Tag Archives: essay

Building an argument tower with thesis, antithesis, synthesis

Today we built an ‘argument tower’ in class. The idea was found by my colleague Sara, on this AP Word History blog, written by Jonathan Henderson. There are also a few Tweets about “argument towers”.

I used the ‘Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis‘ argument structure to help students construct an effective paragraph or essay. You can also use “Contention – Example – Evaluation” etc. Works for English, Philosophy, Geography or any area where students have to argue something.

What’s needed: Continue reading

Thesis / Antithesis / Synthesis for essay writing

While researching Marxist ideology for revision lessons on the Russian Revolution, I came across the idea of thesis/antithesis/synthesis as an argumentative framework.

I have since used it successfully in my classes. I think the notion of Dialectics and thesis/antithesis/synthesis fits in well with my other ideas about essay writing (they are nothing new, I’ve just recast them in my own way: TEAC).


What is dialectics?

Dialectics of any sort is a means of trying to resolve a paradox.

It’s important first of all to understand the difference between a paradox and a contradiction. Two things contradict if they CANNOT co-exist. A person cannot have a broken leg AND not-have a broken leg. That is a contradiction. A paradox is something that SEEMS to contradict but which may possibly have some middle ground. For instance” All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” or “You can save money by spending it”.

That, in a nutshell, is what dialectics does. To learn about something, it considers something that is almost its opposite, and then tries to figure out what the compromise is between the two. So perhaps you’d figure out the meaning of life by comparing it to the meaning of death. But that’s getting off-topic. a Continue reading

  1. http://askeveryone.ca/.question$6748319  (back)

How to be an Essay Writing Jedi Ninja (Poster with Canva and Thinglink)

Over the years I have honed my essay writing teaching skills and I’ve distilled it to 5 top tips:

  • RTBQ
  • TEAC
  • Signpost
  • State and Evaluate
  • Find the golden thread

Rather cryptic, I know, but my students know what it means. I made a poster using two cool sites: Canva and Thinglink. Canva is fantastic for making professional looking posters and Thinglink adds an interactive element to images and text. Hover your cursor over the image below to see the explanation of my cryptic but very good essay tips.

Critical Thinking (Coursera #1)

premises, not premiseI am enrolled in the Coursera Course “Critical Thinking in Global Challenges” by Professor Mayank Dutia, Dr. Celine Caquineau from Edinburgh University. It is  good to see how a MOOC is run and the course contains great videos and some very stimulating reading materials. I can already see how I can apply these skills to improve my students’ essay writing skills. Critical thinking means to gather and assess information in a logical, balanced and reflective way to reach conclusions justified by reasoned arguments based on the available evidence…. That to me sounds exactly like what a good IB History Essay should be like.

critical thinking

I hope to write some more posts about what I am learning. Here is the first one:

Essential Concepts in Critical Thinking

  • Fact: something which can be demonstrated to be true
  • Assertion: something that is held to be true, but which has not been, or cannot be, actually demonstrated to be true
  • An argument: a series of logical statements, leading to a fair conclusion, with reasons offered to support the conclusion.
  • A valid argument: is based on one or more premises (starting points), which may be facts, observations, or assumptions.
  • Premise: a previous statement or proposition from which another is inferred or follows as a conclusion. Continue reading

Kuhlthau, the research process

uncertainposterHave you  experienced that moment where an academic task or question seemed so big that it made you slightly anxious? I have, and I see my students go through it too. Research essays, the IB Extended Essay and the IB Internal Assessment are all big academic inquiry processes where students are required to research and grapple with a large amount of information that has to be distilled and synthesised into a coherent and sophisticated argument.

Professor Carol Kuhlthau has researched the research process. I find her notion of the “uncertainty principle” very interesting and recognisable. She describes it as follows: 

“Uncertainty is a cognitive state that commonly causes symptoms of anxiety and lack of confidence. Uncertainty and anxiety can be expected in the early stages of the information searching process. Uncertainty, confusion, and frustration are associated with vague, unclear thoughts about a topic or problem.

As knowledge states shift to more clearly focused thoughts, a parallel shift occurs in feelings of increased confidence. Uncertainty due to a lack of understanding, a gap in meaning, or a limited construct initiates the process of information seeking”

(Kuhlthau, C. C. (1993). Seeking meaning: A process approach to library and information services. Norwood, NJ: Ablex., p. 111)


Below is a visual representation of the uncertainty experienced during a research / inquiry process: Continue reading

TEAC essay structure

Essay writing with TEAC

There are many essay writing frameworks out there. I am sure you know the old hamburger image and the TEEL structure, but I find that these models do not convey the sophistication and analytical depth that is needed for a good paragraph / essay for IB History. So I came up with my own. I am calling it TEAC (Click on the poster):

  • Topic sentence, Theme, Thesis 
  • Evidence and Explanation 
  • Analysis and Assessment 
  • Conclusion 

Some further explanation:

  • A clear first sentence should convey what the key point (thesis) is of this paragraph. Also, a thematic approach is far stronger than a simple narrative account. Categorising events in themes like political, military, economic, social, long term, short term, strengths, weaknesses, causes, effects, ideology etc etc will produce a much more sophisticated and analytic essay than just telling the story.
  • Evidence and explanation should contain stats, quotes, years, events, people. Great sentence starters are: An example of this is, it can be seen that, this is illustrated by, as shown by, for example, as historian XYZ stated etc. This is where you show you know your stuff.
  • Analysis and assessment. Every IB History essay will require you to make a judgement. Just spitting out everything you know is not enough (avoid simple narratives), you have to place your knowledge into context and analyse why it was significant, what was more or less important, assess its effect or reasons why. Go to the Google doc for good sentence starters and conjunctions.
  • Conclusion: Always stay on track in addressing the essay statement. Conclude each paragraph with something that links to either your topic sentence or the essay statement itself. You can reuse some of the key words from the essay statement (but not verbatim, that is too simplistic). Also, take note of the command term of the question; do what you are “commanded” to do.

Some good links:

Here’s a good question for you: Why can’t I just use Google for my research? The pros and cons can be found here. 

How to write a great history essay, by Ms VW


Love your conjunctions:

Agreement / Addition / Similarity

Opposition / Limitation / Contradiction

Examples / Support / Emphasis

Conclusion / Summary / Restatement

in the first place

not only … but also

in addition

coupled with

first, second, third

equally important

by the same token








although this may be true

in contrast

different from

of course …, but

on the other hand

on the contrary

at the same time

in spite of

even so / though

be that as it may

then again

above all

in reality

after all


(and) still



(and) yet















in other words

for one thing

as an illustration

in this case

for this reason

that is to say

important to realize

another key point

first thing to remember

most compelling evidence

must be remembered

point often overlooked

to point out

on the positive / negative side

with this in mind

notably, including, like, namely, chiefly, truly, indeed, certainly, surely, markedly, especially, specifically, expressively, surprisingly, frequently, significantly, such as,

in fact

in general

in particular

in detail

for example

for instance

to demonstrate

to emphasize

to repeat

to clarify

to explain

to enumerate

as can be seen

generally speaking

in the final analysis

all things considered

as shown above

in the long run

given these points

as has been noted

in a word

for the most part

after all

in fact

in summary

in conclusion

in short

in brief

in essence

to summarize

on balance





by and large

to sum up

on the whole

in any event

in either case

all in all

Fun with wordclouds

This post is inspired by @jivespin who runs a fabulous blog full of great teaching ideas. His tweet (below) made me want to play around with Tagxuedo myself, it had been a while.

At the time of writing, importing images in Taxuedo is still in Beta so you can still import images for free. I will soon be doing Weimar and the Rise of Hitler again so I made two Taxuedos, one of Hitler and one of Stresemann. I used the Wikipedia entries as my sources list, but took some Wikipedia specific words such as: Edit, Navigation, pp, Wikipedia out of the word list. It is interesting to see the differences between the two.

A clickable version of the Wikipedia entry on Hitler below: Continue reading

Ron Ritchhart’s Eight Thinking Continua

Thinking clip art#1Eight thinking continua, By Ron Ritchhart. Cultures of Thinking Project. Harvard Project Zero, 2008. This is a great tool to assess deep thinking. I find it particularly useful for the assessment of essays and written work. I have created a rubric based on Ron Ritchhart’s continua in a Word Doc.

Download the file: Thinking Continua Assessment_Ron Ritchhart

Continue reading