Is the 5-paragraph essay always bad?

I realize, quite well thank you, that the five-paragraph essay is not always good. Sometimes it is rote, formulaic, and poorly applied. Despite that, in my freshman composition courses, I teach the five-paragraph essay because my students don’t know how to write an essay at all.

Am I doing the wrong thing?

Community College Spotlight had a post that brought this question up for me again.

I particularly liked the response the author had to the article “Why Can’t Tiffany Write?”

When I was in high school, we did nothing but expository writing for four years. Our model was the 3-3-3 paragraph: One thesis sentence with a subject and an attitude supported by three topic sentences, each with a subject and attitude and each supported by three subtopic sentences, each with a subject and attitude and each supported by three “concrete and specific” details. It drove us nuts, but we learned to support our assertions. College writing was a snap.

I really like that idea. Even though it is even more formulaic. I think it could work for my students.

One thought on “Is the 5-paragraph essay always bad?”

  1. I tried to leave a comment in the linked blog, but it wouldn’t let me. As a 9-12 teacher, I use the 5 paragraph essay with my lower grades and lower level students. It provides structure to their thinking, especially when they lack the experience to express themselves on literary topics.

    With upper level grades or advanced students, we really focus on tight theses and support, not so much on format.

    I think the reason that this is an issue with colleges is systemic to both the k-12 system and college system. While it is true that public schools often don’t push students to develop critical thinking skills, and therefore produce poor writers, it is also true that colleges are being run more and more as businesses, and accepting students of lower caliber.

    I don’t believe that there has ever been a time in history where a society has attempted to educate, at such a high level, it’s entire populace. So, we have a systemic ‘problem’ that emerges as poorly literate college students, when really they’re highly literate elementary ones.

    Our district is really undergoing growing pains as we develop a comprehensive k-12 literacy program. As a 13 year veteran, I’m basically relearning my craft. I don’t think it’s that high schools are necessarily producing less literate students, it’s just that more are choosing to go to college than ever before, and current research in literacy is exposing a gap that we’ve had for quite some time.

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