Let’s face it…teaching students how to write thesis statements is not always easy. In fact, it can be downright frustrating sometimes, leaving you wishing you knew some fun ways to teach thesis statements
Thinking is messy. Students (and sometimes teachers, too) want to know exactly what to do, what to write, how to write good thesis statements to round off their intro paragraph.
Welcome to how to teach thesis statements 101. You’re in the right place if:
- You’ve ever felt like your students are robot zombies, spitting out formula thesis statements like Old Faithful.
- You’re tired of feeling like there could be a better way to teach thesis statement writing.
- You are fueled by coffee and a desire to help your students succeed.
Thesis Statement Structure
First off, a thesis statements should meet the following criteria:
- Opinion statement
- One sentence
- Offers unique insight
Within the one-sentence opinion statement that offers unique insight about a text, issue, or society, students should use clear and concise writing to make their focus known to the reader.
And, if you plan to give students a specific prompt, teach them to unpack the prompt to determine how they will respond.
Thesis Statements for Literary Analysis
9th grade English teachers at my school have developed the strategy of teaching students to think critically about texts’ messages about society and human nature through alien visitation. Talk about fun ways to teach thesis statement!!
They begin the school year by having an “alien” visit the classroom. Each class has to name its alien visitor who is there to observe human behavior. One year my officemate’s class named its alien “fre sha voca do” and I was amazed at how quickly her freshmen, who previously did not know how to write thesis statements, started thinking about “we as humans” messages.
As a sophomore teacher, all I have to do is say “we as humans” and students know exactly what I mean.
Now, what does this have to do with thesis statements?
💡 Well, if students are in the habit of thinking about what messages texts send about “we as humans,” they are primed for thesis statement writing.
Thesis Statements Template
It’s nice to have a pattern to teach students. As all patterns, once students learn it, they can break it, but I have found that this pattern does help them to clarify and focus their thinking. Yes, these patterns are one of the fun ways to teach thesis statements…because they provide structure which leads to success.
The basic literary analysis pattern for how to write thesis statements is as follows:
Genre + Title + Author + (optional literary element) + Action Verb + WAH phrase (or a specific human sub-group, i.e. children) + Claim + Why or How.
Let’s take a look at an example:
In his poem The Road Less Traveled, Robert Frost uses irony to suggest that we as humans lie to ourselves, creating a false sense of confidence in our own choices.
Genre = poem
Title = The Road Less Traveled
Author = Robert Frost
Optional Literary Element = irony
Action Verb = suggest
WAH Phrase + Claim = we as humans lie to ourselves
How = creating a false sense of confidence in our own choices
Here’s another example:
Let’s pretend that your students have just finished reading Born a Crime. Maybe you have asked them to compare and contrast Trevor Noah’s portrayal of apartheid to Alan Paton’s portrayal in Cry the Beloved Country.
Well, a good thesis statement for this prompt has to capture comparison between two texts.
Alan Paton’s novel Cry, the Beloved Country contrasts with Trevor Noah’s autobiography Born a Crime stylistically, though it touches on similar topics of racism and violence that plague post-apartheid South Africa; consequently, both texts reveal that we as humans must cling to hope and resilience even in the toughest of circumstances as the antidote to suffering.
Genres = novel, autobiography
Titles = Cry, the Beloved Country, Born a Crime
Authors = Alan Paton, Trevor Noah
Optional Literary Element = (loosely mentioned) author’s style
Action Verb = reveal
WAH Phrase + Claim = we as humans must cling to hope and resilience even in the toughest of circumstances
Why = hope / resilience are the antidote to suffering
Phew, that thesis statement had to cover a lot of ground. Notice the use of the subordinating conjunction consequently as a joiner word, making a one-sentence thesis statement possible.
How to Write Thesis Statements FAQ
Q: Do students have to follow the pattern exactly?
A: No. Like ice cream, students can feel free to add some toppings.
Q: Do students have to say “we as humans” every time?
A: No. You can simply state the claim. The WAH statement is a frame to help students focus their thinking.
👍 Are there questions that you have that I haven’t thought of here? Please leave a comment on the post and I may add your question here!
Can Thesis Statements be Questions?
I’ve heard students ask if thesis statements in essays can be a question.
To understand why the answer is “no,” students need to understand that there is such a thing as inductive vs. deductive essay organization.
Students are familiar with deductive essay organization. This type of organization front-loads the thesis statement as a road map for the essay, using each paragraph to prove the main claim. This is like having a fully-completed puzzle and then examining different pieces of it.
Inductive organization, on the other hand, lacks a directly stated thesis in the beginning of the essay. Instead, the thesis comes at the end and the writer weaves together different points, often using questioning to move toward a final conclusion. This is like taking the puzzle pieces out of the box and completing the puzzle only to realize the fully-completed picture in the end.
So, students may see question-asking as a thesis writing technique, but not understand that it is an inductive organization technique leading to a larger implied or directly stated thesis.
Fun Ways to Teach Thesis Statements
Instruction for how to write thesis statements is pretty straightforward. I would suggest having students train their brains by practicing thesis statement writing individually and with peers.
➡️ This might be a quick GimKit or Quizziz game.
➡️ It might mean a round of “minute to win it” thesis statement writing so that students can practice turning thematic ideas into claims.
➡️ My students love using ultra clean erasable markers or whiteboard markers to write on their tables. I love that I am able to walk around and quickly redirect, cross out and make suggestions on the spot so that students can revise.
➡️ For digital learning situations, you could utilize Padlet to collect possible thesis statements and have students vote for their favorites that best follow the thesis statement pattern.
And maybe you want to get yourself an alien classroom pet. If students are struggling to write thesis statements, ask them what the alien would observe about humans after reading the text(s).
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have some fre sha voca do.
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