Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Writing a Thesis Statement

For some reason, the word "thesis" scares students.  As soon as I tell my students that we are working on thesis statements, I automatically hear the groans.  But is it really that hard to write a thesis statement?  I would argue that it isn't.  After all, teenagers don't seem to have a problem arguing with their parents and teachers!  If students take a few steps to ensure that they have a solid, workable thesis statement, they will have a stronger essay.

The first step is understanding the topic.  Here is an example of an essay topic that my students might get:

Discuss the idea(s) developed by the text creator in your chosen text about the role adversity plays in shaping an individual's identity.

When I look at this topic I need to think about A) the idea(s) adversity in my text - how will I define adversity?  Who undergoes adversity?  Who is changed by adversity? B) how that adversity shapes an individual's identity - what was their identity before the adversity?  What was their identity after?  and C) given both A and B, what idea(s) do I think the author is trying to develop?

So what text am I going to choose to write about?

What character(s) will I discuss?

What is my position on the essay prompt (what idea(s) is the text creator developing)?

Are there any qualifications that I need to make (is this always true?)?

What is the reason for developing this idea (what good might be gained through my position)?

An activity that I like to do with students is working on thesis statements as a group.  This requires the kids to discuss different perspectives, negotiate, and come to a consensus as to the best possible thesis statement.  The group brainstorming tends to sound something like the following:

We will write about Death of a Salesman.  If we look at the adversity that Willy faces, we see that he cannot handle adversity and as a result he kills himself.  We can see that this has a negative impact on his family through Linda's words.  But do all people who face adversity kill themselves when they can no longer handle things?  Obviously not.  What is it about Willy that leads him to this decision?  Is it the fact that he lives in a world of fantasy and now that he has been faced with reality he can't deal with it?  So our thesis is:

People who avoid reality by escaping to a perfect fantasy world are unable to cope with adversity in the real world, so when they can no longer escape they take extreme measures to deal.

Once every group has written a thesis statement, I would have students write these on the board.  Then I will edit them, either on my own or with their help, to model ways to improve the thesis statement.

If your students are still struggling, a great resource to check out is Jim Burke's thesis generator.

Food for thought... how do you help your students to write better thesis statements?

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