Lesson Plan on Writing a Thesis Argument (Humanities)*

*Note: this lesson plan is not linked to a particular course, but was developed by Writing at Queens to be easily adapted for any course.  You may view and download all lesson plans in this series or download this lesson plan in .docx format.

Outcome: Students will learn the elements of a strong thesis argument through definition, example, and practice.

Work Completed Before Class: Students should come to class having read an article, a section of a work of literature, a book chapter, or watched a film that they can make claims about.

Sequence of Activities (about 1 hr 15min):

1 (10-15 min) Read aloud Harvey’s definition of a thesis below and discuss what makes a good argument.

2 (15 min) In small groups or individually students should make a list of three possible arguments about the assigned material. Students should be ready to demonstrate how each statement is “true but arguable.”

3 (15-20 min) Students share their results and instructor writes about five findings on the board. Emphasizing the test of “true but arguable,” discuss which arguments are the strongest and which ones have too much description or summary. As a class, pick two to revise together.

4 (20-30 min) Students will work individually towards drafting their own thesis statements for an upcoming essay assignment. After ten minutes, students should share these with a peer for feedback.


Hand-out for students:

“Thesis,” from Gordon Harvey’s “Elements of the Academic Essay” (doc):

A thesis is your main insight or idea about a text or topic, and the main proposition that your essay demonstrates. It should be true but arguable (not obviously or patently true, but one alternative among several), be limited enough in scope to be argued in a short composition and with available evidence, and get to the heart of the text or topic being analyzed (not be peripheral). It should be stated early in some form and at some point recast sharply (not just be implied), and it should govern the whole essay (not disappear in places).

A claim that is not debatable does not qualify as a thesis—for example:

“Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a play about a young man who seeks revenge”.

That doesn’t say anything-it’s basically just a summary and is hardly debatable.

Here is an example of a stronger, more debatable thesis:

“Hamlet experiences internal conflict because he is in love with his mother”.

This is arguable, controversial even. The rest of a paper with this argument as its thesis will be an attempt to show, using specific examples from the text and evidence from scholars, (1) how Hamlet is in love with his mother, (2) why he’s in love with her, and (3) what implications there are for reading the play in this manner.

Posted in Thesis & Argument

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