Content, Form, and Function Outlines (classroom)

This KB document is part of a larger collection of documents on active learning.
More Active Learning documents

Facilitating a Content, Form, and Function active learning activity in a classroom

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

  • No special requirements for this approach.


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


  • 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).


  • Set up students into groups.
  • Hand out and display the document template
  • 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

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, classroom   Doc ID:104112
Owner:Timmo D.Group:Center for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
Created:2020-07-17 11:34 CSTUpdated:2021-08-20 13:15 CST
Sites:Center for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
Feedback:  0   0