Posted in Classroom Ideas, Food for Thought, Teaching Techniques

The 5 Paragraph Essay and a Complicated Relationship

I have a love/hate relationship with the 5 paragraph essay. Before I continue, you have to know that it wasn’t always this way. I used to give the 5 paragraph essay about zero thoughts. It was what I had always known, always used, and it worked well. It was, and still is, a great basic format to use when writing a literature analysis essay. It’s a great first essay structure to teach students who are just learning about writing essays and need a solid form to work with. Even though my thoughts on the 5 paragraph are more complicated now, these basic facts haven’t changed, and I doubt they ever will.

My thoughts on the 5 paragraph essay changed slowly and all at once. Remember, for about 12 years it was all I had really known. Then my last semester of undergrad I took a class called “Advanced Expository Writing.” I wasn’t sure what to expect from the class, but it turned out to be a great class. It was taught by a professor who became one of my favorite professors, and it was absolutely a class I learned a lot from. And on the first day of class my professor told us that we wouldn’t be writing 5 paragraph essays.

This was a class that was all about writing essays. And we weren’t supposed to use the 5 paragraph essay format.

I almost cried. There was definitely a shock factor involved. I really wanted to curl up and give up. I’m not a quitter by any means, but how is one supposed to write an essay and not use the 5 paragraph format? All I knew was the 5 paragraph essay format. I thought that was the only essay format, and that it was just modified depending on how many things I wanted to say in my essay. I love to write, and I hate unexpected change.  I wasn’t sure what kind of combination this scenario was.

But I’m not a quitter. Especially when it comes to writing. Writing is a big part of who I am; I’m not about to walk away from a challenge. So in the beginning I struggled. I wrote some really bad drafts for my first essay. I got a lot of good feedback. But then I began to find my style, which turns out isn’t really a 5 paragraph style. It’s more of a vignette, put the puzzle pieces together, style. Writing got better and writing these “nontraditional” essays became a lot easier.

The point of this anecdote isn’t to ramble on about undergrad. I learned a lot from that class. It taught me more than I could have imagined about writing and about myself. (I find that I can learn a lot about myself through writing.) I learned that the 5 paragraph essay isn’t the only way to structure an essay. I learned that it isn’t always the right way to write an essay. This is information that I want to be able to teach my students so that they can go forth and determine for themselves how they might want to write some of their essays. Because remember, sometimes the 5 paragraph essay is best.

BB

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