Tutoring the Thesis Statement

Tutoring the Thesis Statement

by Alli Tharp

A caveat: there are MANY ways of tutoring the thesis statement, and this handout only details a few. The more you work with thesis statements, the more you can feel out what makes most sense to YOU.

Students come in to the center in various stages of drafting an essay, but one of the most common concerns you will encounter in most stages is that of the THESIS STATEMENT, which terrifies students to an insane degree.

Always read the assignment sheet to find out what type of thesis statement the paper is asking for (informative, argumentative, etc.)

Two helpful strategies to try out:

  1. Teaching through modeling: This is for those students who really have no idea what a thesis statement is; your goal is to teach them. Here is one way that works for me: the fact, opinion, argument progression. I start with something simple based on what they are working on, so let’s say they are in to write an argumentative research paper on college education.
    1. First, I’ll put forth a fact: some students choose to go to college after graduating high school.
    2. Next, I’ll create an opinion: I think students should go to college after graduating high school.
      1. At this point, I will show how someone could NOT logically argue against either of these statements (a key feature of a thesis statement). The first is an undisputable fact, and the only way to argue against the second is to say “no, you don’t think that,” which would create a very unproductive argument.
    3. Finally, I’ll show how that opinion can become a thesis statement by removing the “I think” and adding a “why”: All students should go to college because it will allow them to become more well-rounded, rational citizens.
  1. Leading Questions and Note Taking: This is for the student that just doesn’t know what to say. By asking a series of questions and writing down the student’s answers, I can help the student to determine what they want to argue. Let’s say the student is working on a paper about Othello:
    1. What is Othello?
      1. Othello is a play by William Shakespeare [fact]
    2. Do you like it?
      1. Yeah I really liked it [opinion]
    3. Why do you like it?
      1. The characters seem really real [moving toward argument]
    4. So what?
      1. It makes the play more believable and interesting [when paired with #3, a persuasive argument]

What we’ve done here is shown how we can move from a fact to an opinion to an argument and finally to an argument that can make a convincing paper. AND, if you write down the student’s answers as you go, and then label it afterward, they have a surefire way of creating a thesis statement that they can take home with them.


~Pre-stage: the student who does not understand what the assignment is asking—not really a session about thesis statements~

Stage 1: They understand the assignment, but don’t know what they want to say about it.

– This will primarily be a brainstorming session, and the best thing you can do is to be the questioner and the note taker.

The goal: get the student to vocalize what they want to say.

The process: use the “Leading questions and note taking” strategy, and then, using the “teaching through modeling,” show the        student how they came up with their thesis statement

Stage 2: They understand the assignment, know what they want to say, but don’t know HOW to say it.

-This is also a brainstorming session, but it is much more concentrated.

The goal: Help student turn their opinions into an arguable statement

The process: use the “leading questions and note taking,” but focus more on step three—explain why a thesis statement is stronger with a “so what?”

Stage 3: They think they have a pretty awesome thesis statement (but don’t really)

The goal: get students to question their thesis, and see it in a new light.

The process: Use the “teaching through modeling” strategy with a simple but related thesis statement

Stage 4: They have a decent thesis statement, but don’t know where to go.

-This is primarily an outlining session

The goal: get students to envision their “evidence.”

The process: Break the thesis statement into its various pieces so that the student sees what they need to do to prove it

-So with the above thesis, The reality of the characters in Othello make the play believable and interesting, the student would have to both prove that the characters are real, and prove how this makes the play believable, etc.

Stage 5: They have a whole essay, but their “evidence” does not prove their thesis statement.

The goal: get student prepared to revise the essay

The process: read through the essay with the student and determine the best course of action: change the evidence (harder) or change the thesis statement (easier)


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