Malcolm Gladwell's fascinating book will intrigue students as complex phenomena are dissected and explained with student-friendly examples and stories. For academic purposes, Outliers serves a unique role: to juxtapose other narratives that exist about the key to success, arguably ones that provide only half-truths. The way that Gladwell explains high achievement is not conventional; for example, he claims that the level of talent of a Canadian ice hockey player is related to the month in which the player had been born. Does this hypothesis hold true? Does it seem more valid than other narratives? Teachers can pose these questions in class and use them to draw comparisons between Outliers and other works of nonfiction.

Gladwell uses a wide variety of figures—musicians, scientists, and even athletes—to exhibit his philosophy. Teachers can use this diverse array of topics to their advantage, perhaps through having each student choose a success story he or she most identifies with and completing an assignment with that choice as the primary focus. 

This particular work of Gladwell's has been said to be more personal than his earlier works, reading almost like an autobiography. With this in mind, it is conceivable to challenge students to take Gladwell's observations and relate those observations to their own goals, strengths, and shortcomings.

Summary of Outliers

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 2008
  • Length: 336 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1080
  • Recommended Grade Band: 11-12

Outliers examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success, proving that successful people don't always achieve what they do purely because of their talent or skill. Gladwell also explores why some people who should be successful fail to be. Throughout the book, he uses real-life examples to explain these social phenomena and why they occur.

What Your Students Will Love About Outliers

  • The wide variety of topics covered in the book
  • How interesting phenomena are clearly explained

Potential Student Struggles With Outliers

  • Comprehending the statistics and reasoning behind the examples
  • The fact that some of the material is oversimplified

Learning Objectives for Outliers

  • Discuss in detail Gladwell's philosophy about achieving success.
  • Relate his philosophy, including the "10,000-Hour Rule" to each story Gladwell observes.
  • Compare Gladwell's observations to more conventional opinions about success.
  • Challenge students to examine their own lives and goals and evaluate their own potential.

Literary Elements in Outliers

  • Argumentation
  • Case Studies/Examples
  • Imagery
  • Metaphor
  • Statistics
  • Suspense
  • And more!

Major Themes in Outliers

Practice — The "10,000-Hour Rule," a scientific theory explained in the book, says that one needs 10,000 hours of experience with his or her skill to perfect it. This rule and the importance of practice is a factor in most of the examples put forth by Gladwell.

Related Works:

Opportunity — The idea that wildly successful people are provided with opportunities that others are not is a prominent theme presented in the book.

Related Works:

Other Resources for Outliers

Order Outliers Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
Outliers Paperback Student Edition
Outliers Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Outliers AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

This free guide was originally posted in November 2015. It has been updated as of March 2021.