Tag Archives: writing

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 be male AND not-male. That is a contradiction. A paradox is something that SEEMS to contradict but which may possibly have some middle ground. A person might be male and female, for example, if they are a hermaphrodite (they have both sets of sex organs).

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

What is dialectical materialism?

Marx was a materialist. To him, the only things worth considering were real, physical things that you could see and lay your hands on. So ideas and knowledge were pointless, unless those idea were put to work and produced results. This is why most of Marx’s work has to do with money and work, instead of some of the more airy ideas that are usually associated with philosophy.

So if you’re tasa materialist, one of the dialectics you are going to be really interested in is the contrast between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. How is it that some people have lots of material stuff and some people don’t? And what is the inevitable outcome of such a situation? Marx even went so far as to describe all of human history in the terms of this materialist dialectic.

Feudalism, to Marx, was a struggle between the aristocrats (haves) and the peasants (have-nots). Slave labour works to produce things to an extent, but skilled labour produces things better. A capitalist system recognises and rewards skilled workers more highly than unskilled ones, so in his view all feudal systems were doomed to eventually become capitalist ones.

But a capitalist system still has a dialectic. There are haves (the owners of the factories, which he called ‘bourgeoisie’) and the have-nots (the workers). So how will this inevitably be resolved? Marx thought that eventually the workers would simply stop working for the bourgeoisie and work only for themselves. All workers would then be owners, and there would be no more dialectic – a permanent, stable system that he called ‘socialism’.

To him, this was inevitable. Trying to resist this transition would only make the transition harder. There are, however, many criticism of dialectics as a whole and Marx’s conclusions in specific, so exactly how inevitable it really is can still be a matter of protracted debate. b

What is thesis/antithesis/synthesis?

In our case, we are going to use thesis, antithesis and synthesis as an argumentative tool, and it can be used very effectively as an essay writing framework:

  • Thesis – a statement or theory that is put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved
  • Antithesis – the negation or contradiction of the thesis
  • Synthesis – the resolution of the conflict between thesis and antithesis

Student activity:

Pick a thesis.  Use your knowledge, handouts, your notes and the internet to do the following:

  • Support your thesis with two or three key points, quotes or explanations.
  • Write a credible antithesis and support it with two or three key points, quotes or explanations.
  • Write a synthesis which expresses your reasoned conclusion.

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  1. http://askeveryone.ca/.question$6748319  (back)
  2. 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.

Recognizing and Addressing the Barriers to Adolescents’ “Reading Like Historians”

historical thinking

I believe that every History teacher should read Professor Jeffery Nokes’ well-written paper on “Recognizing and Addressing the Barriers to Adolescents’
“Reading Like Historians”. He makes a very strong argument for creating a learning and questioning culture that is more like the actual discipline of History, rather than just uncritically rote learning and accepting what is in a textbook. Nokes’ research is firmly rooted in real classroom practice, which makes it all the more powerful and easier to apply practically.

Below you will find my highlighted sections and summary of the article. There is also a very clear overview table that lists the four barriers to “Reading like a Historian” and some suggestions as to how to overcome these barriers.

Some resources:

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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