How to Write A Five-Paragraph Essay
Step-by-step instructions for planning, outlining, and writing a five-paragraph essay.
The most important part of writing a five-paragraph -- or any other style -- essay has little to do with the actual essay writing: When it comes to a successful essay, the most crucial step is the planning. In fact, a properly planned essay will practically write itself.
The first advice you should provide students about to embark on an essay-writing adventure, therefore, is to plan what you will write about -- and plan to write about the assigned topic.
The second part of that advice might seem obvious and unnecessary, but we all know those students who fail to carefully read the question or prompt and then too quickly write about a vaguely related topic; or those who believe essays are graded on word count and prefer to write a lot about a topic they know well -- or everything they know about a variety of topics -- rather than risk writing too little about a less familiar, though assigned, topic.
Students need to be made aware that assigned topics for most writing assessments already are quite broad; they often need to be narrowed and focused; they rarely should be broadened.
Consider the following assignment:
Mark Twain once said: "Suppose you were an idiot... And suppose you were a member of Congress... But I repeat myself." Discuss whether you agree or disagree with Mark Twain's statement.
An essay about some silly bills passed by Congress, an essay about a few brilliant and respected members of Congress, even an essay about the factors that influenced Samuel Clemens' beliefs about Congress might be appropriate responses; an essay about Tom Sawyer or the history of Washington, D.C. would not be.
According to the College Board Web site, the only way to get a zero on the SAT's new essay section is to fail to write about the assigned topic. A little planning can prevent that.
After students have read and understood the assigned topic, they can go on to the next step of the essay-writing process. This step does involve writing -- but not yet essay writing. In step two, students write an outline of their proposed essay. The outline should look something like this:
Congress According to Twain
1) Topic: The question or prompt rephrased in the student's own words. Rephrasing the prompt will help students understand the assignment and narrow and focus the topic of their essay. For example, "Mark Twain once said that all members of Congress are idiots."
2) Position: The student's position or opinion about the question or prompt. For example, "I see no reason to disagree."
Most writing assessments ask students to take a position. Students should be aware that, if the test directions ask them to take a position, they need to take one side of the issue and defend it, not consider and defend both sides of the issue.
3) Reasons: Three reasons the student has taken his or her stated position.
a) Reason 1: The most important reason. For example, "Congress has passed a number of bills without considering where the funding for those bills would come from."
i) Evidence: Example that demonstrates Reason 1. For example, "The Americans with Disabilities Act, the Clean Air Act, and the No Child Left Behind Act are just three examples of laws that were passed without considering how cities and states would pay to implement their mandates."
b) Reason 2: The second most important reason. For example, "Congress has passed a number of silly bills based on narrow political interests."
i) Evidence: Example that demonstrates Reason 2. "For example, federal laws have been passed making it a crime to imitate Smokey the Bear or transport wooden teeth across state lines."
c) Reason 3: The third most important reason. For example, "The members of Congress from my state are idiots."
i) Evidence: Example that demonstrates Reason 3. For example, "I met John Smith, a member of Congress from my state, and he had never heard of my hometown."
The outline now is complete, and the essay -- as you can see by reading the italicized text in the outline -- is practically written.
The Five-Paragraph Essay
Finally! Students have arrived at the easiest part of the essay-writing process -- writing the essay. All they have to do now is arrange their outline text into a five-paragraph-essay format and add a few transitions, and they're done!
Paragraph 1: This is the Introduction. Here, students restate the assigned topic, state their position on the topic, and list the three reasons for their position. They end the paragraph with a transition sentence.
Mark Twain once said that all members of Congress are idiots. I see no reason to disagree. Members of Congress are often financially irresponsible, politically motivated, and unaware of the real concerns of their constituents. Let me explain.
Paragraph 2: This is the first of three paragraphs in the body of the essay. Here, students name and explain the most important reason for their stated position. They end the paragraph with a transition sentence.
Congress is financially irresponsible because it has passed a number of bills without considering where the funding for those bills would come from. The Americans with Disabilities Act, the Clean Air Act, and the No Child Left Behind Act are just three examples of laws that were passed without considering how cities and states would pay to implement their mandates. Congress doesn't just waste money, though, it wastes time too.
Paragraph 3: This is the second of three paragraphs in the body of the essay. Here, students name and explain the second most important reason for their stated position. They end the paragraph with a transition sentence.
Congress has wasted time by passing a number of silly bills based on narrow political interests. For example, federal laws have been passed making it a crime to imitate Smokey the Bear or transport wooden teeth across state lines. Congress doesn't only do idiotic things as a group, though.
Paragraph 4: This is the third of three paragraphs in the body of the essay. Here, students name and explain the third most important reason for their stated position. They end the paragraph with a transition sentence.
Even the individual members of Congress from my state are idiots. I met John Smith, a representative from my state, and he had never heard of my hometown.
Paragraph 5: This is the Conclusion. Here, students rephrase and recap their position on the issue and their reasons for it, and then write a concluding sentence. The conclusion might emphasizes their position, expand it, offer a solution, or express a hope or prediction for the future.
So you can see why I think Mark Twain was correct when he said that all members of Congress are idiots. Often financially irresponsible, politically motivated, and unaware of the real concerns of their constituents, I believe that members of Congress need to spend less time immersed in the politics of Washington, D.C. and more time amid the voters at home.
Congratulations! You passed!
Additional Essay-Writing Resources
Article by Linda Starr
Copyright © 2017 Education World
Last updated 10/02/2017
How To Teach the Five Paragraph Essay
- Would you like to show your students how to write a strong five-paragraph essay to a timed prompt, and have them complete it in about an hour?
- Would you like to show your students a simple format that will help them write essays from any writing domain?
- Would you like your students to be able to write exciting introductions and conclusions?
- Would you like a detailed lesson plan that will show you, step-by-step, how to teach the five-paragraph essay?
How To Teach The Five-Paragraph Essaycontains a step-by-step plan for teaching the five-paragraph essay. Teachers will be able to show their students how a simple outline will help students master one of the most important skills a student can acquire.
The format of this book leaves nothing to chance. The teacher is given everything needed to help students master essay writing. Students will be able to organize their ideas, then format and write a five-paragraph essay in about an hour. Every student will be prepared for any class, district, or state writing test.
List of Steps
See the entire process at a glance. The teacher will receive a list of steps on one page to help see the "big picture".
How long will it take to teach your class to write the five-paragraph essay? It all depends on the age and ability level of your students. Use this pacing chart to help keep your class on track. Feel free to slow down or speed up as needed. Following the steps on the pacing chart will keep your class moving through the process at a pace that is just right.
Detailed Lesson Plan
You will receive a detailed explanation of each step. Use the detailed lesson plan to learn how to teach the five-paragraph essay. Once you feel comfortable with each step, the pacing chart is all you will need. You will only need to use the detailed lesson plan to serve as a reminder when you need it.
Plan for Mastery
What are the chances that some students will struggle mastering the essay? All teachers know that every class has its quick learners. This book will show you how to help high achievers create outstanding essays while showing the teacher how to help slower students achieve full mastery of the five-paragraph essay. Parents and administrators will be impressed beyond words at your diligent instruction of the essay.
Bells and Whistles
Not only will your students be able to write a strong five-paragraph essay, they will be able to do it with style. Show your students how to write college level essays by adding spectacular "bells" and "whistles" to their essays. Your students will be able to write Interesting Introductions, Classy Conclusions, and Terrific Transitions. Be prepared to amaze parents, other teachers, and administrators with your students' amazing essays.
The Next Level
This book leaves absolutely nothing to chance. Your students will learn to write the five-paragraph essay using one simple, basic format. Once they have mastered this format, taking their essays to the next level is easy. Writing essays in all domains of writing is amazingly simple. Your students will be able to write essays on topics such as Problem-Solution, Cause and Effect, Autobiographical Incident, Persuasive Argument, and much more. All forms of writing become easy once your students have mastered the basic essay format.
Table of Contents
The Steps (Click to view sample)
Transition Words Worksheet #1 (Click to view sample)
Download a 6 page preview:(Click to download preview)
This 60+ page book contains all the lesson plans you need and includes more than a dozen worksheets to help your students master the five-paragraph essay.
Watch a video demonstration for How To Teach the Five Paragraph Essay
The ability to organize one's thoughts and communicate ideas clearly is the backbone of good writing. This is why many states are beginning to test students as early as fourth grade on each student's ability to write multiple paragraphs on a single topic. The five-paragraph essay is considered the foundation of good writing.
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