Learn English Writing
Most ESL students learning to write an English passage have a hard time understanding the purpose of a thesis statement.
Here’s a simple approach: one thesis sentence pattern suitable for intermediate+ level students.
Part 1. What’s a Thesis?
A thesis has a few important features:
- usually one sentence
- tells the reader the main idea
- is the focus of the essay or story
Everything in the story, passage or essay explains and proves the thesis. If someone asks what your essay is about, the best answer is to say the thesis.
Bad Thesis Examples
I asked a group of students to write an essay. The subject was poverty. I gave them a question to start their thinking:
- What is the best way to stop poverty?
Their job was to write the introduction paragraph with a clear thesis sentence. Here are some of their answers.
- “My essay is about poor people.”
- “My essay is about Iran.”
Well, none of these answers are good.
Part 2. How to Write a Thesis Statement
Here is a four-step process to write a thesis sentence using the above example about poverty.
First, choose a narrow topic. Poverty is a big idea. Be specific. So let’s pick an area. Poor villages in Africa is a good start.
Second, find the key parts of the topic. In this case, the question is, “What is the best way to stop poverty in a poor African village?” There are two parts in the question:
- a) stop poverty and b) the best way.
Third, change the two parts into two questions. Here is an example:
- a) how can we stop poverty in a poor African village? and b) why is it the best way?
Fourth, create a thesis by answering each of these questions in one sentence. I suggest a sentence pattern like this:
- HOW (your idea about what to do) because WHY (the benefit or reason)
Two possible thesis sentences:
- Donating money to World Vision is a great way to stop poverty in poor African villages because this organization helps children by giving them food, clothing and shelter.
- Helping people in poor African villages start their own businesses is a good way to stop poverty because it builds independence, creates wealth that stays in the local communities and reduces their need for donations from charities.
In each thesis sentence, we have described two parts:
- the way to stop poverty
- why it is a good idea
Part 3 Practice the Sentence Pattern
Here are a few practice questions. Download the worksheet here and try writing some thesis sentences.
Ask students to chose one of the thesis sentences from the worksheet and write a 3 to 5 paragraph essay or story.
Part 4. More Practice
Another writing activity to apply this knowledge. Here’s the task.
- Watch the video below.
- Work with a partner to brainstorm a thesis. Use the sentence pattern described above.
- Think about reasons, evidence and details.
- Make notes.
- Individually, write a 1 to 2 page story or essay with a clear thesis plus reasons, examples and details.
- Be sure to include a paragraph or two which describes your response. Do you agree with the thesis in the video?
blind from YUKIHIRO SHODA on Vimeo.
a Decade from Treehouse Studio on Vimeo.
Most Shocking Second A Day Video
Thesis and Introduction Worksheet
Your thesis should...
... make an argument regarding your topic
- represents both a source of comfort and the threat of banality" is a thesis.
... consist of a strong statement
- -Weak value judgments like "interesting," "good," "bad," or "nice" are too vague to make for an effective thesis.
- -Your thesis should argue a point that is neither generally accepted (Shakespeare was a genius) nor self-evident (Hemingway writes simply).
- -Your thesis should not be too broad for the length of the paper. You cannot argue that "No love story of the twentieth century compares in intensity to Nabokov's
- " in four pages. However, a paper of that length probably could effectively assert that "The novel
- blurs the line between tenderness and violence."
Sample Thesis Statements
There are many similarities and differences between Humbert Humbert and Clare Quilty.
Throughout history, men have written about lusting after women; Lolita is no exception.
Morality is not the issue in Lolita; artistry is.
Lolita is a novel about America.
Lolita is a novel about the corruption of America.
In Lolita, the corruption of America merely provides a convenient cover-up for Humbert Humbert's personal perversion.
Lolita is an interesting novel, although the narrator, Humbert Humbert, is evil.
Love is dead in the twentieth century novel.
Although World War II is never mentioned in Lolita, its influence on American society motivates the novel.
Your introduction should...
... lay the logical foundation for your paper.
- -present relevant concepts and define key terms. E.g. a paper on love and passion in
- should begin with an explanation of the distinction between the two terms.
- -introduce your thesis. You don't have to give all your ideas away right at the beginning -- in fact, it's often more effective to save your conclusive point till the end -- but you must, at the very least, sketch the parameters of the question. What is it you plan to argue or prove in the paper?
... hook your reader.
- -know what you're trying to argue. Have a thesis.
- -write succinctly and specifically. Say what your argument is and what steps you're going to take to prove it.
- -use a key quotation. This does not have to be from the text on which you are writing. Cite it, unpack it, explain why it is relevant, and use it to formulate your thesis. Be sure the quotation is central to your argument and avoid cliches (e.g. "Love is blind").
- n.b. a quote from another source that begins a text is called an epigraph.
- -begin with a rhetorical question. The question should not be gratuitous, but should suggest to your reader the terms or the implications of the debate.
- -use creative writing techniques. Describe a particularly pertinent scene or situation from the text, emphasizing themes, images, etc. that will support your point. Be careful with this strategy. You rarely get mediocre results: your intro will turn out to be either splendid or abysmal.
- -give the larger context on which your thesis draws (but avoid generalization).
- Acceptable: Recent media attention to the murders of Megan Kanka and Jon Benet Ramsey has heightened public awareness about child sexual abuse. Thus the controversy over the new film version of Lolita has proved timely.
- Unacceptable: Child sexual abuse has always been a moral issue in the United States.
- -define a key term. E.g. Passion is fundamentally a self-centered emotion.
There are many similarities and differences between the characters of Humbert Humbert and Clare Quilty. By examining these similarities and differences, several important ideas can be seen. Both characters are obsessive and paranoid, but Quilty is more successful than Humbert.
Throughout history, men have written about lusting after women. In the novel "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov, the main character is seduced by a nymphet, Dolores Haze. He has always been attracted to nymphets due to a traumatic experience with his first love, Annabel, when he was young himself. After Lolita's mother dies, he has her all to himself, and they take two trips across the country, staying in motels and sightseeing. In the end, he is deceived by Lolita, who runs away with Quilty and later gets pregnant and marries someone else. This demonstrates how love is always doomed to failure, since his possession of her was always an illusion.
In his essay "On a Book Entitled Lolita," Vladimir Nabokov writes that his novel has "no moral in tow" (314). Regardless of whether we agree with Nabokov, reducing Lolita to a discussion of moral issues misses the point. Lolita is a work of fiction and must be treated as such. The first few pages of the novel establish this point beyond the shadow of a doubt by alluding to such literary predecessors as Poe, Merimee, Dante, Proust, and Keats. Without understanding these allusions, the novel itself cannot be understood.
Is Lolita a love story? Answering this question in the affirmative requires a redefinition of the term "love." After all, Humbert Humbert causes more misery than joy to the object of his affections. Lolita's suffering, both mental and physical, is apparent throughout the novel. And yet Humbert's obsession with her goes beyond mere lust or passion. He is both tender and constant in his affections. As a close examination of the end of the novel will show, Humbert Humbert is a lover as well as a rapist.