The Five-Paragraph Paper -- Yes or No?

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by Teaching_101, Nov 19, 2009.

  1. Teaching_101

    Teaching_101 Companion

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2009
    Messages:
    106
    Likes Received:
    0

    Nov 19, 2009

    The answer is probably yes, but I am still curious.

    I will be teaching high school English by next August, so this is a question (lesson) I need to learn fast. Are five-paragraph papers necessary in high school?

    I personally hate them because they leave no room for creativity and just get students used to "plugging in the formula." However, I realize students need to learn the formula (to get them used to the idea of organization in general) before they can be mature enough writers to branch out and be creative.

    What do you think?
     
  2.  
  3. ku_alum

    ku_alum Aficionado

    Joined:
    May 24, 2008
    Messages:
    3,513
    Likes Received:
    15

    Nov 19, 2009

    It depends where your writers are ... hopefully, by HS they are past the 5 paragraph template. If they are not, I would make it a top priority to get them away from it, meaning lots of practice with writing.
     
  4. Mrs. K.

    Mrs. K. Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2008
    Messages:
    2,292
    Likes Received:
    122

    Nov 19, 2009

    I think it also depends on the grade level. In 9th and 10th, you're still looking for them to frame a decent argument or discussion, and the 5-paragraph essay can provide that framework. By the time they get to me in 12th grade, though, I let them in on the secret that it's really not the way they'll really need to write in the future (and then I prove it with lots of examples.)
     
  5. cutNglue

    cutNglue Magnifico

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2006
    Messages:
    9,154
    Likes Received:
    1

    Nov 19, 2009

    I have tutored college students who have not completely grasped the 5 paragraph paper. Once students are fluent enough in this, they understand more about how writing works and can go with other constructions but until then, I notice it does affect how well a person is able to put together a paper (in general).
     
  6. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,807
    Likes Received:
    1,171

    Nov 19, 2009

    There are, however, times when The Five-Paragraph Essay (Plus or Minus One) is a useful tool for cranking out organized prose, pronto. Even some "mature" writers would benefit from resorting to such a formula on occasion...
     
  7. cutNglue

    cutNglue Magnifico

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2006
    Messages:
    9,154
    Likes Received:
    1

    Nov 19, 2009

    It definitely helps on the Praxis (had to say it). :whistle:
     
  8. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2006
    Messages:
    27,534
    Likes Received:
    6

    Nov 19, 2009

    I don't teach English, so take this for what it's worth.

    But I think we sometimes forget that kids need to know-- really know and internalize-- the basics before they can move on.

    So I'm guessing that, unless and until they have mastered that 5 paragraph essay, they're not likely to be able to get creative and still make sense.

    Just as kids need to know the alphabet before they can read and know their times tables before they can factor, I think they probably need to master that 5 paragraph essay before they can move on to more creative forms of persuasion.
     
  9. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2007
    Messages:
    5,621
    Likes Received:
    6

    Nov 19, 2009

    :yeahthat:

    Of course, I'm a math teacher too....
     
  10. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,807
    Likes Received:
    1,171

    Nov 19, 2009

    (rolling eyes but simultaneously chuckling)

    Yes, cutNglue dear...

    Seriously: What I keep trying to impress on people is that the abilities that are tested by tests really and truly ARE best seen and taught - and learned - as having use outside the test as well.
     
  11. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2006
    Messages:
    27,534
    Likes Received:
    6

    Nov 19, 2009

    As a high school student I competed in Speech and Debate, commonly known as Forensics. My particular event was Current Event Extemporaneous Speech. We would be given a current events question and half an hour in which to formulate an answer to that question. (We were allowed an index card with up to 50 words. From that, we had to give a 5-7 minute speech answering the question.)

    I did fairly well, competing at the state and national level. And the format that won every single round was a variation of the 5 paragraph essay:

    Intro
    State the question.
    Define your 3 areas of analysis
    Discuss those 3 areas
    Reiterate the main areas of analysis
    Answer the question
    Tie it back to that intro.

    That was it-- a formula that worked every single time.

    In college, every single paper I wrote, from my freshman year through grad school, followed the same format, give or take a few areas of analysis. And it got me wonderful grades.

    Sometimes things are taught because they're a good working system. Not the only system, but one that works.
     
  12. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,807
    Likes Received:
    1,171

    Nov 19, 2009

    I suspect that what gets Mrs. K.'s honorable dander up is when the format is clearly being adhered to as tightly as a scab adheres to the pad of a Band-Aid, with the same level of conscious thought and judgment (which is to say, none) - and with as regrettable a result when things are pulled apart for examination. In that, she is absolutely right.

    As a template that's stretchable and malleable, however, and as a reminder to Keep Things Organized, Doggone It!, the Five Paragraphs Plus Or Minus can be a very useful little slip-joint wrench to have in one's mental toolkit.
     
  13. cutNglue

    cutNglue Magnifico

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2006
    Messages:
    9,154
    Likes Received:
    1

    Nov 19, 2009

    I write 5 paragraph emails....:rolleyes:. I crack myself up sometimes. :lol:
     
  14. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2007
    Messages:
    5,621
    Likes Received:
    6

    Nov 19, 2009

    What about the 5 paragraph forum post? Oh, or the 5 text message argument????? Sorry, I'm trying to decompress here.
     
  15. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,807
    Likes Received:
    1,171

    Nov 19, 2009

    And, cutNglue, I bet you catch heck-born-of-jealousy from some of your correspondents, who can't figure out why THEY can't get points across as well.

    Aw, mm: do we gotta decompress?

    (Yeah, actually, I guess we gotta, come to think of it. I have an Errand of Mercy across town in less than half an hour.)
     
  16. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2007
    Messages:
    5,621
    Likes Received:
    6

    Nov 19, 2009

    Yeah, it does nobody any good to just stay mad.
     
  17. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,807
    Likes Received:
    1,171

    Nov 19, 2009

    (subsiding, if not altogether gracefully)

    I'll catch up with you lot later.
     
  18. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2007
    Messages:
    5,621
    Likes Received:
    6

    Nov 19, 2009

    I'm reading various urban legends on snopes and laughing my behind off. Laughter is usually the most graceful way to forget you've got your dander up.
     
  19. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,807
    Likes Received:
    1,171

    Nov 19, 2009

    True, true.
     
  20. cutNglue

    cutNglue Magnifico

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2006
    Messages:
    9,154
    Likes Received:
    1

    Nov 19, 2009

    Actually TG, if I'm not writing something formal, I just ramble on and on. My mouth does the same thing so people aren't really that surprised.
     
  21. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,807
    Likes Received:
    1,171

    Nov 19, 2009

    That's funny, cutNglue - and probably only partly true.

    Later, all...
     
  22. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

    Joined:
    May 8, 2008
    Messages:
    8,583
    Likes Received:
    1,700

    Nov 19, 2009

    If it's a formal essay, the 1-3-1 format is the best way to ensure that all points are discussed. As for the creativity factors, think of 1-3-1 in the same light as a sonnet. It doesn't get more rigid but BOY, beautiful words can flow from either format. On the other hand, you can always create an alternative to the formal essay (write an extra chapter to the story, respond to the poem with another poem) that shows understanding and even synthesis of the lesson.
     
  23. TheNumberOne

    TheNumberOne Rookie

    Joined:
    Nov 19, 2009
    Messages:
    22
    Likes Received:
    0

    Nov 19, 2009

    I did not read through all of the posts but the original, first post - but I follow the quote "Quality, not quantity."

    If the essay is one paragraph long but gets the job done, I'm fine with it.
     
  24. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,807
    Likes Received:
    1,171

    Nov 19, 2009

    That one paragraph had darned well better be organized, however - and that's the point here.
     
  25. TheNumberOne

    TheNumberOne Rookie

    Joined:
    Nov 19, 2009
    Messages:
    22
    Likes Received:
    0

    Nov 19, 2009

    Maybe I exaggerated.

    My point was, quality matters, not quantity.
     
  26. Brendan

    Brendan Fanatic

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2004
    Messages:
    2,974
    Likes Received:
    1

    Nov 19, 2009

    I see a huge problem with this. On my last history test for AP USH I asked the question "Early encounters between American Indians and European colonists led to a variety of
    relationships among the different cultures.
    Analyze how the actions taken by BOTH American Indians and European colonists
    shaped those relationships in TWO of the following regions. Confine your answer to
    the 1600s.
    New England
    Chesapeake
    Spanish Southwest
    New York and New France"

    And many of them struggled simply because they did not want to have a 4 paragraph essay!
     
  27. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2007
    Messages:
    5,621
    Likes Received:
    6

    Nov 19, 2009

    But the 5 paragraph essay was never intended as a stopping point, only an elementary formal structure to help beginning writers organize their thoughts.

    The analogy I've used in the past is cooking. A novice cook will follow a recipe item for item. The dish he prepares (if he does things right) will be tasty, look decent, but be somewhat unexciting. As that cook gains more experience and learns how different foods, spices and cooking methods work together, he experiements to create more variety and interest. Along with that, his skills become more refined so his dishes become even better.

    The 5 paragraph essay is the recipe. By the time they get to your AP history class, they should have already become comfortable with different ingredients and cooking methods, so to speak.
     
  28. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,807
    Likes Received:
    1,171

    Nov 19, 2009

    Anybody with no skill can break a rule. In order to be able to transcend the rule, however, you have to have mastered it to begin with. And the flat fact is that most of our students (and, dare I say it, alarmingly many of our grads) have not mastered the rules.
     
  29. cutNglue

    cutNglue Magnifico

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2006
    Messages:
    9,154
    Likes Received:
    1

    Nov 20, 2009

    I'm with TG on this one. I see too many adults, through tutoring, my classmates and at work that haven't mastered basic skills in writing. Then we are assigned something like a literature review of 10 articles for a grad paper. Even though that one defintely goes over 5 paragraphs, people still do better understanding how the 5 paragraph paper works in order to organize this much lenthier one. The same principles apply even if the numbers change. You can't just go all over the place with your topic.
     
  30. cutNglue

    cutNglue Magnifico

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2006
    Messages:
    9,154
    Likes Received:
    1

    Nov 20, 2009

    The 1-3-1 rule, as an adult, isn't really about the numbers. It is about all the skills required to pull this off.

    Did I introduce my topic well enough?
    Did I tell the audience what I will be discussing?
    Do these discussion topics clearly link with my introduction and can the reader understand or at least predict where I'm going with the information provided in my introduction?
    Did I stay on topic?
    Did I use the order I told the reader I would use?
    Did I make this order clear (or was it muddled and mixed throughout the paper)?
    Did I use good transitions between these paragraphs so that the author follows my connected thoughts without being jarred?
    Did I make my points clearly throughout the paper without skipping around and having to cover them elsewhere (thus confusing the reader)?
    Did I consider my audience?
    When I summed up my conclusion, did I senthesized (spell check is not on my pager) the point of my paper while reiterating what I talked about?
    Did I make sure the conclusion was not an exact copy of the intro and at the same time make sure I haven't introduced new information in the conclusion?
     
  31. Mrs. K.

    Mrs. K. Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2008
    Messages:
    2,292
    Likes Received:
    122

    Nov 20, 2009

    cut, that's an excellent list of questions - I'm going to have to steal it to use in my class! :p
     
  32. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,807
    Likes Received:
    1,171

    Nov 20, 2009

    It is, isn't it, Mrs. K.?

    This is what I love about A to Z.
     
  33. Teaching_101

    Teaching_101 Companion

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2009
    Messages:
    106
    Likes Received:
    0

    Nov 20, 2009

    This is EXACTLY what I am talking about. I'm not saying the formula doesn't work; I'm actually saying the exact opposite: the formula works so well that no other alternative writing style is ever used.

    I had the exact same experience as you. I made A's on almost all of my essays in college, and I had to adhere strictly to the formula. I say had to adhere because I came into college thinking that it was a breeding ground of creativity, and when I wrote my first essay in college (which was creative and didn't adhere to convention) I got docked A LOT of points for not using "transitions such as therefore, next, third," etc. And that was verbatim commentary.

    Ever since then I feel like I have to turn on my "robot" mode and go through the motions, just feeding the professors what they want to see.

    As stated in my original post, I agree with everyone that students must master the concepts taught with a five-paragraph paper before they can begin to "transcend" the rules, but I do eventually want to get to that point...
     
  34. Brendan

    Brendan Fanatic

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2004
    Messages:
    2,974
    Likes Received:
    1

    Nov 20, 2009

    My problem is that they think they MUST have 5 paragraphs. If you are only required to use 2 major areas, and it is a timed essay (35 minutes), then having 4 body paragraphs is GREAT!
     
  35. Special-t

    Special-t Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Jun 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,019
    Likes Received:
    19

    Nov 20, 2009

    Well said! And, selfishly, it's a lot easier to grade 100 essays that are supposed to be structured a certain way.

    Constructed responses are a also very useful for kids to practice and can be structured creatively.
     
  36. Special-t

    Special-t Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Jun 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,019
    Likes Received:
    19

    Nov 20, 2009

    Why not give a more specific instruction and tell them 2-3 paragraphs? One of my college professors tells us how many paragraphs are expected per response.
     
  37. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,807
    Likes Received:
    1,171

    Nov 20, 2009

    Let them in on the secret, Brendan: that "The Five-Paragraph Essay" is really "The Five-Paragraph Essay, Plus or Minus" - impress on them that the point is less the length than it is the organization.
     
  38. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,807
    Likes Received:
    1,171

    Nov 20, 2009

    That merely proves that even professors can be blithering idiots. Can I go kneecap someone for you, please? I could use the exercise...
     
  39. Brendan

    Brendan Fanatic

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2004
    Messages:
    2,974
    Likes Received:
    1

    Nov 20, 2009

    Because on the AP test, they won't be telling them to do that. If for some prompts they want to 3 Body Paragraphs that is perfectly fine, if they want to do 4 body paragraphs that is fine, if they want to do 6 small body paragraphs that is fine. Organization is let up to the writers style, as well as the propmpt at hand, not what the teacher thinks is best in my opinion.
     
  40. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2007
    Messages:
    5,621
    Likes Received:
    6

    Nov 20, 2009

    Uh, oh....we're back to kneecapping people.
     
  41. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    29,807
    Likes Received:
    1,171

    Nov 20, 2009

    Yup, mm.

    Brendan, do please take some time to discuss with your students the anatomy of the successful response-on-demand.

    Tell them the crucial elements are these:

    A. The introductory paragraph gives a clear thesis and suggests the points that will be discussed to support it, in the order in which they'll be discussed. In non-test writing, one does this as a courtesy to the reader; in the test, one does this to signal both that one knows the material and that one knows how the game is played (because scorers who see that one knows how to play the game tend to relax just a little).

    B. The following paragraphs detail the promised points, with one point per paragraph and appropriate (but not excessive) transitions. Again, in other writing one organizes this way as a courtesy to the reader; and, again, on the test one hopes to convince the scorers that one knows how to play this game.

    C. "Paragraph" may not quite mean what they think it means. You might want to introduce a distinction - cheerfully artificial, but it gets the idea across - between capital-P Paragraph and lower-case-p paragraph.

    - A paragraph with a lower-case p is the familiar chunk of text that begins with an indent or skipped line or carriage return (whatever suits the technology at hand and the requirements of the task).

    - A Paragraph with a capital P denotes a chunk of material that belongs together because it's devoted to making ONE particular point. A Paragraph can consist of many sentences or few, depending on the writing task and what's being written about; it can consist of more than one lower-case-p paragraph, if the task is a large or complicated one; but what's important is that the Paragraph corrals all of the information it covers into one cohesive and coherent chunk within the overall written work.

    - If there are two major points that support the thesis, then there will be two supporting Paragraphs, and there need to be clear indications as to where the first Paragraph ends and the second begins. In other words, a student needs to be able to draw a line around the discussion of point 1 such that everything about point 1 is within that boundary; likewise for point 2; and so on.

    - Whether one recapitulates the supporting points in the concluding paragraph depends on the writing task, though in most writing-on-demand tasks one should because it's expected.

    I trust I've been stating things that are, in some sense, blindingly obvious. The thing about what's obvious, though, to paraphrase the sage Howard Gossage, is that it isn't always evident.
     

Share This Page

Members Online Now

  1. Iris1001,
  2. playpower
Total: 237 (members: 3, guests: 196, robots: 38)
test