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Thesis Development

A thesis is an argument, or interpretation, of a specific question that can be supported by evidence. The thesis statement is composed of only one or two sentences. College writing centers are providing great support materials for students who need to write papers based on a thesis. Here are CMHEC's favorites:

A thesis statement makes specific argument that must be backed-up by evidence from primary and secondary sources.
UIC's Data Gathering Worksheet encourages students to prove their argument by directly linking their claims to the evidence. The site offers a blank worksheet and a sample that uses the Great Migration. Although UIC uses a hypertext model, a student could take the idea and make a worksheet that would not depend on being linked to the Internet; for example a similar form could be made into a template that a student could keep on a disk or in their History Fair binder.

Analyzing documents is only the first step.
The inquiry approach to history calls on students to analyze, compare and contrast, and synthesize data in order to develop strong arguments. A process proposed by the Digital Historical Inquiry Project may prove useful to teachers and students. Called SCIM-3, this rubric helps students to Summarize, Contextualize, Infer, Monitor, and Corroborate their sources, thereby supports them see the connections among their sources and move towards a specific interpretation.

Introduce students to the relationship between thesis statements, primary sources, and evidence.
This activity, created by Kathryn Wegner, a history teacher at Kelly High School, calls for students to find and analyze primary sources which will support a thesis statement and then write an essay based on their findings. The primary sources are from the on-line digital archive on the Chicago fire so students also gain experience in exploring content-rich websites. It can be adapted for other topics with primary source-based websites or with primary source packets if students do not have access to the Internet.

Supporting A Thesis Activity.

Strengthen the introductions on History Fair exhibits by integrating the thesis statement into the body of the text. The introduction sets the stage by telling the viewer what to expect from the project. The thesis statement should be readily apparent, but should be anchored to the larger picture the historian is trying to create rather than hanging alone. In the introduction to an exhibit on the riot of 1919, below, notice the following elements at work:

  • shows cause and effect; change over time
  • claims significance or impact
  • situates in context
  • makes a specific argument (the thesis)

Circle and label each element you find.

The race riot of 1919 was a cataclysmic event in Chicago. After five days of rioting, 38 white and black citizens were killed and 537 were injured. The riot itself was the product of nearly two decades of conflict between whites and blacks over housing, jobs, and political representation. Before the riot, the blacsk community was pressed into separate areas of the city by informal and extralegal means. After the riot the means of enforcing segregation became more accepted, more formal, often more violent, and completely legal. In this way the riot of 1919 was a turning point for the city Martin Luther King, Jr. called the "most segregated in the nation."