This activity was developed and submitted by Maureen Wieland, ABD from Purdue University.
Learning the importance of a clear and complete thesis statement.
This activity can be used for any basic communication, public speaking, or even writing class as the concept of a clear thesis is relevant to all.
Students often struggle with how to construct a full thesis statement and even forget to include this important part of a presentation in their own speeches and outlines. This activity should be conducted after students have already been exposed to the structure of a thesis statement and works well as a supplementary activity to do during the same class period in which you have lectured on this topic. It's a bit humorous and will help these concepts stick.
Time Requirement: One round takes approximately 10 minutes. I tend to play 3 rounds when I used this activity in one 50-minute class.
Materials: Blank pieces of paper (at least 1 per student per round you intend to play) and writing utensils.
Divide your class into groups of 5 to 10 and have each group sit in a circle. Give each student one piece of blank paper and instruct them to write a complete and detailed thesis statement appropriate for an informative presentation at the top of the paper. Make sure they keep their writing hidden from their group. No one but them should know what they wrote. You may want to remind them about the structure and purpose of a thesis statement before they get started (important pieces such as general purpose and specific purpose statements often are forgotten by students). Allow them to be creative with these thesis statements. Some of my favorite thesis statements produced through this activity involved "informing the audience about the potential dangers of owning a unicorn as a pet" and "informing the audience about how to teach your dog to skateboard."
After each student has written their thesis statement, have them pass their paper to the person on their right. Each student should have a piece of paper with a thesis statement that the person to their left has written. They should then read that thesis statement to themselves and attempt to create a drawing that accurately represents that statement. Make sure they don't take up too much space with their drawings as this process will need to be repeated a few times. Give your students about 1 minute to draw.
Then instruct them to fold over the top of their paper so that you cannot see the original thesis statement anymore. You should only be able to see their drawing now. Once they have covered up the original thesis statement, have them pass their papers again to the right.
Now they will only see a drawing without knowing what the thesis statement originally was. They should then interpret the drawing as a best as they can into a written thesis statement. Again give them 1 minute to write out their thesis statement based off of the drawing. Then, have each student fold over their papers again so that the first drawing is now covered. Once they have done that, have them again pass their papers to the right. They should only see a thesis statement again.
Make sure you instruct your students of when they should pass their papers. Without this guidance, there tends to be confusion and a build up of papers on one student's desk per group. Repeat this process of drawing and writing as many times as you would like or as many as there is space on the paper. I have found that you can usually fit thesis-drawing-thesis-drawing-thesis-drawing-thesis comfortably on one piece of paper.
Once you have stopped the process of passing papers, have students find the paper they originally started with, the one with the thesis statement they wrote. They will most likely have to unfold all the folds in the paper to find it. Give them a few minutes to marvel at the success (or lack of success) in the progression of their thesis statement. Invite students to share this progression with the rest of the class. There are usually a few that are quite hilariously bad or incredibly good.
While this activity can be very fun and silly, it is also important to tie it back to the importance of a quality thesis statement. Make sure to take the time to debrief the successes or failures of some of the thesis statements in the class. Some possible questions include:
Was the original thesis statement detailed enough to inform the artist what the speech would be about? Did it include the general purpose and specific purpose statements? How could it have been worded to be even more clear?
Was the original thesis statement expressed as a declarative sentence? Was it too broad of a topic to fit in one presentation?
Why was writing a thesis statement based off of a drawing difficult? Or did students find it easy?
Why are thesis statements an important part of presentational speaking?
As an audience member, how would having a good or bad thesis statement be helpful or harmful to understand a presentation?
At what part of the speech writing process should students create a detailed thesis statement?
My students absolutely love this activity! It's fun and creative and results in some funny thesis transformations that they can keep. The last time I ran this activity with my presentational speaking class, I asked them at the end of the second round if they had learned the goal of the activity (besides just having fun) and I had one student so perfectly sum it up I could have shed a tear. They catch on about the importance of being clear and detailed in their thesis statement writing and how a thesis that is ambiguous leads to disaster. That same class period, I had to remind them that the class period had ended and that they could leave because they were trying to fit in another riveting round. They still ask almost every week if we can play it again. Overall, I have found this activity to be very effective and incredibly fun.
References for more information on active and engaging classroom activities:
Kuh, G.D. (2009) What student affairs professionals need to know about student engagement. Journal of College Student Development, 50(6), 683-706.
McClenney, K., Marti, C., & Adkins, C. (2006) Student engagement and student outcomes: Key findings from CCSSE validation research. Austin, TX: Community College Survey of Student Engagement.
Umbach, P.D. & Wawryznski, M.R. (2005) Faculty do matter: The role of college faculty in student learning and engagement. Research in Higher Education, 46(2), 153-184.
Zhang, Q. & Zhang, J. (2006) Instructors' positive emotions: effects on student engagement and critical thinking in the US and Chinese classrooms. Communication Education, 62(4), 395-411.