Outline Essay on Identity

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SWBAT establish strong claims, setting the foundation for a strong essay, by planning ideas in an outline and examining samples of strong thesis statements.

Big Idea

In a synthesis essay, students are pulling from a variety of perspectives to answer student-generated questions.


At this point in the unit, students have engaged in the close reading of "Stereotyping," "The 'In' Group," "The Bear That Wasn't," "Just Walk on By," as well as a study of the painting "My Dress Hangs There," and the TED Talk. Students are now ready to write.

Students Outline Their Essay

30 minutes
I ask students to find the paper where they wrote the question they selected at the end of the lesson taught earlier in this unit where students collaborated to generate questions about identity. This is the link to that lesson. The only thing written on that paper is their question and a few sentences expressing their initial response. I ask students to use the rest of that paper for their outline. Students usually view outlines as a waste of time so I have to give them a short speech about the fact that experienced writers outline their papers because nobody can produce a series of brilliant ideas that fall on the paper in an organized manner. As a matter of fact, I tell students, if we look inside our brains, our thoughts would likely look like a crazy web. They generally seem to agree with and enjoy their natural thinking pattern being described in this manner. I tell them that in their outline, they need to give me the bones of their argument, just the most important elements of each paragraph. This includes their working thesis, which they can expect to change/modify during the writing process, the central points of each body paragraph, and the quotes they plan on using to support their thesis. Once they hear this, the sea of questions regarding the specifics of the assignment will come. I have a chart with a list of Essay Requirements prepared in advance, with all the requirements they need in their essay in order to get credit. I spend a few minutes going over each bullet point. After clarifying confusion and answering questions, I tell students to get started on their outline. The elements in this chart are pretty straightforward and clear. The only points of confusion have to do with students' inexperience writing strong essays. They are not used to formulating thesis statements that communicate large ideas, they struggle to maintain cohesion, they are still developing more sophisticated language, etc. These elements will be addressed in this essay as well as repeatedly throughout the school year.
Students begin working on their outline. As they work, I walk around and informally check their work and speak with students individually. I periodically interrupt the whole class to share challenges I am observing in the working outlines and suggest solutions. For instance, many feel "stuck" in the formulation of their thesis statement. I let them know that it is a good idea to write something down, but that it will inevitably change and be modified in the writing process. They just need to try something and move on to select the texts they will be discussing and to collect quotes. I tell them that the next step of this lesson is to discuss and see samples of weak and strong thesis statements and that will offer them guidelines to formulate a strong argument. I let students work for about 15 minutes.  



Writing a Stronger Thesis

20 minutes

After I see that the majority of students have a thesis, a working thesis, I interrupt them and ask for their attention. I want to show them samples of weak and strong thesis statements and discuss why they are so. I explain to students that a thesis statement establishes a central idea and that it must be arguable. I have to give my students a clear picture of what "arguable" means so I communicate the following points and give them examples.

  • to be arguable basically means that it needs to be proven
  • not everyone will agree with it. In fact, the best ones are the ones that people either strongly agree or strongly disagree with.
  • states a perspective and point of view.

Once this is communicated, I show them some samples and talk about the samples in terms of the three bulleted points above. The samples are on page 9-11 of this UC Davis student workbook on writing applications. This packet is meant to help students practice for the CAHSEE, the California High School Exit Exam, but I use today, because it includes these helpful pages on the difference between a weak and strong thesis statement. This resource is also helpful because the topics, wearing school uniforms and murder and the death penalty, elicit strong opinions from my students, which helps make the point. In this video, I explain how I use these pages.

I let students continue working on their outline the rest of the period and ask them to finish it for homework. 

These are some sample thesis statements my students produced.