Thesis Statement Throwdown!

Every English teacher has experienced the frustration of introducing a writing skill, like how to write a thesis statement, over and over again without it “sticking.”

Three years ago, I began “flipping” my writing instruction, so students watch videos on my YouTube channel, take Cornell notes, then come prepared to class to do the actual writing. I love this approach to teaching writing! Students can watch my explanations as many times as they need to over the course of the year. Plus, I get to support them as they write in class. (See my post on synchronous editing).

Alas, there are always students who need more practice. That said, I can only read so many essays in a year. Instead of feeling frustrated, I decided to design a fun activity to practice writing thesis statements. This is how thesis statement throwdown was born!

Thesis throwdown is a quirky combination of group collaboration, writing practice, funky music, and competition. Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Write an essay prompt on the board. I vary my questions between informative and argumentative topics. KQED’s Do Now series is an excellent place to grab writing prompts!

Step 2: Put students into small groups and give them 5 minutes to construct a solid thesis statement in response to the essay question. The conversations that take place are incredible!

IMG_8242

Step 3: Randomly select two groups to compete. I don’t tell them ahead of time who will compete in the actual throwdown because I want everyone to give it 100%.

Step 4: As each group writes their thesis statements on separate whiteboard, I play a fun but slightly random song. Our thesis throwdown music list has ranged from “Everybody Dance Now” to “Eye of the Tiger.” My philosophy is that the music keeps everyone interested and entertained while the two groups write their thesis statements on the board.

IMG_8246

Step 5: Once both thesis statements are written on the board, I turn off the music and set to work! I edit each thesis statement and “think out loud” as I work, so students can hear what I am responding to in a positive way–strong vocabulary, parallel language, and clearly stated assertion–and what needs to be added, removed or edited. The more I let them into my process as an editor, the more likely they are to successfully edit their own work.

IMG_8219

Finally, a winner is declared!

The entire activity takes 10 minutes from beginning to end. It’s hard to believe a writing activity can be so much fun, but this is really entertaining if you add the music and just have fun with it.

In the two weeks we’ve done thesis statement throwdown, I am shocked by the improvement in the quality of the thesis statements. It’s worth a try if you are feeling like your students just aren’t delivering quality thesis statements. After all, the thesis is the most important sentence of an essay. We want students to leave our classes confident crafting a strong thesis statement!

 

Creatively Teach the Common Core Literacy Standards with Technology  Available NOW! Just in time for summer reading!

This entry was posted in Learning. Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Thesis Statement Throwdown!

  1. Jeremy says:

    Love it. I’ve actually been struggling with helping my GRE prep students with the essays. Can’t wait to try this out. I don’t use any music in my classes, so I’m sure turning it on will create a memorable moment they’ll associate with the theses for a long time:)

    Thanks!

    Jeremy
    http://stuartmillenglish.com

  2. Pingback: Writing Instruction Ideas | Pearltrees

  3. Pingback: Thesis statements | allforhistoryteachers

  4. Amy Watkins says:

    Love it! What fabulousness do you do to help them write hooks that go beyond the BrainyQuote or “Do you have a hero? I have a hero. Let me tell you about my hero” hooks.

  5. Tammie says:

    I teach seventh grade and I can’t wait to try this with my students.

  6. Ken Fermoye says:

    As a wrter, editor, photojournalist & author for more than 67 years, I applaud this approach to an often-difficult task for novice writers. Way to go, Catlin. Wish I’d had teachers like you back in the 1940s when I was in hight school. – DigitalKen

  7. Pingback: Team Throw Downs | The Bits of Brit

  8. Sara Calvin says:

    I think this is a winning idea for several reasons! First of all, I’m really intrigued by the idea of flipping the writing instruction so that students are doing more of their writing practice in the classroom where the support is available. I would imagine that this would lead to less student frustration and that students are finding themselves better equipped to tackle the roadblocks that occur during writing. I like the fact that this activity asks students to work collaboratively to create thesis statements and build off of each other’s ideas. Also, I really like the fact that the teacher models editing and thinking out loud. This is a great way to show students what you mean, rather than just telling them. Finally, making this activity fun with music and good-natured competition will most likely make for more engaged students. Love the fact that this idea can be adaptable to other mini writing lessons. Thanks for the great idea!

    • Thank you, Sara! Not only do the kids enjoy this activity, but their thesis statements have improved so much in such a short window of time. I also plan to use the same strategy for other mini writing lessons.

      Take care.
      Catlin

  9. Tania says:

    Thank you, Catlin! This is a great way to practice thesis statements. I will try it this fall.

  10. I love this idea. Getting students to write thesis statements and then support those statements with well-crafted topic sentences are the keys to building an argument. It’s a skill the students struggle with but is such a key skill to success in all subjects. A variation to this could be to get another group to edit the students’ thesis statements.

    • Hi Merion,

      My students absolutely love this activity. It got amazing reviews at the end of the year. I’m trying to figure out how to use a similar strategy to analyze textual evidence.

      I hope your kids enjoy it!

      Catlin

  11. Pingback: 5 Most Popular Blog Posts of 2015 |

  12. Tom Tufts says:

    Is there a place where writing prompts are put together without the instructor having to create them? If so, this would be a great help. My urban seventh graders need many, many practice prompts to become adept at creating introductory sentences and thesis statements.

    • Hi Tom,

      I design many of my own writing prompts. I also grab topics from KQED Do Now (http://ww2.kqed.org/education/category/do-now) and the released SAT essay prompts (https://professionals.collegeboard.com/testing/sat-reasoning/prep/essay-prompts). The KQED Do Now topics will be a better fit for your 7th-grade students than the SAT release questions. Many of the KQED Do Now questions lend themselves to argumentative writing.

      Catlin

      • Tom Tufts says:

        Thank you, Catlin! I am a lazy curriculum author looking for an easy way to gather prompts. After thinking about my request, prompts without the context of the article would be kind of useless. I’m in Florida where we had argument tested last year. I have been concentrating on informative this year but have the kids ready for argument just in case. Since text-based writing is new to students, I developed a template for them to follow at the beginning of the year and find them now differentiating their writing from the template.

  13. Pingback: Let’s Have Fun! | Mrs. Lam's Musings

  14. Pingback: Let’s Take a Walk Down My Writing Lane | Mrs. Lam's Musings

  15. Mindi says:

    I did this lesson in my 9th grade classes today, and it went really well. One student requested I play Michael Jackson, and I discovered every single kid likes him, so I went with that. Thanks for the great idea!

  16. Thesis Maker says:

    Sorry, but the nature of a good thesis depends to a great extent on the nature of the assignment–the kind of essay you’re being asked to write.

    If the assignment is to write an argumentative or persuasive essay, the thesis should be a sentence that clearly states your position on the issue you’re writing about.

    If you’re writing an extended definition, a one-sentence formal definition would be a good thesis: “A ____ is a ____ with _____.” (I. e. it should put the thing being defined in its class or category and distinguish it from other members of that class.)

    If you’re writing a process analysis, the thesis should describe the process in one sentence–say whether it’s a simple process or a complex one, or mention the number of steps, or simply say in that one sentence what it does.

  17. Pingback: Dialogue Scoot | wallace english

  18. China Teacher says:

    I might give this a try with my ESL students in China. Getting them to write thesis statements hasn’t been easy, even for the smartest ones. Solid idea. Thanks.

    • China Teacher says:

      Since their first language is not English, I think I’ll probably give them more than 5 minutes to come up with their thesis statements though.

  19. Shannon says:

    Love this and planning on trying it in class tomorrow! Should you see this before then – how do you go about choosing a winner? Do you “judge” the edited or unedited versions of the thesis statements?

  20. Patti Winch says:

    Catlin –

    Love the Thesis Statement Throwdown and would like to share it with our teachers as way to provide feedback. Would it be okay to link to your site in a document that we are sharing with our teachers? It will be in our curriculum repository that is only accessible to teachers in Fairfax County Public Schools. Thank you for your consideration.

    Patti

  21. Jill Knight says:

    Thank you for sharing! I teach AP US History and the students struggle with developing thesis statements. I look forward in using this strategy with my AP kids.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *