They Say I Say Templates For Thesis Statements

Two posts ago, I introduced Graff/Birkenstein's two-paragraph They Say / I Say template I've been requiring my students to use in response to our argumentative Articles of the Week (and, by the way, articles of the week are the original idea of Kelly Gallagher). And as a disclaimer, I'm about to nerd out pretty heavily on some intricacies of instructing with the template, so, if you're not interested, feel free to go check out some Vladimir Putin gifs like this one.

Since requiring the use of the template a month or so ago (previously, I simply offered it as a support for my students), I've noticed a few fruits:

  • My struggling students have grown increasingly confident in responding to arguments in Articles of the Week, as the template makes argumentative moves explicit instead of vague;
  • All of my students seem to have jumped a bit in their ability to write academically — for instance, in a recent trimester exam assignment in which students argued for the most significant event of the Middle Ages, I was happily surprised to find more of my students meeting basic proficiency in laying out their arguments with some sort of cohesion;
  • And finally, it's become easier for them and for me to see if they even understand the arguments they're arguing with. Within the first sentences of the template, it's pretty obvious if students get the argument they're responding to. This makes it much easier for me to check their understanding and remediate or reteach where necessary.
    • I'm tempted to give this lattermost point highest importance because it's from a deep understanding of what “they say” that my students — and me, and all humans — are able to develop deep, rigorous “I say” arguments.

All good things. Once again, I can't thank Graff and Birkenstein enough for works like Clueless in Academe and They Say / I Say.

Yet at the same time, I've been getting a few questions from my students (and from you, dear life-dominating Teaching the Core community members!) that merit a bit more exploration of how to most effectively leverage this template for all its potential. And so below, you'll find a few ways I'm working to deepen They Say / I Say work with all of my students.

Modeling the template with exemplars

So while I love giving my students argumentative articles of the week in part because various columnists model for them, again and again, how arguments work, I've also been learning my kids greatly benefit from seeing the work they're being asked to do modeled a bit more explicitly.

And so this week, when I introduce our latest AoW, I'm going to use the exemplar below to model more of the how and why of They Say / I Say work (this example is in response to one of our more recent AoWs):

The general argument made by the New York Times’ Editorial Board in their work, “E-Smoking Among Teenagers,” is that the FDA needs to prohibit e-cig manufacturers from marketing and selling their wares to teens and children. More specifically, the Board argues that even child-enticing flavorings should be banned. They write, “The new rules ought to… outlaw flavorings clearly designed to entice children” (3). In this passage, the editors are suggesting that fruit- and candy-flavored e-cigs are a ploy to get minors vaping. In conclusion, the Board’s belief is that e-cigarettes should be banned from in any way enticing minors.

In my view, the Board is right, because, while e-cigarettes may be healthy compared to adults with pack-a-day tobacco habits, they are in no way positive for teenagers to smoke. More specifically, I believe that the facts speak for themselves: “nicotine–delivered in any manner–can impair adolescent brain development, is extremely addictive, and can be dangerous at very high doses to people of all ages” (Editorial Board, 3). In other words, e-cigarettes still spell danger–and a lifetime of addiction–for minors. Although e-cig manufacturers might object that restricting e-cig flavorings is unnecessarily harsh, I maintain that flavorings are a form of marketing, and when those flavorings appeal to the tastes of middle and high school students, they should be banned. I do recognize that there’s a slippery slope here–after all, look at all of the alcoholic beverages that are fruit-flavored, for instance–but just because one addictive substance has teen-enticing flavors doesn’t mean every addictive substance has to. Therefore, I conclude that e-cigarettes ought to be regulated in the manner set forth by the Editorial Board.

(Bonus: If you'd like to see an annotated version with my teacher comments, check this out.)

Now, if you're sharpety-sharp, you might have noticed that the model above — gasp! — ventures away from the template at several points. And that's because I think my students are ready to start toying with…

…Letting the argument dictate the moves

Since some of my students are consistently pwning the They Say / I Say template, I want to introduce them to a list of templates and transitions to use within the structure of a two-paragraph They Say / I Say response. (You can access that list of templates and transitions here, and you'll find a beautiful treatment of the templates and transitions it contains in the aforementioned They Say / I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing.)

In the model response above, I (the writer) was struggling in the second paragraph with the original template's call for a “for example” sentence. It didn't seem to fit, largely because in the preceding sentence, I had just quoted the article to illustrate why I agreed with the authors. So rather than force the “for example” sentence starter, I did what Cathy and Jerry advise their students to do: I used a different template that fit (in this case, I wanted to elaborate on the quoted material).

Moving forward, I want my students to keep in focus why we use the two-paragraph They Say / I Say template:

  • to structure our thinking in a manner consistent with public and academic discourse;
  • to force ourselves to spend time on what they say — on what has already been said in the conversation we're entering;
  • to internalize the way transitions and templates work with one another.

I'll still expect my 9th grade students to submit two-paragraph They Say / I Say responses with every complete article of the week; the only change I'm making is that I'll start encouraging them to play within that framework.

But Dave, why not give the kids complete freedom right now!? You're slaughtering their creativity, you butcher!

I know some believe we should always allow students to dictate form and structure — that this will ultimately make them real writers. After all, as an adult, we aren't often forced to write two-paragraph They Say / I Say arguments, right?

But it's like the Karate Kid analogy I used two posts ago: by giving my kids lots of “jacket on, jacket off” experiences with this simple template — and, now, the freedom to modify and adapt it without abandoning the basic They Say / I Say structure — I'm seeking to help them build a neural network of argumentative moves that, once unleashed in later courses that offer less scaffolding, will serve them well.

Basically, when they are presented with argumentative situations in the future, I believe practice with this template will allow them to 1) see the actual argument, 2) properly process it, and 3) respond productively.

And to get back to that whole “real writers don't use templates like this” argument: I totally do! Reading They Say / I Say has made me a better writer and arguer — I wish I had been assigned this in college!

So how's They Say / I Say going in your room? Are your kids getting better at it? What hang-ups are you still encountering?

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In today’s world, writing is an essential skill to have for almost any profession; the importance of having a sharp writing technique requires it to be taught in every academic age group, starting from kindergarten and finishing at the Ph.D. dissertation level. With that being said, students often write spontaneously and do not set a game plan for their content goals. This problem stems from a weak central point, meaning that their paper lacks focus and direction.


Table Of Contents


What Is A Thesis Statement?

One of the main reasons students struggle with this crucial component comes from a lack of technical understanding. In other words, it may be hard for them to grasp their head around the fact that the thesis is single-handedly the MOST important sentence in an entire body of writing. Taking a look at the definition, . In other words, this is the root from where everything grows.

The goal of any thesis-based paper is to make a claim about the relevant topic of discussion and defend it with logic, analysis and third-party validation (external sources). This essentially states that an author must be well-informed about the topic at hand and have factual confirmation from other parties before they can even begin developing a thesis statement. This is why .

Length Requirements

Just by looking at the title, we can see that . This means that a . There are, however, circumstances that may require 2-3 sentences; this usually depends on the length of the entire paper.

For example, a five paragraph essay should only have a thesis that is one sentence long. Since there is not much to prove and details are limited, then an author must be able to summarize the idea concisely.
However, if one is writing a twenty-page research paper, then their thesis statement will most likely require several sentences, simply because there is more information to cover.

Why Is It So Important?

. When one knows exactly what they are setting out to prove, they will have an easier time making valid points, defending their logic, etc. Above all else, .

How To Create A Powerful Thesis Statement

Unfortunately, students commonly spend a lot of time formulating rough ideas without actually knowing what makes a good thesis statement. When writing any type of academic paper, . That being said, here are five things that a good thesis statement consists of:

  1. Narrow + Focused: I can’t stress this enough: a well-written paper should not be filled with general information. , so make sure this is reflected in the thesis.

  1. Confidence is Key: Never say things such as “I think” or "In my opinion” when writing one of these sentences. One must be confident in their main idea and supporting points, so .

  1. Trump the Counterargument: or your argument as a whole. To combat this effectively, ; then, challenge the counterargument head-on in a body paragraph and present why your point is indeed BETTER.

  1. Make Sure It Fits: Writers will commonly decide to create their body paragraphs before phrasing their thesis statement. As a writer, we sometimes set out to prove one thing, but in reality prove an alteration of our initial idea. That’s why it is important go to back through an ensure that our thesis fits with the points we made. If one has proved something different, then fix the thesis accordingly.

  1. Significance Matters: Although this isn’t a crucial criterion for getting an A+, it is still important to understand the value of overall significance. In other words, will the idea you’re presenting be interesting and captivating to read? Will the audience want to know what you have to say? The best thesis statements are ones that captivate the reader and leave them thinking about the idea even after reading the final words.

Thesis Statement Examples

For many students, the best way to learn is to see some realistic examples. EssayPro understand this, so here are five examples of statements that went from “meh” to “oh wow”!

Example 1

A: The death penalty should not be abolished because people who commit violent crimes should be punished.

B: Although many argue that human life is sacred, the death penalty should remain for people that commit brutal crimes and offer no positive value to their society.

For example 1, thesis B is the better one because the author gave a more descriptive and narrowed version for their beliefs. This makes it easier for them to prove their point overall.

Example 2

A: Owning a college degree should not be a requirement for professional positions in the workforce.

B: If a candidate has work experience, reasonable competency in the field and shows a strong work ethic, they should not be eliminated from contention for a position simply due to the lack of a college degree.

In example 2, option B provides three different subpoints it will use to prove its main statement, while the first sentence just makes a general claim.

Example 3

A: Gun laws should be more strict and demand higher requirements because of increased nationwide shootings.

B: A strict gun regulations policy will not reduce nationwide violence since guns are still obtainable illegally and humans, not weapons, are the catalysts of brutality

In example 3, option B goes in more depth about why this claim is correct and presents reasoning that can be justified from MANY external sources.

In-Text Examples

Download PDF examples of essays with a thesis statement. The statements are underlined and highlighted.


Still Can’t Come Up With A Thesis Statement?

We get it, writing a thesis statement is never easy. As it is the most important piece of your entire work, it is important to get it right, and a helping hand neer hurts. EssayPro’s professional service will pair you with an experienced academic writer that has written hundreds of thesis statements before and knows the ingredients for a successful one. To get instant essay help, click down below and fill out the help request form to get in touch with an instructor right away! Academics should never be too stressful, and they don’t have to be with us!

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