Teaching Writing

Considering the 5-Paragraph Essay

Summary:

The 5-paragraph essay: it is frequently derided, but hard to avoid. This collection explores the critique of the 5-paragraph essay, and considers how we could move beyond it to more creative and authentic forms of academic writing.

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Resources in this Collection
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[su_spoiler title=”Writing Essays by Formula Teaches Students How Not to Think” open=”no” style=”default” icon=”plus” anchor=”” class=”collection-nav”]Education scholar and historian David Labaree argues that the 5-paragraph essay has conquered not only K-12 education, but also higher education, graduate school, and scholarly writing as well. He investigates what happens to students’ thinking when we value form over content, and offers an alternative set of questions for guiding analytical writing. Check it out…
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[su_spoiler title=”Beyond the Five-Paragraph Theme” open=”no” style=”default” icon=”plus” anchor=”” class=”collection-nav”]Former middle school teacher and teacher educator Glenda Moss explores the ways that the 5-paragraph essay generates formulaic writing instruction, leaving students unprepared to think critically and write in multiple genres in college and beyond. Check it out…
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[su_spoiler title=”The Five-Paragraph Theme Redux” open=”no” style=”default” icon=”plus” anchor=”” class=”collection-nav”]Elizabeth Rorshach dives deeper into the problems with formulaic writing instruction, drawing on student writing samples to argue that the 5-paragraph formula lulls students into nonthinking conformity by replacing their “commitment to their own ideas” with a commitment to basic formal rules. Check it out…
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[su_spoiler title=”Modernizing the Old School Essay” open=”no” style=”default” icon=”plus” anchor=”” class=”collection-nav”]What then could the essay be, liberated from its 5-paragraph form? Real Writing: Modernizing the Old School Essay offers a blueprint for using writing to help students engage deeply with complex texts and nuanced arguments, preparing them for authentic democratic engagement in high school and beyond. Check out the book, as well as an NWP Radio interview with the authors. Check it out…
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[su_spoiler title=”Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing” open=”no” style=”default” icon=”plus” anchor=”” class=”collection-nav”]If we dispense with old formats, what principles should guide our writing instruction? The Framework for Success in Postsecondary writing, produced through a collaboration of the NWP, NCTE, and Council of Writing Program Administrators, lays out the habits of mind essential for becoming an effective thinker and writer, and the experiences teachers can facilitate to help students develop these habits. Check it out…
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[su_spoiler title=”Should We Teach the Five-Paragraph Essay?” open=”no” style=”default” icon=”plus” anchor=”” class=”collection-nav”]Given all the concerns about formulaic writing, should the 5-paragraph essay still have a place in our instruction? University of Georgia writing instructor Josh Boldt suggests that used effectively, it can provide a useful scaffold for writers to learn basic writing and organization skills while still growing intellectually. The key, he argues, is to remember that it is a tool for helping develop other skills, not a goal in itself. Check it out…
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Professional writers tell of their efforts to overcome it; college instructors beg secondary teachers to banish it; and everyone seems to think if defines what the ‘essay’ is.

Few forms have had such opprobrium heaped upon them as has the 5-paragraph essay. And yet, it endures. Perhaps it endures only in the school context, but that context is extensive enough to ensure that most students in our schools will encounter it; some will master it.

So, you’ll want to think and talk more about the 5-paragraph essay.

Beginning with the provocative “Writing Essays by Formula Teaches Students How Not to Think”, the pieces in this collection take up the critique of the 5-paragraph essay—which has nothing to do with the having of 5 paragraphs—and then suggest ways to expand our thinking about the essay as a form that might allow for more robust, and certainly more interesting, academic writing in our classrooms.

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