What Speech Outline is Right for Your Students?

Speech textbooks encourage students to write outlines for their speeches. Since audience do not have the advantage of visually seeing the words, a speech’s organization is of the utmost importance. An outline allows students to see each point individually.

Looking at a speech line by line aids in transitions, and in creating a balance of material. An outline is also a working document. As students practice their delivery, they can easily add and subtract from an outline.

An outline is the preferred design when prepping a speech. As the teacher, you must decide which speech outline students should use – sentence or topic. Here are pros and cons when deciding what speech outline is right for your students.

Organizing a speech outline is a major part of any public speaking class. Students must organize their thoughts to be successful orators. Follow these guidelines.

Sentence Outlines

Pros: A sentence outline gives a polished picture of the speech. Students can add sentence transitions, which help an audience more than one word transitions. The speech is typically more developed than a speech from a topic outline.

Students can also read over the speech and get an idea of how the speech will sound. From a topic outline, students will need to develop different parts of the speech each time. With a sentence outline, students willΒ hearΒ the speech in their heads, and it may come naturally to them as they deliver the speech.

Cons: Students who dislike writing struggle with this stage. They may enjoy the different pace of a speech class, but they feel that they are writing papers – with an additional step (speaking). Finally, students can be reluctant to alter a sentence outline. These outlines are longer, and students may leave a portion that needs work because that one portion interferes with the flow of the entire speech.

Topic Outlines

Pros: The short nature of topic outlines is easy to manipulate. During practice, students can add points, practice, and then move or delete what doesn’t work. It is more a working document – moldable.

Topic outlines don’t take long to write. Because they are short, students can spend more time practicing the speech than writing the speech.

Cons: Students can write the subjects and not fully think the talking points for the speech. If students practice a topic outline, they may deliver a strong speech. If students do not practice, a speech given from a topic outline is short. A topic sentence does not force students to think completely through a speech. A speaking experience like that frustrates students.


What do I use? At first, I only used sentence outlines. Students were more prepared, and the longer outlines gave them structure. One time (I can’t remember why), I assigned a topic outline. And? As students progressed, the topic outlines turned into sentence outlines. Some students did not write enough information, but for the students who put forth effort, their outlines were their own – very organized and personalized.

You can always try both with classes, and then decide, or allow students to provide input. When deciding what speech outline is right for your students, consider their need for structure and abilities to create different types of outlines. Now I have students write sentence outlines until I feel they are capable of a topic outlines. I give students the goal of eventually writing a topic outline – and they are willing to work toward it.

Subscribe to our mailing list and receive ELA goodies!

* indicates required