By Sarah Tantillo
It amazes me that anyone can write an entire essay without a thesis. But I’ve seen it done. I think this is why so many students hate to write. They pour hours and hours into pages and pages, only to be told that what they’ve written is unacceptable. After all that effort? Unacceptable? Sadly, yes. An essay without a thesis might have half a dozen great ideas in it, but without an organizing principle, it doesn’t hold together.
Thesis brainstorming and organizing
Our job is to spare students (and frankly ourselves) this agony by coaching them on how to write an effective thesis. The solution is to give students practice and not let them go any further until they’ve generated a viable thesis.
Once they’ve got it, then they can move on to the rest of the piece. Otherwise, you’ll need to spend more time conferencing with them. Eventually, with enough practice, they’ll get the hang of it.
Although there are numerous ways to arrive at a thesis, it helps to have a systematic approach to start with. Here’s one for an essay based on a text —
Once students have pinned down a message/argument they want to focus on, they can craft a thesis. If they are writing about a work of literature, they should include the title, author, and specific aspect(s) of the book that convey this message.
Here are some sample theses based on the novel The Street by Ann Petry:
- In The Street, Ann Petry highlights the conflicts that Lutie has with Boots, Johnson, and Jim to show the difficulty that women, both married and single, have in constructing a life for themselves.
- In The Street, Ann Petry’s characterization of Mr. and Mrs. Chandler underscores the subtle yet pervasive racism that plagues the whole African-American community.
Once the thesis is in place, students can map out the rest of the essay. Here is a completed model of the “Unpacking Your Thesis Organizer” found on The Literacy Cookbook website’s “Writing 101” page, using Zora Neale Hurston’s famous novel.
THESIS/Argument Statement: In Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Janie, the main character, searches for equality and independence, and she learns some important lessons along the way.
This organizer can be adapted to suit other genres as well. The key is to model how to ask compelling questions because questions drive the writing process from three angles:
- Good questions enable writers to build strong arguments.
- Good questions help writers to look for and find useful evidence.
- Writers must ask good questions in order to analyze and support their arguments.
Initially, you’ll have to provide the questions. Then you can remove the training wheels and let students generate their own. No matter what you’re doing, you should begin by providing a model of what you’re looking for.
Sarah Tantillo is a literacy consultant who taught secondary school English and Humanities in both suburban and urban public schools for fourteen years, including seven years at the high-performing North Star Academy Charter School of Newark. She’s the author of The Literacy Cookbook and offers professional development help at her blog of the same name.
One of the main challenges of parenting is awakening the child’s desire to learn, explore, discover, and express. Sure, we can leave the education part to the teachers and the iPad, but is that the right solution? No! Sometimes, parents have to interfere. It’s their job to be the first teachers their children will ever have.
As your children make progress through different educational levels, they will be expected to write. A lot! College and university, in particular, are heavily linked to academic writing. Your kid will have to write essays, research papers, term papers, and, hopefully, an entire dissertation. The first challenge is an essay.
The teacher assigns an essay with broad guidelines, and your little student is expected to deliver a masterful piece by a precise deadline. You’ll probably face a very frustrated child at this point. Your kid is supposed to write an entire paper, but no one taught them how to do that. Maybe they were writing short stories before, but an essay is a whole other thing. How do you help them write a perfect paper? There are 5 steps to success.
Practice, practice, practice!
A professor of education at Arizona State University reviewed around 250 studies on how to help students develop writing skills. Professor Steve Graham was trying to answer the age-old question: is it best to leave students to learn writing naturally, or do they achieve better results when they get instructions? He found that effective practices do help with the progress. Here’s the first tip he gives: spend more time writing.
The writing practice is not applied in the classroom. Teachers may give brief exercises, but what they prefer doing is using the classroom time for lessons and leaving the practice part as a homework activity. So, you’re in charge of that part of your kid’s education.
If you want your kid to write great essays, you need to motivate them to write a lot. Think of a theme of the day. What did they learn today? Did they learn about the solar system? Set a topic: “If you could visit any planet, which one would you choose? How do you imagine life there?” The following day, set a realistic topic: “Do research on Africa. Write about the way animals live there.”
Make sure these topics are interesting for your kid.
An essay usually consists of 5 paragraphs: an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Teachers usually explain what each paragraph is supposed to contain when assigning the first essay to the class. However, sometimes they forget to provide examples, so the students have no idea how the actual paper would look like.
At the website of any essay writing service, you’ll find great guidelines and samples of various types of papers. Give few of them to your kid to read, and help them envision what a proper essay looks like.
Use Pinterest to organize resources
Pinterest is a really fun tool for creating visual material you find on the web. Parents like using it for collecting parenting tips, home decor ideas, photos of beautiful clothes, and much more. Now, you can start creating special boards for your kid’s essays.
The essay writing process starts with good research. Before your child can write a paper on a topic, they need to learn something about it. They won’t be able to memorize all information they read online. Moreover, they will need to save the resources, so they can reference them in the paper. That’s why Pinterest is a great tool to use during this stage. Whenever you find an interesting source of information, pin it in the relevant board.
Once your kid is inspired enough through the online material you both located, they can proceed to the following stage.
Brainstorm and plan
One of the main requirements for an essay is cohesion. If you assign a topic and let your kid write whatever comes to his or her mind, you’ll end up reading a disconnected essay that the teacher won’t like. That’s why it’s important to start the process with brainstorming and planning.
- MindMeister is one of the most effective online brainstorming tools. If your kid is not that good at using the computer, you can create the map as he or she comes up with ideas. The mind maps created with this tool are highly visual, and they help the user find connections between the arguments.
- When the writer-to-be gets the main ideas through the brainstorming process, it’s time for planning. Essay Map is a great tool that helps fit those ideas in a proper essay structure. It asks the writer to create a few sentences for each section of the paper, and then it offers a map for the essay. After that, it will be really easy to connect the dots and write the actual paper.
Let them use the tablet
Does your kid think that the tablet is much more fun than plain pen-and-paper? That’s okay. We’re dealing with tech generation, after all. You can use your child’s preference for technology to inspire him or her to write. Byword is a great text editor for iPad. It makes the process of writing clean and simple, and it has a neat markdown feature.
To make the essay writing process more fun, you can use Bamboo Paper – an app that simulates the process of writing with a real pen on a real paper.
Beware: the process won’t be easy. Your kid will likely show some resistance to essay writing. What’s the best method to fight resistance? Persistence! Inspire your kid to practice more, but think of more amusing topics every time. When you manage to turn writing into a daily routine, the success will be inevitable.
Karen Dikson is a teacher and a writer from New Jersey. Her works have been published on Huffington Post and other well-known educational resources. She loves to help her students succeed and achieve their goals. Connect with Karen on Twitter
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