The Five-Paragraph Essay

And in a 2016 blog post for the National Council of Teachers of English, Sacramento State associate professor Kim Zarins used the five-paragraph essay structure to show why she’s against teaching it.She called herself a high school “survivor of this form.” Despite its “long tradition, the five-paragraph essay is fatally flawed,” she wrote.Five-paragraph essays are not the majority of what Zarins sees, but she points out that she teaches medieval literature, not composition.

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“It doesn’t exemplify how we talk, how we write or how most essays you read are actually structured.” Consider paragraphs.

They should be about one subject and then naturally shift when that subject changes, Olin explains.

Hayes says college writing instructors need to get students to understand that the reason their K-12 teachers kept assigning five-paragraph essays was because they were working with “100, 120, 150 students,” and a standardized writing assignment “that works the same way every time” is easier to read, assess and grade.

In regards to students who leave K-12 with a “strong ability to write the five-paragraph essay,” he says, ““I don’t want to snap them out of it because I don’t want to dismiss that knowledge.” Take Mc Kenzie Spehar, a Writing and Rhetoric Studies major at the University of Utah.

As they develop their content, they consider how to structure those ideas.

“Students can explore a variety of organizational structures to determine what best supports the message of their essay,” Campbell says.

Dennis Allen doesn’t think the five-paragraph essay is dead.

In the years before his retirement in May from West Virginia University, the Professor Emeritus did not assign “strict” five-paragraph essays.

“In fact, it is often used with students who have been labeled as struggling.

Rather than supporting these students, or younger students, it does the opposite.” For his part, Hayes thinks the five-paragraph essay makes it easy to not be creative, not that it necessarily stifles creativity.


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