Essay writing: Developing a strong thesis statement

Developing a strong thesis statement results in a condensed and carefully thought-out argument that will define, guide, and set the tone for an essay.

Discovering interesting topics is a critical component of the essay-planning process. But a good topic isn’t enough to guarantee a successful paper!

The goal of the initial prewriting stage is not to come up with a subject or a topic, per se, but to identify a controlling idea that will help guide and shape the essay and direct the student’s brainstorming efforts. That’s what developing a strong thesis statement is all about.

Why Write a Thesis Statement?

An essay focuses on a particular concept, idea, or scenario and tries to say something unique about it. It shouldn’t be a sprawling report of all possible facts and details. Instead, essay writing is about choosing and analyzing the most important elements necessary for advancing a particular position.

Therefore, the thesis statement for an essay represents a condensed and carefully thought-out argument that will define, guide, and set the tone for the entirety of the paper.

What Is a Thesis Statement?

A thesis statement presents, in one or two sentences, the central, controlling argument of an essay. It explicitly identifies the purpose of the paper and/or previews its main ideas. Everything your student writes throughout the essay should in some way reinforce this primary claim. A good thesis statement should:

  1. Concisely present the central idea of the essay.
  2. Guide the direction of the paper and establish priorities
  3. Take a definitive stand that justifies the case your student is about to make.
  4. Articulate a specific, arguable point with which people could logically disagree. It helps to ask what is new, interesting, contestable, or controversial about the topic. If the student is presenting a claim or statement that no one would argue against, then he’s not saying anything worth reading.
    • Uncontestable claim: The world would be a better place without war.
    • Contestable claim: Christians should not participate violently in war.
    • Uncontestable claim: Domestic terrorism is on the rise in the United States.
    • Contestable claim: The rise of domestic terrorism reflects an increased disillusionment with the United States government.
  5. Effectively answer the prompt or question (if given).
  6. Be thoughtfully and deliberately worded.
  7. Avoid vague generalizations.
  8. Use clear and concrete language.
  9. Pass the “So what?” test of significance. A good thesis should be substantial and important, so ask, “Who cares?” or “What difference does it make?”
    • Insubstantial claim: Students at ABC University have school spirit.
    • Substantial claim: The strong sense of community at ABC University is evident in its students’ commitment to campus functions and organizations. This challenges the prevailing characterization of Generation X as apathetic, uninvolved, and lazy.

While it’s good to create as strong a thesis statement as possible up front, it’s also important to know that it isn’t set in stone until the essay or term paper is actually finished. Your teens should plan to revisit the thesis during editing and revising to fine-tune or tweak it as needed.

Photo: Paul Bonhomme, courtesy of Creative Commons

Developing a strong thesis statement results in a condensed and carefully thought-out argument that will define, guide, and set the tone for an essay.

Creative writing prompts for teens

Create "short" stories, turn an experience into a movie synopsis, and write from new points of view with these creative writing prompts for teens
Invite your students to choose one of these creative writing prompts for teens. Options include describing a personal experience as if it were a movie, developing fun poems or stories, writing about their first name, creating a story using only one-syllable words, or exploring point of view.

1. Lights, Camera, Action!

What kind of year has it been for you? What events and experiences marked your most memorable moments? Write about an event as if it were a synopsis of a movie, choosing one of these famous film titles as the title of your own “movie.”

  • For the Love of the Game
  • Family Vacation
  • Home Alone
  • Frozen
  • The Money Pit
  • The Sound of Music
  • Wreck-it Ralph
  • Field of Dreams
  • Despicable Me
  • It Happened One Night
Keep in mind that your synopsis probably won’t follow the original movie’s storyline! For example, if you just went through the coldest winter in memory, you might pick Frozen as your movie title. If you backed your mom’s car into a fire hydrant, Wreck-it Ralph or Despicable Me could make a good choice.

2. Writer’s Choice

Choose List 1, 2, or 3. Write a poem or story that uses as many words from that list as possible.

  • List 1: brick, alley, broom, kittens, nervous, window, slam
  • List 2: red, swing, squeak, envelope, gust, photo, exhilarating
  • List 3: forest, jeep, gate, key, blue, rickety, wild

3. A Rose by Any Other Name

Write about your first name, choosing one, some, or all of the following questions to help direct your writing.

  • Do you think your name suits you? Explain why or why not.
  • Is there a story behind your name? Have your parents ever explained how or why they chose it for you? Write about it.
  • What does your name mean? Do you think the meaning fits your personality, nature, character, or gifts/talents?
  • Do you sometimes wish you could choose a new name for yourself? If you had the chance, what would it be? Why would you choose it? What would you want this new name to say about you?

4. A “Short” Story

Using at least 10 words from each list below, describe a scene or situation. Try to capture emotions along with sensory details of sound, smell, and touch. Your challenge: every word you write may contain only one syllable!

  • Nouns: boat, swamp, boots, light, hole, splash, eel, night, shore, boy, dock, wire, stick, rope, reeds, noise, dog, pail
  • Verbs: fall, drop, steer, slosh, seize, hope, reach, grasp, turn, hide, glide, howl, shake, chase, yell, laugh, lurch, leak

5. Putting Things Into Perspective

Describe a place from an unusual point of view or vantage point, such as:

  • Your bedroom or den from your fish’s viewpoint
  • A winding mountain road from a car’s point of view
  • Your neighborhood from a hawk’s vantage point
  • Your backyard from your dog’s perspective
  • A grocery store from the point of view of a loaf of bread
  • Your refrigerator from the viewpoint of a wrinkled old apple
  • Or, come up with your own idea!

Looking for more writing prompts? Check out our extensive collection on Writing Prompt Wednesdays. Most months, we feature a set of prompts just for teens!

Create "short" stories, turn an experience into a movie synopsis, and write from new points of view with these creative writing prompts for teens

Photo: Justien Van Zele, courtesy of Creative Commons

Martin Luther King Day 2015

Intelligence plus character ... that is the goal of true education.  ?Martin Luther King Jr..


Intelligence plus character … that is the goal of true education.  ?Martin Luther King, Jr.

5 writing prompts for January

Writing prompts for January encourage kids to write about lesser-known holidays such as National Opposite Day and National Dress Up Your Pet Day.

This article contains affiliate links for products we’re confident your family will love!

Did you know there are hundreds of special days to celebrate every year? In addition to familiar ones such as Martin Luther King Day, Easter, and Father’s Day, the calendar is filled with plenty of unusual holidays too.

These writing prompts for January encourage kids to have fun writing about a few of this month’s lesser-known holidays.

January 14: National Dress Up Your Pet Day

People who celebrate Dress Up Your Pet Day dress their pets in cute or clever outfits. Imagine that you’ve been invited to design a costume for a mouse, turtle, elephant, penguin, or giraffe. Which one will you choose? Write about the outfit you will create, using as many descriptive details as possible.

January 18: National Thesaurus Day

A thesaurus is a reference book of synonyms (words with the same or similar meaning). For many years, students and writers have used the thesaurus to avoid repetition and weak vocabulary and improve the quality of their writing.

In honor of National Thesaurus Day, write a short story that includes these elements: ship, clock, storm, frog, shirt, bucket, discovery. After your story is written, read it carefully and circle any vague, dull words AND words you have repeated too many times. Look up at least five of these words in the thesaurus and find more interesting synonyms to replace them in your story.

January 21: National Squirrel Appreciation Day

Yes, there really is a National Squirrel Appreciation Day! Imagine that you are a squirrel who lives in a tree in John Crabapple’s back yard. Mr. Crabapple thinks you’re a nuisance because you chew on wires, monopolize the birdfeeder, and drop acorns on the roof. Write a letter to Mr. Crabapple in which you give three reasons why he should appreciate you.

January 23: National Handwriting Day

Writing by hand is becoming a lost art as more and more people rely on computers, tablets, and smartphones. National Handwriting Day is a chance to celebrate pen and paper! Express yourself in writing by picking one of these activities. Whichever you choose, use your very best printing, cursive, or calligraphy.

  • Write a friendly letter or thank-you note to a grandparent, cousin, or friend. Don’t forget to mail it!
  • Write in your journal or diary about something unusual or special that happened this past week.
  • Copy a favorite poem, Bible passage, or inspirational quote. When finished, illustrate it, if you wish.

January 25: National Opposite Day

National Opposite Day is crazy day when everything you say and do is backwards. If you say you’re sad, you really mean you’re happy. If someone tells you to raise your right hand, you raise your left hand! You would sleep all day and stay awake all night, and you’d eat dessert first. How confusing! Write about three zany ways you could celebrate National Opposite Day. What would you do?

Looking for more writing prompts? Check out our extensive collection on Writing Prompt Wednesdays!

Photos: woodleywonderworks (handwriting) and PetsAdviser (cat), courtesy of Creative Commons

Make a conversation journal with your child

Passed back and forth between parent and child, conversation journals are a non-threatening way for kids to write at their level of ability.

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend. 

After a busy week in the classroom, Friday evenings were a quiet, delightful treat: Delightful because I got to curl up on my living room couch with cookies and tea and read through my students’ journals. Delightful because the brightly colored pocket folders held the written thoughts of my kids, as they experienced classroom life in real time. Delightful because each student and I kept a written, running conversation in the pages of those folders.

Conversation journals, we called them.

Every afternoon, students penned brief summaries of:

  • their observations about each day’s class.
  • what they wanted to remember.
  • what they found difficult.
  • what they would seek assistance on to understand better.
  • what attitudes they had about learning in different subject areas.

They addressed their entries to me, and I responded, thus often beginning written conversations that would last weeks on many topics!

Not only did I gain insight into their struggles with long division, enjoyment of O.Henry’s short stories, or thoughtful concern for environmental issues, but I gained insight into my students’ growth as writers.

Conversation journals are also a handy tool in the homeschooling classroom. Simple spiral notebooks, passed back and forth between parent and child, provide a non-threatening context for kids to write at their own proficiency level. Mom or Dad writes back, modeling appropriate language use, but not correcting children’s language.

Such journals allow opportunities for kids to see growth in their own writing ability. And while a parental response should not result in corrections, an adult can examine a child’s writing for topic initiation, elaboration, variety, use of different genres, expression of interests and attitudes, and awareness of the writing process.

The bonus for a parent: insight into which academic concepts need to be taught to a greater depth, how a child is developing as a writer, and a shared journaling experience. That last item is the most precious of all.

Join the conversation!

Related link: Becoming your child’s pen pal

Passed back and forth between parent and child, conversation journals are a non-threatening way for kids to write at their level of ability.

. . . . .

Janet Wagner is a regular contributor to In Our Write Minds. For over two decades, Janet was an elementary and middle school teacher in two Christian academies, a public district school, and a public charter school. She also had the honor of helping to homeschool her two nieces. Janet and her husband Dean live on the family farm in the Piedmont region of north central North Carolina. Currently, she enjoys a flexible life of homemaking, volunteering, reading, writing, tutoring students and training dogs, and learning how to build websites. You can view her web work-in-progress at

Free Printable: Design a playing card

Our family loves to play card games! Have you noticed the wide variety of styles, artwork, and themes?

This month’s free writing prompt puts you in charge of designing the artwork for a new deck of cards. What would your custom-made cards look like? Sketch some samples and describe in detail the colors and designs you would choose.

For an extra challenge, see if someone else can design a card according to your description!

Free writing prompt - design your own cards

Click the image above to download the Royal Brush writing prompt. If you would like to share this free printable with others, please link to this post. Do not link directly to the PDF file. Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!

Most popular blog posts of 2014

Most popular blog posts of 2014 include writing prompts, writing across the curriculum, high school writing ideas, and seasonal writing activities.

Happy New Year!

2014 has been a fun and busy year here at WriteShop. In June, we introduced WriteShop Junior Book E, which has quickly become one of our most popular products. Throughout the spring and summer, we enjoyed meeting many of you at homeschool conferences around the country. And here on the blog, we’ve kept your kids’ pens flying with 52 weeks of engaging writing prompts.

Looking back over a year of blogging, I’ve highlighted each of 2014’s most popular (most-read) posts by month.



Screwtape Letter Feel Like Failure

So You Feel Like a Failure? Screwtape Letter for the Homeschool Mom


Speech Writing Tips for High School Students

Speech-Writing Tips for High School Students


Detective Writing Prompts

Detective Writing Prompts


Minecraft Prompts

Minecraft Writing Prompts


These kid-friendly writing prompts celebrate the little things under our feet.

“I Spy” Writing Prompts


3 Ways to Keep Kids Writing This Summer

3 Ways to Keep Kids Writing This Summer


Minecraft More 1

More Minecraft Writing Prompts


Summer Vacation Prompts 1

Summer Vacation Writing Prompts for Kids


Fictional Characters - Collage

Writing Prompts about Fictional Book Characters


Writing across curriculum ideas

78 Ideas for Writing Across the Curriculum


These writing prompts about gratitude help children and teens focus on the gifts of family, friends, and creation.

Writing Prompts about Gratitude


Christmas Memories Journal Prompts

50 Christmas Memories Journal Prompts


And here are the five most-visited blog articles of the past year. Though some of these were written before 2014, they continue to encourage and inspire our readers with their timeless content.


Childhood girls

22 Writing Prompts That Jog Childhood Memories


Describing a Place | Writing with Vivid Vocabulary

Describing a Place | Choosing Vocabulary


Pet Peeves

Pet Peeves, Apostrophes, and Plural Family Names


High School Writing 2

7 Pinterest Ideas for High School Writing


How to write a standout college application essay

How to Write a Standout College Application Essay



New Year’s quote | We will open the book. Its pages are blank.

New Year's quote "We will open the book. Its pages are blank ... The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day."

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”

~Edith Lovejoy Pierce

New Year’s Day is always so fresh with promise. For you and your family, may this be a year of beautiful words written on the pages of Opportunity.

Photo: Rob_L, courtesy of Creative Commons

Christmas in the heart | Merry Christmas from WriteShop

Christmas in his heart quote

He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree. ~Roy L. Smith 

Photo: Kristina Servant, courtesy of Creative Commons

More Christmas writing prompts

Christmas writing prompts let kids describe cookie-baking and tree-trimming, make a Christmas acrostic poem, and write a heartwarming tale.

Did you enjoy last week’s holiday writing prompts? If so, we have a new set of engaging Christmas writing prompts for your family! The kids can write about cookie-baking and tree-trimming, create a heartwarming holiday story, build acrostic poems about the first Christmas, and make plans to spread a little joy.

In the midst of the holiday frenzy, set aside a few quiet minutes and invite your children to choose a favorite topic from the list below.

BONUS: To score some major Mom points, serve up some hot cocoa and a plate of cookies alongside these prompts!

1. C is for Christmas Cookie

December 18 is National Bake Cookies Day. If you were invited to invent a new Christmas cookie, what ingredients would you include? How would your cookie look and taste? What texture words would explain how it feels when you take a bite? Write a mouth-watering description of your creation.

2. O Christmas Tree

What’s your family’s Christmas tree tradition? Do you tromp through the forest to chop down a fragrant spruce? Do you visit the tree lot at the hardware store in search of the perfect fir? Or does your dad pull a box down from the attic or garage rafters and assemble the beloved artificial tree?

Describe one of your family’s most memorable experiences choosing, setting up, or decorating the tree. To help bring your story to life, include emotion words as well as sensory words of sight, touch, sound, taste, and smell.

3. The First Noël

The French word Noël and the Spanish word Navidad both mean Christmas. Choose one of these two words, and write an acrostic about the first Christmas. Your composition does not have to rhyme.


New star in the sky, you have

Opened our eyes.

Every shepherd watches and

Listens to angel songs.

4. A Christmas Story

Write a story that takes place on Christmas Eve. Use as many words from this list as possible: homeless person, bakery, snow, family, street corner, Christmas carols, lost wallet, dog, shoe, brother, memories.

5. Joy to the World

American poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) wrote a short poem that begins:

Somehow, not only for Christmas
But all the long year through
The joy that you give to others
Is the joy that comes back to you.

Make a list of 10 or more ways you can spread joy to others in the coming year.

Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!

Photo: a_b_normal123, courtesy of Creative Commons
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