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!


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.


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.


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!

48 Responses

  1. 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:)



  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. 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!


  6. 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.

      • 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    • 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.

  10. 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?

  11. 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.


  12. 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.

  13. I did this with my juniors today and it was great. I chose really thought provoking prompts from the website you recommended. I did it three times and saw the thesis statements improve with each round. This was really engaging and the first time I’ve taught thesis statements in a fun way. Thank you for sharing.

  14. I’m currently in my education clinicals (student teaching with one class), and I’ll be using this activity tomorrow with high school seniors. They struggled with thesis statements, so I’m hoping this will be a fun way to practice!

  15. I love this idea, but after students show some improvement (or even at the beginning of the process), how can students be more in charge of their learning? In other words, I’d love for students to be the ones acting as the Editor and doing the judging. Maybe using a few strong writers of the group be a guest judge and let them lead by example? I don’t want to be gatekeeper forever, and I believe students will and can step up when given the chance. Love the idea. Going to try soon!

    • Absolutely, Jane! Once kids can hear you talk through correcting a few and have a better handle on what a strong thesis statement looks like, they should absolutely be able to give each other feedback!


  16. Can any one give me a feedback about my thesis statement, thank you in advance

    “Although most students have an awareness about basic academic integrity in their previous education; it is significant to students taking a class about academic integrity before they apply college or university because of the increasing number of cheating, plagiarism and academic dishonesty in the higher education”.

  17. […] a sample letter. Letter for Change Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.6.1. Se connecter à Facebook. Thesis Statement Throwdown! Every English teacher has experienced the frustration of introducing a writing skill, like how to […]

  18. This is amazing. Thank you! I’ve been looking for a fun activity to bring the point home with my students. This will definitely help!

  19. Catlin! I did this today with my Grade 10’s and was it ever valuable! I did the edits and each one was a learning opportunity for students. We had a quick discussion about each edit and moved on. The lesson flowed beautifully, and the music was a fun touch. I will definitely get students to do the editing after the first few Thursdays (our bellringer for the day) and have them talk through their edits as well. Great lesson! Thanks for sharing.

    • Yay! I’m so happy to hear that you used this strategy and you all enjoyed it, Wendy!

      Just a heads up…your kids will get good at thesis statements FAST, so be prepared for your throwdown to evolve. We started doing analytical throwdowns with quotes after thesis statements and the “throwdown” format worked well for any type of writing practice. I also started taking song requests from the winning teams which they LOVED 😉


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