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How to Teach Thesis Statements

Thesis Statements

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 purpose for writing or the point (argument or claim) to be proved. The topic sentences of each succeeding body paragraph all talk about the thesis statement.

Common Core State Standards

Common Core State Standards

  • 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. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1: “Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.”
  • When the essay is designed to convince the reader, the thesis statement states the author’s point to be proved and serves as the argument or claim throughout the essay. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2: “Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.”

Before writing a thesis statement, the writer must read, re-read, dissect (tear apart and analyze), and mark up the writing prompt. The writing prompt is also known as the writing task, writing assignment, or simply the prompt. Check out How to Dissect a Writing Prompt for all the details about how to teach students this skill. The writing prompt WHAT needs to be boiled down to a question to be answered. That answer is the thesis statement.

Dissecting the Essay Prompt

Dissecting the Writing Prompt

A good thesis statement answers the question developed from the writing prompt and accomplishes the following:

1. It states the topic of the writing prompt. Check out How to Write an Effective Essay Prompt.

2. It repeats the key words of the writing prompt. Tell your students that this form of plagiarism is encouraged, because it assures the reader that the writer is following the writing prompt’s orders.

3. It directly responds to each part of the writing prompt with a specific purpose (for informational/explanatory essays) or point of view, also known as  the argument or claim (for argumentative essays).

4. It justifies 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). A declarative is a statement.

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. Think of the introduction as an upside-down pyramid with introductory sentences (I call them introduction strategies) leading into the focused thesis statement (the point of the upside-down pyramid). Some teachers prefer a picture of a funnel to illustrate the same paragraph structure.

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. The preview provides supporting reasons for the answer to the writing prompt. These supporting reasons will be the topic sentences and must be listed in the order they will be occur in the essay.


Short Thesis Statement: Daily flossing is essential to good dental hygiene. 

Longer Thesis Statement with a Preview of Topic Sentences (Supporting Reasons): Daily flossing is essential to good dental hygiene. Flossing prevents tooth decay, reduces the risk of gum disease, and freshens one’s breath.

Helpful Hints

1. Spend time helping students to dissect writing prompts, showing different forms and examples.

2. Teach the key Writing Direction Words  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, which students convert to questions and then answer in declarative thesis statements. Use your own content, such as novels, articles, media or search the web for your grade-level “essay writing prompts.”

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.

7. Help students re-word their thesis statements, using different grammatical sentence openers, for their thesis re-statements at the beginning of conclusion paragraphs.

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.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in TEACHING ESSAYS BUNDLEThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, pre-writing graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

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Plus, a BONUS!

Following are the typical response comments I use to respond to student thesis statements. No sense in re-inventing the wheel. Check out my e-Comments Chrome Extension to insert these comments and many more into Google docs and slides.

  • Thesis Statement does not respond to writing prompt. Re-read the writing prompt and dissect according to the WHO (the audience and role of the writer), the WHAT (the context of the writing topic), the HOW (the resource text title and author), and the DO (the key writing direction word).
  • Thesis Statement does not state the purpose of the essay. Dissect the writing prompt, focusing on the WHAT (the context of the writing topic), the HOW (the   resource text title and author), and the DO (the key writing direction word) to specifically state the purpose of your essay.
  • Thesis Statement does not state the point of view of the essay. Dissect the writing prompt, focusing on to the WHO (the audience and role of the writer), the HOW (the resource text title and author), and the DO (the key writing direction word) to clearly state your specific point of view.
  •  Thesis Statement is too general. Get more specific in your thesis statement. Example: There were lots of causes to the Civil War. Revision: Although many issues contributed to problems between the North and the South, the main cause of the Civil War was slavery.
  • Thesis Statement is too specific. Your thesis statement needs to be a bit broader to be able to respond to the demands of the writing prompt. A good thesis statement is like an umbrella-it must cover the whole subject to be effective. Save the specificity for the body paragraphs.
  • Thesis Statement is inconsequential. The thesis statement must state a purpose or point of view that can be meaningfully developed in the essay.
  • Example: People in France really enjoy their cheese. Revision: The French especially enjoy four types of cheeses.
  • Thesis Statement cannot be argued. An essay designed to convince a reader of the author’s specific point of view must provide a thesis statement that is arguable.      Example: Blue is the best color. Revision: Blue is the best color to complement a bright white background.
  • Split Thesis Statement Don’t write a split (divided) thesis. A split thesis includes two purposes or two points of view. Focus on only one purpose of point of view       throughout the essay. It may be necessary to reference or refute another purpose or point of view in the body paragraphs or conclusion.
  • Thesis Statement responds to only part of the writing prompt. Dissect the writing prompt according to the WHO (the audience and role of the writer), the WHAT (the context of the writing topic), the HOW (the resource text title and author), and the DO (the key writing direction word) and include each part.
Dissect a Writing Prompt

How to Dissect an Essay Writing Prompt

Check out the FREE Download teaching summary of the WHO, WHAT, HOW, and DO strategy for dissecting writing prompts for display and practice.

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