Writing a Thesis Statement

Having an effective thesis is an important writing strategy

Background and Standards

Thesis writing is an important skill across all subject areas. There are many misconceptions about thesis statements, including that they just state a topic or that they are opinion-based. According to the Harvard Writing Center, “a good thesis has two parts. It should tell you what you plan to argue, and it should ‘telegraph’ how you plan to argue” (Rodburg, 1999). Furthermore, state education standards support that thesis writing is a skill that all students should master before graduating from high school.

Students are expected to write papers that support a thesis:

1.4.10.B: Write complex informational pieces (e.g. research papers, analytical essays, summaries, descriptive pieces or literary analyses) that:

· Gather evidence in support of a thesis.

· Incorporate and document information and ideas from primary and secondary sources accurately and coherently.

· Anticipate and address readers’ potential misunderstandings, biases, and expectations.

Students have to learn how to be critical of what they read: "Most modern critics of prose fiction...make an important distinction between the fictional scenes, persons, events, and dialogue that a narrator reports or describes and the narrator's own assertions about the world, about human life, or about the human situation; the central, or controlling generalizations of the latter sort are said to be the theme or thesis of a work" (Abrams, 2005, p. 100). Our students need to learn how to create thesis statements in order to make their own claims and support those claims with evidence from their reading.

Example 1: Using a poem to create a thesis

As a large class, read a poem aloud (with a copy printed and in front of students). Using the following steps, help students to create a thesis based on the poem. For purposes of this example, I will use Emily Dickinson's "I'm Nobody! Who are you?"

Step One: Read the poem together (see poem below this example), asking students to underline two key phrases

Step Two: In pairs, have students compare the key phrases they discovered.

Step Three: Have students report out about their findings and decide as a whole class what area to focus on. In the case of this poem, repetition would work well.

Step Four: Pose a question to students: "What is Emily Dickinson hoping to accomplish by repeating the word 'nobody'?"

Step Five: Students journal their answers in order to get their thoughts processing!

Step Six: As a large group, show students how you can develop a thesis based on something as simple as repetition: "Emily Dickinson uses repetition to impress upon her reader the significance of anonymity in life."

(This would also work for form, simile/metaphor, rhythm, etc. within this poem!)

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Example 2: Theme-Based Thesis Statements

After reading a novel, students can develop a thesis that is based on themes. As students read, they discuss themes that the author focuses on. After reading, students could work in groups to discuss themes and identify one that they find to be the most prevalent. A thesis statement that is based on a theme: “(Author’s name) utilizes satire to suggest that a man’s first responsibility is to his society.”

Theme-based thesis statements are a good starting point for students because they are more conceptual. Before beginning this process, classes could view this video either in a large group or as small groups (or even individually!)

Your Challenge:

Using other thesis-appropriate topics (besides theme), how can students develop thesis statements in order to focus their own writing? What digital tools are available to help students to understand the purpose of a thesis statement? How can thesis statements be taught to students who have learning disabilities and struggle with deeper level thinking?

Why are we doing this?

Creating a thesis can be overwhelming for students, but it is a crucial element for successful essay-writing! We have to assist students in their creation of thesis statements by giving them steps to the final product.


Abrams, M. H. (2005). A Glossary of Literary Terms (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Armstrong, N.. Thesis Statements - Web Worksheet. Retrieved February 13, 2016, from https://www4.csudh.edu/Assets/CSUDH-Sites/TLC/docs/thesis-statements-worksheet.pdf

How to Write a Thesis Statement Worksheet Activity. (2015). Retrieved February 16, 2016, from http://www.k12reader.com/worksheet/how-to-write-a-thesis-statement/

Rodburg, M. (1999). Developing A Thesis. Retrieved February 12, 2016, fromhttp://writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu/pages/developing-thesis

Sawyer, J. (2014, November 4). Thesis Statements: Four Steps to a Great Essay | 60secondRecap®. Retrieved February 17, 2016, from www.youtube.com/watch?v=9R0ivCaLtnY