If You Teach or Write 5-Paragraph Essays–Stop It

I have been teaching the art of good writing to students since 1972 and outside of class I help students create successful college and scholarship essays. I first saw the five-paragraph format when I arrived in CPS in 1993. My first observation was "Well. it's...functional." After a few years in CPS I understood why the format was used. We have a huge amount of students who can barely write a coherent paragraph, let alone a complete essay. These students need to start with the easiest essay format to understand, remember and use.

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Dr. Steve Graham: Do you mind if I make a comment? I would turn it on its head. I've had this conversation before and one teacher said you know what we do in our classrooms, is we have kids do something with text messaging as a starting point for our writing. Then the idea is that they work on it to make it into something more formal so that they learn more about this code switching. So we can take what they do now — which they're very motivated to do — and use it as an instructional tool.

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There's also going to be some kids we're going to be looking for alternatives for by the time they start hitting second and third grade. So I'm going to use an example with my daughter. My daughter was a kid who struggled with spelling and handwriting mightily. And one of the things that happened was in second grade she started working on a word processor. Now she flies across the keyboard. Didn't help the problem that much, but it certainly helped

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I am horrified when high school English teachers tell me they unteach five paragraph essays, which kids often learn in middle school. I am disturbed because the students arrive to my college English course with no sense of structure or organization and I have to reteach all of these basic skills. Maybe this philosophy is one of the reasons why so many students arrive to college with deficient writing skills.

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Example 5: There are several interesting insights here, together with some apt analysis. The weakness of the writing interferes with the communication of those insights and ideas. What I could understand about your view of Freytag's pyramid, I really liked. Better structure and more than one draft would surely help to make your writing as good as your underlying ideas. Grade: D+

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What your argument equates to is turning every writing assignment into free writes, journals, rants and blogs. These are appropriate exercises to build off of, but that's all they are. Your refutation also assumes the five paragraph essay stops at five paragraphs, when it is really just the starting point for everything else. And I am confused when you argue "The five paragraph essay limits students into about 1 1/2 pages"; most are really about 3-4 pages of three transparent, well developed body paragraphs that define, present evidence, and explain with examples. All the emphasis on common core, Aristotle, and argument seem like red herrings in this argument about the five paragraph importance. If you are a high school teacher who wants to truly prepare your student for college or work, then you SHOULD be teaching students to use the five paragraph as a starting point of construction. You'll be doing them a big favor.