told as writers of the long form to read aloud our work anyway? The principle is the same and reveals much of may be left out or vice versa.

One way to train the young writer to exercise confidence in their writing with the outline as a guide to speaking the material is to have your writer observe public speaking. My husband teaches Bible study at our church and my son will observe similarities between his father and his own practice at home.

We are happy that the language arts curriculum my son uses has encouraged him to bolster his outlining performance, and I throw in the public speaking factor for good measure! After he’s confident about how the acquired knowledge of the material he’s learned sounds (whether he is writing about Peyton Manning, or writing a story based off three pictures in a series), then he can proceed to draft it, and dress it up with because and who/which clauses, adverbial clauses, strong verbs, quality adjectives, prepositions, and all other manner of mechanics, devoid of banned words. The benefits of sounding the key word outline as a precursor to writing a draft go transcend to other skills that will eventually grow writing, public speaking and reading comprehension.

Erendira Ramirez-Ortega
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