Effective ways of teaching a 5 paragraph essay?

Discussion in 'Middle School / Junior High' started by mikemack42, May 29, 2011.

  1. mikemack42

    mikemack42 Companion

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    May 29, 2011

    I've been doing five paragraph essays with my 6th and 7th graders and they're really difficult for them. Some students get it, they just miss a sentence or two, but others write summaries instead of essays. I did an example essay with them, then they wrote one on their own in groups about a book of their choice, then when many of them didn't do so well on that, they corrected it and handed it in again. Then we did another one for the practice exam, but still many of my students don't seem to get that the idea is to make and sustain an argument, they wind up veering off into summary or just bland generalizations. Any suggestions?
     
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  3. mopar

    mopar Multitudinous

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    I have mine write a thesis statement that I check for all students. Then they work on writing a pro/con list, supports, or details for the essay. We work on a graphic organizer that I check again. Then they write a draft.
     
  4. MissCeliaB

    MissCeliaB Aficionado

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    Is the problem with structure or content? I like using the four square method. I found it helped my students stay organized.
     
  5. mikemack42

    mikemack42 Companion

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    What's the four square method?
     
  6. amakaye

    amakaye Enthusiast

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    It's a graphic organizer with 4 squares--each one can be used to organize ideas about a different section/topic.
     
  7. Mark94544

    Mark94544 Companion

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    May 29, 2011

    I've seen a pretty wide variety of graphic organizers which seem to help.

    Another strategy is to have students follow a very detailed template for a very specific assignment (scaffolding with a very rigid structure). This can include giving them the opening words of each paragraph, some transition phrases, and some specific words to be used ("narrator" "character" "pacing" "alliteration" whatever is relevant). You then remove some of the rigid structure from the next assignment.

    I think that it's absolutely, positively CRITICAL to any writing assignment that students have a clearly-defined AUDIENCE and PURPOSE for the assignment. To the extent that you're preparing students to write a 5PE for a standardized test, where the purpose and audience aren't stated, you can give students some "defaults" to consider. (And yes, the audience can be "my teacher" or "my fellow students in this classroom" [or "myself," though that can be problematic] and the purpose can be "to demonstrate that I've read and understood the text" -- but many students struggle because they can't understand the audience or purpose for the writing.

    (At some point in high school, many students can actually grasp the notion that for their standardized tests, they're actually writing to an audience that consists of one, two, or three "underpaid anonymous graders" who are applying a very specific rubric or checklist, and that the real purpose of the essay is actually to match the rubric or checklist, while pretending to write to a different audience with a different purpose.)

    Of course, some types of writing, (such as a persuasive essay) evoke more meaningful "audience and purpose" than some other types of writing (such as a compare-and-contrast essay).

    A very clear example of making the audience and purpose more meaningful is to stop asking students to write "book reports" and instead ask them to write "book reviews." Their peers in the classroom are the audience, and the purpose is to explain why some folks might want to read the book and why others might not. (A useful "book review" includes unique elements, such as "not giving away the whole story or the ending," which some students will struggle with, and many students can't grasp certain aspects of a book might increase or decrease its appeal for certain segments of the audience.).
     
  8. MissCeliaB

    MissCeliaB Aficionado

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    It just made sense for my kids. Of course, they started with it in kindergarten, and saw it every year, so they were just used to it. We expanded on it.
     
  9. mopar

    mopar Multitudinous

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    We use the four square method as well with our kids K-6.
     
  10. amakaye

    amakaye Enthusiast

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    The 4-square really clicked for my kiddos this year. Last year's class didn't take to it nearly as much as this class did (in fact, I had three ask during the state writing test, "Can we do a four-square for our planning?"--cue me beaming, on the inside, of course!)

    I like how easy it is to adapt to different tasks!
     
  11. Aussiegirl

    Aussiegirl Habitué

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    Jun 13, 2011

    I like 4-square but not by 7th/8th grade. I find it is too formulaic and constraining.

    I know some teachers use the hamburger method for 5 paragraphs: top bun is first paragraph, then tomato, burger, and lettuce and finally the bottom bun or summary paragraph.

    I may be a rebel, but I find it hard by 8th grade to tell kids that they must have 5 sentences per paragraph and must have 5 paragraphs for a topic. That is not real life! I was a writer in the business world for over 20 years - we didn't write that way! If we are telling them they must have x number of paragraphs, we usually end up with garbage. I'd rather see a shorter or longer well-written essay than a 5 paragraph essay with lots of filler. I feel if they feel successful as writers with shorter essays to start, they will be more willing and successful with longer essays.

    I use books of all kinds as examples of real writing. I tell the kids they are authors - just not published yet. As much as I can, I let them freewrite - it amazes them how much they are able to write when they are unfettered. Yes, I do teach the specifics of the different types of writing.

    They do struggle with persuasive writing and that is the one we spend the most time on - but I tell them it is just a formula. State your thesis and include a quick summary of your supporting reasons (the goal is to have at least 3). Next, write a paragraph for each reason with at least two supporting arguments. Then the final paragraph is a sentence or two summarizing your thesis and support, a sentence or two stating a possible counter point and rebuttal, and then a call to action of some kind.

    By 8th grade they need to start writing more maturely and more independently. They need to know that they can no longer end an essay with "That is why I feel this way", or "The end", or with no ending at all.

    Brainstorming is a vital part of the process and is difficult for most kids until they get practice with it. They need by 8th grade to get past the web concept for brainstorming unless they are proficient with a mind-map strategy, and most are not. They have been taught, rightly so, to do a 5 part web when planning out a paragraph in the lower grades. They continue to try that process in the upper grades for a full essay and it strangles their writing. I repeatedly work with them to create brainstorm lists.

    4-square is a great way to format a 5 paragraph essay, but what about a longer essay? 4-square doesn't work for that. I've also found too many of my students who use 4-square, use it incorrectly. It is a great tool, but by 7th and 8th grade the students really need to know many different ways to organize their writing.

    Sorry, I don't mean to step on any toes.
     
  12. mikemack42

    mikemack42 Companion

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    I agree that the format is a bit constraining, and we should be doing more to bridge the gap between going from a five paragraph essay to longer writing. To my dept's credit, they are trying to put specific rubrics in place for each grade level.

    I tried doing a graphic organizer with one long box at each end (for opening paragraph and conclusion) with three smaller boxes in between (for supporting paragraphs). It seemed to get the structure across better, though a lot of kids still really struggled with it.
     
  13. MrSen

    MrSen Rookie

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    A very descriptive graphic organizer could also be beneficial.
     
  14. carlea

    carlea Comrade

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    Jul 12, 2011

    I use the book Mastering the 5-Paragraph Essay by Susan Van Zile. Mini-lesson 4 - Webbing and the Rule of Three is key for my students. I use this graphic organizer for every expository essay (and make minor adjustments when needed). They really understand the web and are able to easily see how it helps their writing. I also use other resources such as the textbook for examples. By the end of the year, most students write good, organized essays.
     

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