Tuesday, October 04, 2011

My Thesis Trick

I have found that students struggle with coming up with a good thesis statement more than I had ever imagined. It is very difficult for them to boil down their entire essay to a sentence or two. I sympathize with this sentiment. I mean, if we can say what we are going to say in one or two sentences, why do we need to write four, five, or twenty pages. Well, because we have to back up our argument, of course. But as a student, I understand the frustration and the anxiety over thesis sentences.

In order to help student come up with a good, solid thesis statement, I have come up with a trick that works quite well in most cases. I usually do not address the thesis until the end. When students tell me this is of particular concern, I reassure them and tell them that we will definitely address that concern, but that we should read the paper first. Then I proceed to reading it.

Once we have gotten through the entire paper, I tell them to imagine they have to tell a friend about what they have written in a way that tells them what they are arguing and why it is significant, but that they only have one or two sentences to do it. Usually, they are able to come up with a pretty good thesis statement this way, and at times they find that the thesis they came up with after this little exercise works better than the thesis they originally had. Other times, they will notice that they did not actually have a thesis at all. After doing this, though, the usually understand not only how to come up with a good thesis sentence for the particular paper we are looking at, but the larger concept of a thesis statement as well.

I am not sure this is the most original trick, and I am sure I am not the only one doing this, but I have found it very useful and the students I have tutored also seem to like this approach. It does not work for everyone, of course, and when it does not, I look for another way to explain the concept. Generally, though, it is really quite effective.


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