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?