The University of Texas at Austin
School of Undergraduate Studies
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Teaching Thesis Formation

Recommended for early to mid-semester
Adapted from John Bean’s Engaging Ideas.

Task

Students support the positive or negative side of an instructor-provided thesis, which should involve key course concepts:

  • The proposed bridge design does/does not meet the criteria set forth by the city in its request for proposal.
  • “The path to holiness lies through questioning everything.” Agree or disagree.
  • Mercury amalgam fillings are/are not safe.
  • Global warming is/is not a significant environmental threat at this time.
  • Based on the attached case, the nurse supervisor should/should not honor the husband’s request that his wife (a stroke victim) be assigned a new nurse.
  • Schizophrenia is a brain disease/Schizophrenia is a learned behavior.

If you wish, you can frame this assignment as a letter, dialogue, editorial, or other written form with a specific audience:

  • Write a letter to the editor of the New York Times arguing against the sales tax as a regressive tax. Use ratio and proportion to explain to the uninformed reader the meaning of “regressive tax.”

Average length: 3-7 pages, depending on complexity of topic and depth of analysis

Providing Feedback and Guidance

Students will perform better on this assignment if you have them submit a draft of the essay for you to read and comment on. Either orally or in writing, alert students to the weak and strong areas of their drafts:

  • Is the thesis sufficiently focused? Is the evidence being used appropriate and sufficient?
  • Are the arguments logical?
  • Is the essay easy to read?

You can create a short checklist covering the main areas of the assignment to speed up your response time. After returning the drafts, give students another week or so to revise the papers before they submit them for a final grade.

Grading

In addition to clarity of writing, grading criteria should address the degree to which students consider opposing views and weigh evidence on all sides. Better responses will generally

  • provide more, and more accurate, information
  • display more subtle reasoning
  • draw sounder logical conclusions
  • demonstrate an appreciation of ethical or moral dimensions to the issue.

Grading Criteria

Grading criteria for the bridge design example above might look like this:

I will be looking for the detail with which your essay examines each of the seven criteria in the request, discussing any elements that are open to interpretation. It will analyze the proposal’s technical and aesthetic aspects, and clearly show how the proposal meets or fails to meet each criterion. Strong essays will use language and data directly from the proposal to show how the proposed design meets or does not meet the criteria in the request. The best essays will organize discussion to highlight the most important matches or discrepancies. Readers of the best essays who initially disagreed with the writer’s position would feely strongly inclined, after reading, to re-think their own conclusions about the bridge design.

You can also adapt one of the rubrics available on the Grading Rubrics page, such as this rubric that examines the primary traits of a thesis-driven essay.