If I went to a doctor and said “Tell me how to diagnose a patient,” or I went to a judge and said “Tell me how to interpret the law,” or I went to an artist and said “Tell me how to be creative,” do you think they would be able give me a few sentences that completely answer my question and prepare me for professional work as a doctor, judge, or artist? If they had spent years as students learning their subject matter, and additional years teaching or writing a textbook on their specialty, they might be very good in their professions but I’d bet they’d all find it tough to answer such a question in any meaningful way.
This lesson is based on the belief that students cannot master an essay component such as the thesis statement in the abstract, but will best learn its nature by studying it in the context of a concrete historical problem. Therefore, the lesson's activities are based on an introductory essay and a set of primary source documents on one historical topic—the Haymarket Square bombing in Chicago in 1886. The Haymarket episode is a dramatic one that should also hold student interest well. A single DBQ on this topic and several alternate thesis statements are then used in three student activities. These illustrate what makes thesis statements effective, as well some common problems or mistakes in writing clear thesis statements. The lesson consists of the following handouts: