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Kendall

Help with writing thesis statements for comparison essays

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I am always struggling with teaching writing. The hardest thing for me is the thesis statement. And the next is being sure that everything in the essay supports the thesis statement.

My 10th and 11th grader’s both wrote comparison essays. I suspect that the 11th grader will get a good grade on hers(online class), but I just don’t think either of them have a good thesis. (and I doubt the online teacher will comment on the thesis. We’ll see) The 10th grader is just doing writing with me.

 

My 11th grader compared something from two novels, Wives and Daughters by Gaskell and Pride and Prejudice.

Her thesis is:  “Although Elizabeth and Molly both have bad first impressions of the main male character in their life, both impressions improve as the story progresses, and both relationships have obstacles to overcome.â€

 

Is this an acceptable type thesis at any grade level (and which grades) and should it be better for high school and what about college writing? I find myself asking, “So What?†after I read her thesis.

 

My 10th grader is writing about The Importance of Being Earnest.

 

Her three points are that Algy and Jack are both higher class gentlemen, both practice bunburying, and both end up assuming the name of Earnest.

She had this as an introduction but no strong thesis statement. I was going to help her with a thesis statement but I'm stuck.

“In The Importance of Being Earnest, two friends find themselves in the same situation. Their actions are always almost mirror images of the other’s. They are more alike than they knew.â€

 

I have read some books on writing that I have at home(and will read more today) and some internet/ sources. 

 

One of the internet sources I thought gave bad instruction, but what do I know? The other looked helpful, but if that is the direction they need to go I’m not sure how to get them there with their current comparisons.

 

First source: 

Here are three sample thesis sentences from the first source that I suspect is not good instruction. https://www.press.umich.edu/pdf/0472031937-templates.pdf

The similarities between R-rated movies and PG-rated movies are pronounced, and they merit rigorous scrutiny.

Despite bearing some minor similarities, the differences between Pele and Ronaldinho are pronounced.

While some differences between high school and college are evident, the similarities are striking.

 

Second source:

https://pa01001022.schoolwires.net/cms/lib6/PA01001022/Centricity/ModuleInstance/2081/How_to_Write_a_Compare_Contrast_Thesis.pdf

The source gives these three thesis statements and categories them by quality.

Bad: Judaism and Christianity were similar in some ways but different in others.

Better: Judaism and Christianity were similar in origin but different in practice.

Best: While both Judaism and Christianity are Abrahamic religions sprung from the same cultural hearth, they have diverged in their practices of the faith, recognition of religious cannon, and the divinity of Jesus Christ.

 

So to sum up my rambling post

Should their thesis statements be improved and if so how?

Thanks,

Kendall

 

 

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You’re right, that quote from the first source is terrible. Those are not thesis statements.

 

The main problem I see with the first dc’s thesis statement is that as a sentence, the last clause of the sentence (“both relationships have obstacles to overcomeâ€) does not logically follow what comes before it. The rest of the sentence sounds like it could introduce a supporting point for a thesis, but not be the thesis. She needs to tie up the ideas of impressions AND obstacles into an overarching idea of how the two protagonists compare. (I don’t know if that would be the best essay idea for this assignment. I haven’t read the Gaskell book, and tying together impressions and obstacles might not work. I am just talking about the logical ordering of the sentence).

 

For the second one, while not knowing exactly what would be written about each point, I think one issue might be that the comparisons are too shallow. The fact that they take the same name provides the title and the humorous premise for the whole play. So saying they both take the same name is a bit too facile without getting into what that means for the characters. Saying they are both aristocratic may also be too close to the surface. What can one really say *about* that, and how does that tie into her theme? I would have my child make a list of specific behaviors and character traits, not just generally but also episodes from the work, and them try to find something that ties the similarities together. A thesis might argue, for example, that because the two characters are ——-, they have certain similarities. Or, although they appear to be different in x and y, they are more similar than different as evidenced by a,b,c (or the inverse).

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Agreed that the first internet source examples are cruddy thesis statements. I like the second one.

 

I think the 11th grader's thesis is much better than the 10th grader's. However, it's still not that specific. Specificity is always better. And I agree with Penelope that her final point about obstacles doesn't follow from her earlier points. Overall, I think it's just not that interesting a thesis statement. I don't know much about Wives and Daughters... but it sounds like essentially she's just saying these two characters follow the same arc of emotions about their love interests. Okay. It's so hard for literary analysis to really come to life at this age though, so it's not the worst thing - I would think of it more as for the next assignment to try and be sure it's something that has the potential to hook the reader more.

 

For the 10th grader's. Yeah, there's no clear thesis there. The middle sentence that they're mirror images is sort of a weak thesis, so you could go from there. Back when I was school teaching though, this is the sort of paper where I would have rudely scrawled "THESIS???" at the bottom of the introduction with a minus sign for how much the thesis was worth on the rubric. Her actual argument is more interesting to me mostly because Algy and Jack are supposed to be foils. Her argument is that they're actually more alike than different. That's an interesting argument to me because it's a little different but has plenty of support. She just needs to craft that thesis statement. While great thesis statements aren't typically formulaic, it's okay to learn by following a model if it doesn't come naturally. Algy and Jack are more alike than different because reason one, reason two, and reason three.

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In my Windows to the World TG, there's two pages: Forming the Thesis Statement and a Thesis Template.

If you'd be interested, you could PM your email address to me and I'll scan these pages to you so you may check them to see if they would help.

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The thesis statement is basically your entire essay in one sentence. 

 

I would not use the first internet source. The examples don't tell you what the paper is going to be about. They could be decent introductory sentences, but they are not thesis statements.

 

So, the first example is:  "The similarities between R-rated movies and PG-rated movies are pronounced, and they merit rigorous scrutiny." There is no indication as to which direction the paper will take. It would be better to say something like "R-rated and PG-rated movies merit rigorous scrutiny because they may contain profanity, violence, and sexual situations." Now you know exactly what is going to be discussed. 

 

The 10th grader statement is "In The Importance of Being Earnest, two friends find themselves in the same situation. Their actions are always almost mirror images of the other’s. They are more alike than they knew.â€

 

This is not a thesis statement. It is the beginning of the introductory paragraph. The text above does not say anything about what the situation is, who the friends are, what the actions are, why they mirror each other, how they are alike, why they are not aware that they are alike, and why it should matter. This is too broad. Pretend that the reader has never heard of the work, has no clue of the plot, and the only exposure they will have is through the paper in front of them.

 

It would better with something like "The protagonists of The Importance of Being Earnest, Jack and Algernon, have many similarities. They each use an invented persona, become engaged to a young lady under false pretenses, and finally discover family ties. " (This is not very good, but it should give you an idea). We now have 3 specific things to discuss. For each item, describe the appropriate plot section, and then explain how the two are similar. Then, in the conclusion basically restate the thesis.

 

Edited by RosemaryAndThyme

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One way to ensure that the thesis statement is supported by the paper is to write it last.

 

Start with the body. Pick 3 things (or however many) you are going to write about. Create an outline with those 3 things as top level. For each of the 3 things, write 3 (or more if you want) supporting ideas. You don't have to use full sentences. If this is a research paper, do some research on at least one of the supporting idea for each thing. Write the body of the paper, using the supporting ideas and researched notes (remember your citations and references!). Write the conclusion. Then, go back and write the intro and thesis. It is pretty much going to be guaranteed to match.

 

Like this:

 

Dogs.

 

1. Dogs make good companion animals

2. Dogs help people stay in shape

3. Dog ownership helps people reduce stress

 

 

1. Dogs make companion animals

   a -  dogs are sociable

   b - dogs bond with humans

   c - dogs have long life spans

 

2. Dogs help people stay in shape

    a - people have to walk dogs

     b -

     c -

 

etc.

 

 

1. Dogs make companion animals

   a -  dogs are sociable

      source: https://www.merckvetmanual.com/behavior/normal-social-behavior-and-behavioral-problems-of-domestic-animals/social-behavior-of-dogs

   b - dogs bond with humans

    source:   https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-beast/200904/why-are-humans-and-dogs-so-good-living-together

   c - dogs have long life spans

 

2. Dogs help people stay in shape

    a - people have to walk dogs

     b -

     c -

 

etc.

 

Conclusion: Evidence suggests that dogs are great pets because they are sociable, help people stay in shape, and reduce overall stress in their owners.

 

Then you take the conclusion, make it sound a little different with the same main points, and make the thesis statement. Finally, add a few introductory sentences to start the topic. Done.

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by RosemaryAndThyme

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A thesis sentence requires 3 parts:

- topic (overall subject of the paper -- a statement of fact)

- claim (your position, "take", or "big idea" about the topic -- a persuasive opinion)

- direction (the major points of the essay body -- the argument built to support the persuasive opinion)

 

And, you're right: with a comparison essay, always there needs to be a claim, an opinion, an answer to the question "so what". When you compare things, you come to an *opinion* ("big idea", argument, claim, position) *as a result of* the comparison. What I see with my co-op class students is that they do a comparison, see that there are more check marks in one column than the other, and so they think the claim of the thesis statement is: "there are more similarities than dissimilarities." lol.

 

That is NOT really a claim. A claim is a thought or conclusion that goes beyond just seeing that 2 things are "more alike" or "more unalike". A claim states "as a result of these similarities (or dissimilarities) I learned / realized/came to the opinion of _______." Or, "as a result similarities/dissimilarities in the comparison, _____________ was revealed."

 

In the case of a literary analysis essay (such as your DDs' two essays), you discuss specific literary elements (theme, imagery, metaphor, conflict, mood, dialogue, etc.) as part of the essay, even when it is a comparison.

_________________________

 

re: DD 11th grade:

In her thesis statement, I see a topic, and possibly some incomplete/very general direction, but no claim and no specific direction. What I see here is a danger of just "retelling" the story rather than analyzing the story. This is a common error that many of my students fall in to when they are new to the idea of coming up with a claim and having to build an argument of support for it in the context of literature.

 

(BTW, while a literary analysis essay is a type of persuasive essay, it is very different than the typical persuasive argumentative essay when it comes to the thesis statement. An argumentative essay usually takes a pro or con stand on something and builds an argument of support around it. A literary analysis essay opinion is really an observation the reader sees in the text, and then uses examples from the text to support their opinion that, yes, that observation falls in the ballpark of possible because of the textual support. As a result,  I find that it doesn't tend to work very well to try and use as an example a thesis statement for an argumentative essay, to help build a thesis statement for a literary analysis essay. JMO! :) )

 

There are many ways she could go with this, but here's one example,  with black = DD's original material, blue - suggested added material, red = identifies the 3 parts of the thesis statement, and appears right after each part appears in the thesis statement:

 

"The novels Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, and Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell, both have female characters who have bad first impressions of the main male characters in their lives . Through dialogue and the characters' choices in overcoming obstacles [direction], both authors cause their heroines, Elizabeth and Molly, respectively, to develop in character [___in some specific way___] as they change their initial opinions [claim].

 

So in this case:

- topic = two characters in two different novels by two different authors 

- claim = undergo a similar sort of change [__in some specific way__]

- direction = which is seen through the use of dialogue and characters' choices

 

(Notice how if you read the 3 parts of the above all together, they make a thesis statement sentence?! :) )

 

So for each of the 2 points in the direction, your DD:

- should develop 2-3 paragraphs in the body of the essay

- using several specific examples from the text in each paragraph to support that point

- and for each example, write a sentence of commentary to show how/why that example supports that point

- and then end the paragraph with a sentence of commentary that explains how the point of that paragraph proves the overall claim (the characters changed in __some specific way__)

_________________________

 

re: DD 10th grade:

In her thesis statement, I see a topic and direction, but no claim.

 

Just one of many ways of revising: in this case, the claim might be "makes use of irony", or "creates humor". Here's  for example (black = DD's original material, blue - suggested added material, red = identifies the 3 parts of the thesis statement, and appears right after each part appears in the 2-sentence thesis statement (and yes, it is perfectly fine for a thesis statement to take more than 1 sentence. :) ):

 

“In The Importance of Being Earnest, two friends who thought they were very different from one another, ironically find themselves in the same situation and discover that they are more alike than they knew.  Through almost mirror-like words and positions as higher class gentlemen, and actions in the practice of bunburying, as well as the situations that result from both characters assuming the name of Earnest [direction], author Oscar Wilde creates humor [claim].

 

So in this case:

- topic = two characters who thought they were different realize they are the same;

- claim = the unexpected similarities creates humor

- direction = through their words and positions as higher class gentlemen; action of bunburying; and situations that result from both using the name Earnest

 

(Again, see how reading the 3 parts of the above all together makes a thesis statement sentence.  :) )

 

So for each of the 3 points in the direction, your DD will:

- develop at least 1 full paragraph in the body of the essay

- using several specific examples from the text to support that point

- and for each example, write a sentence of commentary to show how/why that example supports that point

- and then end the paragraph with a sentence of commentary that explains how the point of that paragraph proves the overall claim (unexpected similarities create humor)

Edited by Lori D.
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Thank you so much everyone. I've read everything twice and am hoping for time tonight to really study it.  I found this quote in A Short Guide to Writing About Literature in the comparison essay chapter. "In making a comparison...do not simply list similarities and differences, make a point." Which is what Lori and several others of you are saying. The book then went on to give little to no help on how to get to a claim. But you all have been more helpful. I feel like I almost have a grasp on it.

 

I do have the Windows to the World book, BTW and will pull it out. 

 

 The thesis sentence that just lists say three comparisons and doesn't make a point, would that be appropriate for younger than high school? Would that be a good starting point for upper grade school/middle school or should I teach them to make a point, too. (Once I figure out how to teach the older ones and myself to make a point!)  I think we need more discussion about their topic before figuring out a thesis statement.

 

Thank you all!

Kendall 

 

 

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The thesis sentence that just lists say three comparisons and doesn't make a point, would that be appropriate for younger than high school? Would that be a good starting point for upper grade school/middle school or should I teach them to make a point, too. (Once I figure out how to teach the older ones and myself to make a point!)  I think we need more discussion about their topic before figuring out a thesis statement...

 

Longer answer:

 

Just me, but a comparison essay and thesis statement that doesn't "make a point" as you say, is never appropriate -- for younger ages or high school. At least, it would not fly in my high school OR middle school Lit. & Comp co-op classes. The whole idea is that the thesis statement:

1. tells what the overall subject of the essay is

   (persuasive argumentative essay thesis topic: what is the best kind of pet)

   (literary analysis essay theis topic: one of the characters in a particular book)

2. tells what is the specific "claim" or "opinion" or "big idea" (as you call it, "your point") ABOUT that subject

   (persuasive argumentative essay thesis claim: dogs are the best pet)

   (literary analysis essay thesis claim: the character changed)

3. tells the direction (major points) the essay will cover which build an argument of support about your claim (as you call it "your point")

    (persuasive argumentative essay thesis direction: dogs are loving, trainable, and easy to care for)

    (literary analysis essay thesis direction: character changed in his/her words, actions, and choices) 

 

If you don't have a "point", you have nothing to support with an "argument", so the three points of the essay body (the argument) are just sort of floating there, not proving any "point". You saw things in the book -- but what does it mean, or "so what", or what conclusion or big idea does that lead to/support?

 

My opinion is that you always need to teach the WHOLE process and all the parts of the thesis statement. But also realize that for the first number of papers you will need to heavily guide the student into having all 3 parts of the thesis statement (usually it's the claim they are missing, as that is the part that comes out of their head). And also realize that literary analysis thesis statements are the very hardest ones to build.

 

But in every case, with students in my co-op classes where I have to very much guide them individually into what is their thesis, once they have a completed thesis, they really "get" how each body paragraph is a point in their argument that is supporting the "point" (claim) about the subject. Without that part, I see a lot of "aimless wandering writing" (lol). 

 

A few students "click" and develop this rhetoric stage thinking in middle school, but I'm finding that the majority of my co-op students are getting it more along about grade 9-10, and that's only after we've worked through doing several papers over the year that require thesis statements.

 

 

Shorter answer, in my opinion:

- teach all parts of the thesis statement from the beginning

- first practice with lots of short, 1-paragraph persuasive/argumentative essays -- the easiest type (pro/con types of questions, or the "which is better" type of question (like: which is the best kind of pet: dogs or cats)

- to develop in to literary analysis essays, do a lot of short 1-3 paragraph reader response papers (answer a specific prompt question on the literature, and they practice using examples from the text as their support, and also practice writing the commentary sentence that explains how/why the example supports their opinion)

- when the individual student is *ready*, in their own time, try a longer literary analysis essay (the hardest type), and provide lots of guided support

 

 

...I think we need more discussion about their topic before figuring out a thesis statement...

 

Yes, I found that asking a lot of (leading) questions helps students move towards the "claim" or "the point" part of the thesis statement. :)

 

 

PS -- For some help in teaching this tough concept check out these past two threads:

"Transition to Original writing" -- lewelma in post #17 has a great activity that starts with coming up with points ("thesis direction"), and eventually you start thinking through what is the "thesis claim"

"s/o of a s/o: Implementing ideas for preparing our kids for college-level writing"

 

And, check out the book Writing With a Thesis (a college level book, but you can work through it slowly with your high schoolers). See the thread of "Writing With a Thesis -- How Do I Use This?" for ideas.

Edited by Lori D.
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Lori,

 

Thank you! I'm feeling hopeful that I can get this. Your opinion about always doing the whole process makes so much sense and starting with paragraphs. We are trying to use the Writing With a Thesis which is why I realized at the end that I didn't think we had one. 

 

Do you think there is a clear line between an assertive opinion/point that is interesting and something that is just more of an obvious observation? Is there a clear line or is it a find line with assertions that are farther above being more interesting? Or is it obvious that it is above vs. below the line and just the complexity or depth of thought makes it more interesting? That might be hard to answer without examples. I'll try one

 

For example  in Wives and Daughters and P & P the two characters are similar in ____, but ___ is more mature than ____.

 

vs

 

in Wives and Daughters and P & P the two characters are similar in ____, but ___experiences growth while ____ doesn't. ( or ____ experiences more growth vs. not much in ____)

 

I'm looking forward to checking out the threads you linked. I need to really get this figured out myself so that I can guide them into a thesis.

 

Kendall 

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Do you think there is a clear line between an assertive opinion/point that is interesting and something that is just more of an obvious observation? Is there a clear line or is it a find line with assertions that are farther above being more interesting? Or is it obvious that it is above vs. below the line and just the complexity or depth of thought makes it more interesting? ...

 

I'll be very honest with you -- I'll accept ANY complete thesis statement my students can come up with and support. At the early stage, I personally do NOT think it's important whether or not it's an obvious observation or something more unique and interesting. For me, the point of the assignment is to:

 

1.) have a claim (an opinion or "big idea") about the piece of literature

2.) build a logical argument of support for the claim in the essay body

 

The way I see it: students are just learning how to think, have an idea/opinion, and how to build an argument to support it. It's super if that idea is something new, or complex, or interesting, but because they are in the beginning stages, it's fine (for me), if it's a very obvious observation -- as long as they can make a solid thesis statement, and then support it with the essay body. :) Just my take on things. :)

 

 

For example  in Wives and Daughters and P & P the two characters are similar in ____, but ___ is more mature than ____.

 

vs

 

in Wives and Daughters and P & P the two characters are similar in ____, but ___experiences growth while ____ doesn't. ( or ____ experiences more growth vs. not much in ____)

 

I would accept either of those as completing the topic and claim parts of the thesis statement. However, this is not a complete thesis statement, as it still needs the "direction" portion of the thesis statement -- what are the 3 points (the literary elements, or the scenes, or other aspects of comparison) that will be used to support the claim?

 

In Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell,  and Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, the two main characters are similar in _________ , but _______ is experiences more growth than _______ , which is seen through __________ [the major points of the essay body]. 

 

And, a side note: a thesis statement does not have to fit in 1 sentence; if it takes 2 to write a complete thesis statement, that if fine, too, if it helps keep everything more clear. There is no rule that says a thesis statement MUST be only one sentence. Otherwise it would be called a "thesis sentence" -- lol.)

 

 

There are two ways you could tackle building your argument (the essay body) around this thesis:

 

A. The similarity aspect is part of the topic, so you:

1. explain the similarity in the introductory paragraph(s)

2. and in each body paragraph just focus on the new point of how ____ experiences more growth than ______

 

In Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell,  and Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, the two main characters are similar in _________ , but _____ is experiences more growth than _______ [claim]which is seen through __________ [direction]. 

 

 

B. The similarity aspect is part of the claim, so you make this a 2-part argument, so that in EACH body paragraph you are showing:

1. how they are similar with this new point

2. but how ______ experiences more growth with this new point

 

In Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell,  and Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen,  the two main characters are similar in _________ , but _____ is experiences more growth than _______ [claim]which is seen through __________ [direction]. 

 

 

 

 

Be gentle with yourself. I'm a natural writer, and never struggled with this myself, BUT, it's taken me NINE years (all 5 years of 2 DSs in high school + 4 of the 6 years I've been teaching co-op classes) to figure out what the needed parts are, and how to explain them, and then how to provide guidance and leading questions to students to help them come up with complete thesis statements!  :eek:   :laugh:

 

Take heart -- this stuff is HARD! You and your students are doing a great job working through this. And I totally agree with the suggestion up-thread about using the "fill in the blank" template for a thesis statement from Windows to the World. That *absolutely* clicked for DSs here, when I was muddling about trying to get this thesis statement thing figured out...

 

BEST of luck! Warmest regards, Lori D.

Edited by Lori D.

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