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From Thesis to Text

Assignment Summary

Each group of four or five students is asked to develop a story line that illustrates the thesis: "Nothing ever becomes real till your life has experienced it" (Keats). Once the groups have drafted a rough outline of a story that supports the thesis, they are asked to collaborate in writing the first paragraph. Their assignment is to set the tone, introduce the main characters, and establish the thesis. Allow about twenty minutes for this part of the task.

Each group then gives its paragraph to another group, which must decide its own story line based on the tone and characters introduced in the first paragraph. The assignment is to write the concluding paragraph. When everyone has finished, someone from each group reads the first and last paragraphs to the class, which then discusses the relationships between them in terms of the thesis, tone, and viability. In other words, does the narrative come to a logical conclusion? And, more important, has the thesis been maintained?


Instructor's Comments

I tried this lesson in three classes, and students really enjoyed it. On a few occasions, the concluding paragraph written by the second group wasn't faithful to the thesis, and the first group was quick to point it out. Some students were particularly possessive of their original paragraphs and voiced concern when the second group hadn't treated their story the way they would have treated it. This led to a number of lively discussions about working theses, narrative development, and interpretation. This lesson works well because students have a personal attachment to "their" stories. Furthermore, creating a text that supports a particular thesis, rather than extracting a thesis from an existing text, helps students realize the value–indeed, the necessity–of writing text with a clearly developed thesis.

genre narrative
course WRT 102
activity type small group discussion, collaborative writing
skills thesis development, analysis
duration 1-2 classes
"Snapshots," "Grandma Went to Smith...," "The Proper Respect" (all from Writing in the Disciplines), or any other short story(ies).
handouts: --
author: Joan Altieri