Our Essential Lessons are a sequence of lessons that form the backbone of the Writing Program curriculum, illustrating what we want all students to learn across our program’s diverse course topics.

Most students know that they should include a thesis statement in the introduction to an academic essay, but they may not know that academic arguments begin with a predictable series of rhetorical moves that establish a relationship between writer and reader. This lesson asks students to identify and practice these moves.


Instructors can communicate an inclusive definition of excellence through the model texts we choose for writing instruction. As you select models–whether these texts are by professional writers or by students–consider whether they reflect the diversity of your students.


Students will be able to define the terms for moves in a standard academic introduction, identify these moves in texts, recognize a range of forms these moves can take, and compose an introduction using these moves.

Key Terms

current situation (common ground, background), question/problem statement, significance, claim (thesis)


This lesson should take place near the assignment of Academic Essay 1, toward the beginning of WR 120. You might deliver this lesson before assigning a draft introduction and then revisit it right before the essay is due.


Genre Awareness

To infuse genre awareness, highlight the introductory features of texts you are reading on the course topic (including texts that are not scholarly). Ask students to consider how they do and do not conform with these standard academic moves. Examples: How does a poem raise a question? How does an op-ed set up and disrupt common ground?


The lesson sequence begins with a question about students’ prior knowledge, includes questions about how and why they see a question or claim as interesting or significant, and ends with a reflection question about how they will apply feedback and new knowledge as they revise.

  1. Ask students what they know or have been told about introductions for academic papers previously.
  2. Discuss their responses: They might mention pyramids, funnels, hooks, etc., and of course a thesis, but they seldom mention a motivating problem or question.
  1. Present one or more examples of an academic introduction. You may want to look together at an exemplary essay by a former Writing Program student; samples can be found in the WR journal. This handout includes the introductions from two sample WR essays and some prompts for students to analyze them.
  2. Elicit specific student observations about the introduction. Ask, in particular, how and where it engages their interest or makes them want to read on. Look at the bit in the middle (where the problem statement or question usually is) and ask questions to help students move inductively toward identifying what it is and why it’s important.
  1. Introduce the terms for the three major rhetorical moves in introductions.
  2. Explore how a sense of significance comes in–often linked to problem, sometimes to claim. For example, in this handout on Psychology and Rhetoric of Introductions, Joe Bizup offers one way of conceptualizing the moves of introduction that may be useful to students.
  1. Ask students (alone, in groups, in class, or at home) to choose an introduction (from all of WR, a specific issue of WR, or a course reading) and analyze it rhetorically.
  2. Discuss (likely in small groups) students’ analyses, focusing on
    • identifying the current situation or common ground,
    • identifying the question or problem statement,
    • identifying the thesis or claim,
    • and explaining the argument’s significance.
  1. Ask students to repeat this exercise in pairs, exchanging draft introductions of their own with a peer.
  2. Prompt students to reflect on this exercise and set specific revision goals for themselves.

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