The first time I had students write a thesis, I assumed they knew how to do it. After all, I learned all about the five-paragraph essay myself in middle school in the same school district. To my disappointment, not a single student knew how to write an adequate thesis statement. I realized it was a skill I was going to have to teach myself. After several papers and many years, here are my tips for teaching how to write a thesis statement.
Tips for Teaching How to Write a Thesis Statement #1: Teach Directly
You need a whole lesson around the thesis statement.
It can be ten minutes or a whole class period with note-taking and an activity.
But you have to spend some time directly teaching the thesis statement. You can’t expect students–even seniors in high school–to know what a thesis statement is, its purpose, or where it’s supposed to go.
If you’re teaching an essay writing unit, go ahead and explain the whole essay structure. But make sure you plan some time to specifically touch on the thesis statement and its role.
Don’t have a thesis-specific lesson? Check out my five-paragraph essay mini-lessons here, which include some thesis-specific slides.
Tips for Teaching How to Write a Thesis Statement #2: Explain The Role of a Thesis
I think it’s easy for students to grasp the concept of a thesis. It states what the essay is going to be about. They can get that.
But I think it’s much harder for students to understand how the thesis also guides and outlines the rest of the essay.
By the time they’re writing the conclusion statements for their body paragraphs, they’ve forgotten their own thesis and rarely reference it. Instead of letting their thesis dictate the topic of their body paragraphs, they get stuck trying to come up with something new.
Don’t just tell students what a thesis is. Spend some time showing them how the thesis continues to be referenced in every following paragraph. Show them how the ideas presented in their thesis statement will guide the following paragraphs.
Not sure how? This Unscramble the 5-Paragraph Essay Activity is a great start. Students will have to put the sentences in an essay in order, which can lead to some great discussions about how a strong thesis statement adds clarity to the rest of the essay’s structure.
Tips for Teaching How to Write a Thesis Statement #3: Give Students A Framework
If your students are struggling with writing strong thesis statements, give them a framework.
I know as teachers, it can get really boring to read “W is true because X, Y, Z.” But the structure does work, and it’s a great place for struggling writers to start.
If you’ve used other writing frameworks in class (such as claim, evidence, and reasoning or C-E-R), your students will be familiar with having a structure for their writing. They’ll be familiar with the concept already and a lot more confident producing their own thesis statements.
Tips for Teaching How to Write a Thesis Statement #4: Provide Lots of Examples
As with teaching all new skills, you can never have enough examples.
If your students are writing essays, provide them with examples for the topic they’re covering. But also provide lots of examples for other essay topics.
Give them examples that are both strong and weak, and let them discuss why each is which.
Let them peer-edit one another’s thesis statements.
You can do this in a note-taking style lesson, sit and get discussions, or, my personal favorite, a gallery walk.
If this last idea is interesting to you, check out my Writing Strong Thesis Statements Activity. You’ll place examples of both strong and weak thesis statements around the room. Then, students will have to walk around the room, identifying which statements are strong and which are weak. It’s a great jumping off point for deeper discussions around effective theses.
Tips for Teaching How to Write a Thesis Statement #5: Give Sentence Starters for More Scaffolding
If your students are still struggling, give them sentence starters.
Provide students with the thesis statement itself. Leave a blank for their overall argument and their three supporting reasons (if that’s the structure you expect from them).
Even if your students do alright with writing thesis statements, it might be nice to offer a variety of sentence starters to encourage them to try a new structure for their thesis.
Bonus Tip: Teach the Plural Form
This is a little silly, but I thought I would add it. Teach students that the plural of “thesis” is “theses.”
Every time I use the word “theses” in my classroom, students are tickled by it. I’m not sure why they find the plural version so odd, but it’s an interesting tidbit you can casually share with your students during one of your essay-writing lessons.
Like all good teaching, taking it slow and offering multiple forms of scaffolding is the key to teaching how to write a thesis statement.
If you’re looking for thesis or general essay-writing resources, check out my 5-Paragraph Essay Writing Resources Bundle!