How to Teach Thesis Statements
The most important part of the multi-paragraph essay is a well-worded thesis statement. The thesis statement should state the author’s purpose for writing or the point to be proved. The topic sentences of each succeeding body paragraph all “talk about” the thesis statement.
- When the essay is designed to inform the reader, the thesis statement states the author’s purpose for writing and serves as the controlling idea or topic throughout the essay.
- When the essay is designed to convince the reader, the thesis statement states the point to be proved and serves as the argument or claim throughout the essay.
A good thesis statement will accomplish the following:
1. It will state the subject of the writing prompt.
2. It will repeat the key words of the writing prompt.
3. It will directly respond to each part of the writing prompt with a specific purpose (for informational essays) or point of view (for persuasive essays).
4. It will justify discussion and exploration; it won’t just list a topic to talk about. For example, “Elephants are really big mammals” would not justify discussion or exploration.
5. It must be arguable, if the thesis introduces a persuasive essay. For example, “Terrorism is really bad and must be stopped” is not an arguable point of view.
For short essays, a good thesis statement is characterized by the following:
1. It is one or two declarative sentences (no questions).
2. It is placed at the end of the introduction. This is not a hard and fast rule; however, the thesis statement does appear in this position in fifty percent of expository writing and the typical organization of an introductory paragraph is from general to specific.
3. It does not split the purpose or point of view of the essay into two or more points to prove. It has a single purpose or point of view that multiple topic sentences will address.
4. It may or may not include a preview of the topic sentences.
1. Spend time helping students to dissect writing prompts, showing different forms and examples.
2. Teach the key Writing Direction Words (see attached) most often used in writing prompts.
3. Teach students to “borrow” as many of the words as possible from the writing prompt and include these in the thesis statement. Doing this assures the writer and reader that the essay is directly responding to the writing prompt. Additionally, using the same words flatters the writer of the prompt. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
4. Practice thesis turn-arounds in which you provide writing prompts in the form of questions that students must convert into declarative thesis statements.
5. Teach and have students practice a variety of introduction strategies to use for both informational and persuasive essays.
6. Teach transition words and help students practice these throughout the introductory paragraph.
8. Constantly remind students that a thesis statement is part of exposition–not the narrative form. No “hooks” or “leads” as part of thesis statements, please.
See the three attached lessons on Thesis Statement Practice at Thesis Statement Practice.
Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies.