Thesis Statement Peer Review

How do you craft a good thesis statement? In this activity, students work together to refine their ideas and put together possible evidence for different topics. The purpose is to teach students how to connect their thesis statement with the rest of their paper, and to revise the two in tandem (start with a draft thesis, bring some evidence together, revise the thesis to better reflect the evidence, revise the evidence to better fit the thesis, etc.)

In Odile Harter’s section, students were required to bring to class a thesis statement printed at the top of a blank piece of paper. The thesis had to be appropriate for the upcoming paper, but the students knew this was just a trial thesis and they were under no obligation to keep it for their paper.

First, the instructor paired the students up, then asked each student to pass their thesis statement outside their pair (i.e. if your partner is to your right pass your thesis to the person to your left). Next, each pair took one of the thesis statements they'd been handed and figured out what kind of evidence would work best to support the thesis as stated.

After the work in pairs, the instructor brought the group back together and asked them to share their experiences with the group. What were the challenges? What part of the thesis statements they'd been given lent themselves really well to supporting evidence? As a class, they generated some features of a strong thesis statement, which the instructor wrote on the board.

The instructor put another sample thesis statement on the board and as a class they brainstormed how one might revise it to make it stronger. She asked each pair to go back to the other thesis statement they'd been handed and to revise it to make it as strong as possible, while at the same time staying as close as possible to the spirit of the original statement. Then, everyone returned thesis statements to their original owners. 

Harter asked students to look at the new evidence or revision suggestions they'd received and to share with the group any particularly helpful changes they thought their classmates made. Did the evidence proposed give them ideas about how to revise the thesis? Peer editing can be stressful, so she made sure to emphasize at the outset how important it was that the students respect the spirit of their classmates' thesis statements. A wonderful idea can turn into a flawed draft, so the job was to get at that wonderful idea and help refine it. Harter had the students look for possibilities even if they were not immediately apparent.

This activity may be useful for any class in which students learn to write interpretive essays. Note that the full activity takes at least 75 minutes. In a standard section time, it is difficult to progress beyond the second round of thesis statement modifications.