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Structured overviews

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Last updated 26 October 2012 15:28 by NZTecAdmin
Structured overviews (PDF, 30 KB)

The purpose of the activity

The purpose of this activity is to help learners understand key words and ideas they will need in order to learn and write about specific content and to identify relationships between these words and ideas.

A structured overview is a hierarchy of key words or concepts that relate to one main idea. The main idea is given in the heading at the top of the page and other related ideas are recorded and connected by lines to the main idea and to each other. Structured overviews are most useful for information that is hierarchically ordered.

Note: The flow chart in the How to use this resource section is a structured overview.

The teaching points

  • The learners make, justify and discuss their choices about the relationships between key words and ideas for a topic.
  • The learners critically analyse possibilities.


  • One or more structured overviews.
  • A blank version of an overview for the learners to use.

The guided teaching and learning sequence

1. Select a topic for which there is a clear hierarchy of ideas.

2. Select key words that relate to one main idea and organise them into a structured overview. (The learners should not see this overview.)

3. Draw up a blank version of the overview (that is, draw the boxes and arrows, but don’t add any words). Tell the learners what the heading (topic) will be.

4. Give the learners a list of all the words that go in the boxes on the blank overview. (This list could be written on the board, or copies could be given to the learners.)

5. Discuss the heading and show the learners how to put two or three of the words in the correct places on the blank overview. Think aloud as you do this so the learners know why you make each decision.

6. Ask the learners to complete the overview, working independently or in pairs.

7. Have the learners share and justify their decisions, comparing their results with those of others.

8. Discuss the possible options for their decisions.

Follow-up activities

  • The learners can develop their own structured overviews, either with your help or independently. For example, when the learners have worked through a clustering activity and organised selected words under general headings, they can then use a structured overview to present this work. The learners may need to be shown how to create an effective hierarchical structure by developing increasingly detailed sub-headings (in an order that they can justify, giving reasons) under the main idea at the top of the page.
  • The learners can use a structured overview to organise their writing and research tasks. As individuals, they brainstorm key ideas that relate to their main idea and write down all the relevant words they can think of. They then work either individually or in pairs or small groups to categorise their words, and they go on to prepare their own structured overview.
  • Remind the learners of this overview strategy when they are planning their writing and research tasks. As the learners become familiar with this strategy, they will learn more about when and how to use it. When a learner understands that the overview provides a useful framework for structuring their learning or for planning writing, they often adopt and use this tool almost automatically.


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