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.
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!
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