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Mini-lesson Monday: Taking on the Thesis Statement

Right now, my students and I are writing spoken-word poems. I’ve wanted to play with language this way for a long time now, but finally mustered the courage — and figured out a way to make this kind of poetry fit into my AP Language goals and the needs of my students as they prepare for the AP Lang exam.

While watching and listening to many spoken-word poems, I realized that most of them are an argument, filled with not only beautifully crafted language — devices galore — but they also show craft in the use of the appeals. With the help of my student teacher, Mr. Zachery Welch, we designed a unit that centers around the rhetoric in spoken-word poems. And we are all writing our own. (This is a challenge for me, but I absolutely believe the the importance of a teacher writing beside her students. Thanks, Penny Kittle, for teaching me that!)

The performance task for this unit reads:  Craft a spoken word poem that addresses a personal conflict and/or a social issue, include rhetorical techniques and literary and rhetorical devices to convince your audience of the need for positive change. Perform your poem for the class live, or create an automated slide show with visuals, or a video recording as a way to digitally perform your poem.

This lesson stems from our work  — and the need for students to include stronger thesis statements in all of their argumentative essays.

Objective:   Using the language of the depth of knowledge levels, students will identify powerful lines in a spoken-word poem that serve as position statements. They will discuss and then categorize these statements in order of importance as it pertains to the poet’s overall theme. Students will then formulate three powerful thesis statements of their own and revise their drafts to include these powerful thesis-like lines.

Lesson:  Watch and listen to “Paper People” by Harry Baker. Ask students to pay particular attention to the lines of the poem that hold the weight of the poet’s position. They must listen carefully because Baker’s poem is primarily crafted with the alliterative “p”. Give students a copy of the lyrics, and on the second listening, having them mark specific lines they think represent Baker’s position. Then, ask students to discuss the lines they marked with their small groups. As a class, determine the line that best serves as Baker’s thesis.

Next, instruct students to write three thesis statements for their own poems. They should discuss their thesis statements within their groups and help one another develop powerful statements that hold the weight of the meaning in their poems. Then, instruct students to revise their poems, including all three of their new strong lines.

Follow up:  Students continue to revise and strengthen the arguments within their spoken-word poems. They should also remember to write three powerful thesis statements in their argumentative essays and challenge themselves to use all three in their writing.

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7 thoughts on “Mini-lesson Monday: Taking on the Thesis Statement

  1. Jeannine February 8, 2016 at 2:17 pm Reply

    Thank you for helping me to continue to learn and grow!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy February 8, 2016 at 2:54 pm Reply

      Back at you, Jeannine. Thanks for reading.

      Like

  2. jhuber2015 February 8, 2016 at 11:22 am Reply

    Do you have any suggestions for lower ability students? I think this could be tough for my non-college bound students! I love the lesson!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy February 8, 2016 at 1:11 pm Reply

      I try to get students to write three thesis statements in any kind of formal writing we do. Then they decide which is the strongest for what they really want to say. The challenge is always on to get them to use the other statements somewhere in their essays. This will work for students of any ability. Look for mentor texts where the writer echoes or repeats the thesis. Leonard Pitts, Jr does this frequently in his Oped pieces. Once students see how other writers strengthen their writing, they want to strengthen theirs, too.

      Like

  3. Gary Anderson February 8, 2016 at 8:16 am Reply

    Thesis can be confusing for students when the definitions and expectations vary from year to year.

    Last week I worked on this with a small four-person high school English department. Each teacher’s understanding of thesis was pretty similar, but they each used different words to explain it to students. We worked together on a definition they could use with students to help lessen that confusion and frustration.

    I like the way your lesson has students working together, which increases the likelihood they talk together about their understanding of thesis.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy February 8, 2016 at 1:11 pm Reply

      I try to get students to write three thesis statements in any kind of formal writing we do. Then they decide which is the strongest for what they really want to say. The challenge is always on to get them to use the other statements somewhere in their essays. This will work for students of any ability. Look for mentor texts where the writer echoes or repeats the thesis. Leonard Pitts, Jr does this frequently in his Oped pieces. Once students see how other writers strengthen their writing, they want to strengthen theirs, too.

      Like

    • Amy February 8, 2016 at 1:13 pm Reply

      I agree. Thesis is confusing, especially when teachers do not have common language: main idea, position statement, etc. I’d love to know the definition your team came up with for thesis.

      Like

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