The 5 Paragraph Essay Is Bad

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Prepositions took on new currency when the picture prompt was introduced.

Students were presented a picture and asked to describe the scene.

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.

If the prompt read, "compare and contrast life in a rural community with life in an urban community," our students knew to begin the essay with a topic sentence something like this, "It is not hard to compare and contrast life in a rural community with life in an urban community." Or they might begin by stating, "Life in a rural community and life in an urban area are alike and different in several ways." Sometimes we would give our students ten prompts and have them write opening and closing sentences for each of them.

We also instructed our students on the importance of using transition words to maintain a cohesive flow between their ideas, examples, details, or reasons.

Only later did she consider what had become a concern among educators: that overemphasis on the five-paragraph theme had locked students into thinking it was the only way to write.

Now convinced, Moss examines her belief that focusing on the five-paragraph essay underprepares students for college.

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.

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