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Making A Thesis Statement From A Prompt

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Rework the Prompt to Serve as an Introduction

QUESTION: How can I prepare students to write an introduction to an extended-response prompt?

ANSWER: An extended reading response requires a 3-5 paragraph essay. This merits a longer introductory paragraph that identifies the purpose, addresses the topic, and includes a thesis statement. You can show students how to build an introduction using the sentences of the original prompt. Target your explicit instruction in four areas:

Repurpose the background information.

Reveal a sample prompt and point out the first sentence or two. Explain that this part of the prompt is often background information about the topic in general and can be repurposed as the first sentences of their introduction. Those sentences provide context for the rest of the essay.

When this background information identifies the texts that were read, students should plan to repeat the titles within their introductory paragraphs, too. For example, After reading the quotation by Theodore Roosevelt and the excerpt from The School Book of Forestry…

State the thesis.

Now comes the opinion or thesis statement that answers the prompt question. Again, model how to simply reword the task as it's stated in the prompt. For example, Planting trees is the best project for our school to adopt.

Be sure students also introduce their reasons for this claim. They could do this by simply adding for three reasons at the end of this thesis statement. Or, they could insert a colon and list their three reasons. Any one of these options identifies the organizational structure for the remaining body paragraphs.

Adjust pronouns & verbs.

Throughout the process, show students how to adjust the pronouns and verb tenses to create an appropriate perspective and timeframe.

Omit “Be sure to include” information.

In addition to revealing how to reuse much of the original prompt, also identify what needs to be omitted. Strikethrough all directions about citing evidence, about referencing the articles provided, about utilizing correct grammar and punctuation, etc. None of this explanatory information should be included in their introductions.

Although these four steps may not craft a WOW! introduction, they will support students in generating a solid opening. For many, that’s what they need—an alternative to This essay will be about…

NOTE: This strategy is for informative, persuasive, or argumentative responses. It is not appropriate for narrative writing prompts. Those introductions require students to start with characters in a setting with a problem.

Brainstorming Topics

Brainstorming thesis statement topics. Write key words or topics that are interesting to you.

culture | marriage | language | flirtatiousness | darkness

To get into the essay writing quickly, and with as little panic and procrastination as possible, I like to shut out the critical voice and let my intuition guide me in the brainstorming process. No one cares at this point if you come up with a "great" idea. In fact, your whole essay doesn't have to be built on a revolutionary concept to be great. Essays are inspiring when they're written with passion, no matter how basic the idea. You will always have some new and crucial insight to offer a reader simply by giving your own perspective to a matter. So during the brainstorm session, just write out whatever comes to you.

Your potential topics should be statements of fact, as in: "there is a lack of darkness in pride and prejudice" 

or questions like, "how does P & P deviate from or adhere to the traditional structure of a marriage plot?"

Once you have several potential topics, you need to answer the most important question of your paper.

Why does it matter? You need to point out to the reader why my topic is significant. Why does it matter that there 's a lack of darkness in P & P? What does that do to the story? How does it affect the reader? What would the story be like if there were more darkness present in the novel and negative consequences for the characters?

Elements of a Complex Thesis Statement

Your thesis needs to address four things:

  • Identify your main argument
  • Answer the "so what?" or, "why does this matter?" "Why should I care?"
  • FOCUS
  • Direction - where do you go from here? this should be gestured at in your thesis.

And it consists of three parts:

1. Your claim. A statement of fact. (ie Biblical influences are evident in Cormac McCarthy's The Road)

2. What is the effect? What does it do or what doesn't it do specifically? (ie Cormac McCarthy's The Road reverses the Biblical tale of the Garden of Eden.)

3. Why is that significant? What is the consequence? (ie Cormac McCarthy's The Road reverses the Biblical tale of the Garden of Eden to create a new mythology for a post-apocalyptic world. -- this isn't quite there as a thesis yet, you'll notice, it's not quite presenting "an argument" and the "so what" isn't as strong. A later revision might look like: "McCarthy uses the Biblical tale of The Garden of Eden as a model for the post-apocalyptic world of TheRoad, impressing upon the reader a sense of the mythic while writing a story that is unequivocally human." The revision comes after more research is done, so you can really hone in on a topic that's supported by adequate evidence.

So for now, just come up with a "workable" thesis and leave the revision until later.

To clarify:

#1 Makes a simple statement, #2 adds specificity and a precise verb to describe the action, and #3 adds a reason or a this means that...statement.

Your job is to hone in. Pare down everything to the most basic form so that you can get specific.

Using Your Secondary Sources to Refine Your Thesis

At this stage you'll need to mark up your secondary text (or texts) first, as they'll guide you in your re-reading of the primary text.

Pro tip: I STRONGLY suggest you type your quotes in a document. Re-writing these quotes gives you a deeper understanding of what they're saying. No copy and paste. Write it out - paragraphs even, more than you'll need. You'll thank me later. (And you're doing half of your work at this stage = less to do later!)

After taking notes, you should have a pretty good idea of where your focus has led you. The things you found interesting and relevant should, at this point, be hedging you in a very specific direction.

Once you pull quotes from the primary text you should have a pretty clear conception of the effect and the importance, both from your own thoughts you generated when selecting specific quotes, and from the work of the authors of your secondary texts.

Once you've assembled the variables, you plug them into the handy thesis formula above and voilà, you're ready to get writing the rest of your paper!

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