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The Five-Paragraph Essay and the Golden Ratio | Teaching Writing Fast and Effectively!
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Date: October 25, What Is a 5 Paragraph Essay? Introduction The first paragraph, the introduction, includes an opening, topical sentence as a way to ease the reader into the essay; secondly, this paragraph states the topic a text, book, article, or issue, etc.
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Conclusion The conclusion paragraph restates, in a clever way, the argument first declared in the introductory paragraph and summarizes the most important points that comprised the three body paragraphs. We meant well when we had weak writing students memorize transition words and introductory and closing sentences to match with particular writing prompts. Prepositions took on new currency when the picture prompt was introduced. Students were presented a picture and asked to describe the scene. They could begin anywhere but were required to trace the picture in words by moving from top to bottom, left to right, right to left, or background to foreground—all in a multiparagraph theme.
In front of, behind, to the right of, across from, in the distance, and near the right-hand corner were common tools students used to plow through the picture prompt. The model writing norm, whether descriptive, instructive, classificatory, or persuasive, generally included an introductory paragraph, three paragraphs for the body, and a closing paragraph. Students were instructed to tell what they were going to write about, write about it, and then tell what they wrote about. While this is a standard that I remember being modeled in the fifties and sixties when I was an elementary and secondary student, it was only one model—the five-paragraph theme.
In the educational reform of the nineties, one model became the only writing model for Texas students. In Texas, teachers proudly boasted a high success rate when nearly every student could write a five-paragraph theme to any descriptive, how-to, compare and contrast, or persuasive prompt. Sometimes, we could even figure out the pattern and guess which mode would be tested in a given year.
What Is a 5 Paragraph Essay?
In the elementary grades, the students were given a picture to describe. In the sixth grade, students generally had to give the steps for how to do something. The prompts never invited any analysis of this process, so the resulting writing was usually a series of directions rather than an essay. Typical how-to prompts might read: "Think about your favorite game to play and explain in detail for a friend how to play the game," or "Your mom has given you permission to make your favorite after-school snack.
Tell what your favorite after-school snack is and give detailed instructions on how to prepare it," or "Explain for your younger sibling how to gift wrap a present. Give details for all the steps needed to wrap the gift. Seventh-graders generally were given classificatory prompts. Among the practice prompts that I gave my students was: "Your school is considering a dress code for next fall.
Think about the good things and bad things about school dress codes. Write an essay for your teacher in which you explain the good things and bad things about dress codes.
Students could be prompted to write a persuasive letter to the local school board. The prompt might read: "Your school district is considering school uniforms. In a letter to the school board, take a position for or against school uniforms and give reasons to support your position. My students thought I was a great teacher. Little did they realize that passing the TAAS would not guarantee them success in college, where writing standards included multiple models of writing to communicate critical thinking, something that does not seem to result from standardized testing that standardizes teaching practices.
It was a complex dilemma that I struggled with as a teacher. While I received praise from my school and district for my success rate among "at-risk" students, I kept asking myself why. Now, as I analyze my ten years of teaching under the TAAS testing system, I think it is accurate to say that the test prepared my students to write a five-paragraph theme, thus raising the level of education for some students, who had been tracked in special education and below-level classes, but it fell short of preparing students to write in multiple genres as expected in college.
It is embarrassing as I reflect on some of the middle school teaching practices I used to motivate my students to successfully write for TAAS. In the week before the TAAS test when my students were working on compositions, we might have a dialogue similar to the following:. I would reply, "I know. I am giving you boring topics these last two weeks before the state test because you will probably have a boring topic then, too.
I know I created fun situations earlier in the year for you to write about.
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The camping trip behind the school, the food festival in the classroom, Mrs. Perkins' demonstration of the Inkle loom, and comparing and contrasting the two cars that Mr. Cagle brought were all fun.
When you take the state test, you will probably be given a boring topic. If so, we need to practice writing terrific compositions even if we have a boring topic. You have to use all the skills you have learned to bring a boring topic to life.
The Basics of Effective Essay Writing
I now have a clearer understanding of why my students and I agreed that my prompts were "fun" and the state prompts were "boring. They knew all about Mr. Cagle's cars. They may never have given a thought to the subject of school uniforms before the day they confronted the topic on the TAAS test. And not only were they expected to write with intelligence on a subject about which they may have had little knowledge and less interest, they were required to accomplish this within the straight jacket of a five-paragraph format.
The Five-Paragraph Essay: What, Why, and How for Homeschoolers
My frustration with teaching in a system that required me to participate in teaching to low standards ended in my resignation four years ago. That was following a school year in which I was not allowed to attend two professional conferences that I had been attending annually for at least five years. Professional development through attending conferences apparently was not perceived to contribute to that end.
Innovation was no longer valued unless it resulted in success on TAAS. Later, I realized that devaluing professional development had resulted in the devaluation of complex writing and critical thinking.