Teaching Students How To Write A 5 Paragraph Essay

How to Write A Five-Paragraph Essay

Step-by-step instructions for planning, outlining, and writing a five-paragraph essay.

The Planning

The most important part of writing a five-paragraph -- or any other style -- essay has little to do with the actual essay writing: When it comes to a successful essay, the most crucial step is the planning. In fact, a properly planned essay will practically write itself.

The first advice you should provide students about to embark on an essay-writing adventure, therefore, is to plan what you will write about -- and plan to write about the assigned topic.

The second part of that advice might seem obvious and unnecessary, but we all know those students who fail to carefully read the question or prompt and then too quickly write about a vaguely related topic; or those who believe essays are graded on word count and prefer to write a lot about a topic they know well -- or everything they know about a variety of topics -- rather than risk writing too little about a less familiar, though assigned, topic.

Students need to be made aware that assigned topics for most writing assessments already are quite broad; they often need to be narrowed and focused; they rarely should be broadened.

Consider the following assignment:

Mark Twain once said: "Suppose you were an idiot... And suppose you were a member of Congress... But I repeat myself." Discuss whether you agree or disagree with Mark Twain's statement.

An essay about some silly bills passed by Congress, an essay about a few brilliant and respected members of Congress, even an essay about the factors that influenced Samuel Clemens' beliefs about Congress might be appropriate responses; an essay about Tom Sawyer or the history of Washington, D.C. would not be.

According to the College Board Web site, the only way to get a zero on the SAT's new essay section is to fail to write about the assigned topic. A little planning can prevent that.

The Outline

After students have read and understood the assigned topic, they can go on to the next step of the essay-writing process. This step does involve writing -- but not yet essay writing. In step two, students write an outline of their proposed essay. The outline should look something like this:
Congress According to Twain

1) Topic: The question or prompt rephrased in the student's own words. Rephrasing the prompt will help students understand the assignment and narrow and focus the topic of their essay. For example, "Mark Twain once said that all members of Congress are idiots."
2) Position: The student's position or opinion about the question or prompt. For example, "I see no reason to disagree."
Most writing assessments ask students to take a position. Students should be aware that, if the test directions ask them to take a position, they need to take one side of the issue and defend it, not consider and defend both sides of the issue.
3) Reasons: Three reasons the student has taken his or her stated position.
a) Reason 1: The most important reason. For example, "Congress has passed a number of bills without considering where the funding for those bills would come from."
i) Evidence: Example that demonstrates Reason 1. For example, "The Americans with Disabilities Act, the Clean Air Act, and the No Child Left Behind Act are just three examples of laws that were passed without considering how cities and states would pay to implement their mandates."
b) Reason 2: The second most important reason. For example, "Congress has passed a number of silly bills based on narrow political interests."
i) Evidence: Example that demonstrates Reason 2. "For example, federal laws have been passed making it a crime to imitate Smokey the Bear or transport wooden teeth across state lines."
c) Reason 3: The third most important reason. For example, "The members of Congress from my state are idiots."
i) Evidence: Example that demonstrates Reason 3. For example, "I met John Smith, a member of Congress from my state, and he had never heard of my hometown."

The outline now is complete, and the essay -- as you can see by reading the italicized text in the outline -- is practically written.

The Five-Paragraph Essay

Finally! Students have arrived at the easiest part of the essay-writing process -- writing the essay. All they have to do now is arrange their outline text into a five-paragraph-essay format and add a few transitions, and they're done!

Paragraph 1: This is the Introduction. Here, students restate the assigned topic, state their position on the topic, and list the three reasons for their position. They end the paragraph with a transition sentence.

Mark Twain once said that all members of Congress are idiots. I see no reason to disagree. Members of Congress are often financially irresponsible, politically motivated, and unaware of the real concerns of their constituents. Let me explain.

Paragraph 2: This is the first of three paragraphs in the body of the essay. Here, students name and explain the most important reason for their stated position. They end the paragraph with a transition sentence.

Congress is financially irresponsible because it has passed a number of bills without considering where the funding for those bills would come from. The Americans with Disabilities Act, the Clean Air Act, and the No Child Left Behind Act are just three examples of laws that were passed without considering how cities and states would pay to implement their mandates. Congress doesn't just waste money, though, it wastes time too.

Paragraph 3: This is the second of three paragraphs in the body of the essay. Here, students name and explain the second most important reason for their stated position. They end the paragraph with a transition sentence.

Congress has wasted time by passing a number of silly bills based on narrow political interests. For example, federal laws have been passed making it a crime to imitate Smokey the Bear or transport wooden teeth across state lines. Congress doesn't only do idiotic things as a group, though.

Paragraph 4: This is the third of three paragraphs in the body of the essay. Here, students name and explain the third most important reason for their stated position. They end the paragraph with a transition sentence.

Even the individual members of Congress from my state are idiots. I met John Smith, a representative from my state, and he had never heard of my hometown.

Paragraph 5: This is the Conclusion. Here, students rephrase and recap their position on the issue and their reasons for it, and then write a concluding sentence. The conclusion might emphasizes their position, expand it, offer a solution, or express a hope or prediction for the future.

So you can see why I think Mark Twain was correct when he said that all members of Congress are idiots. Often financially irresponsible, politically motivated, and unaware of the real concerns of their constituents, I believe that members of Congress need to spend less time immersed in the politics of Washington, D.C. and more time amid the voters at home.

Congratulations! You passed!

Additional Essay-Writing Resources


Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2017 Education World

Last updated 10/02/2017

An essay in five paragraphs? Yup - you can do it! In this BrainPOP movie, Tim and Moby will teach you everything you need to know about writing a five-paragraph essay. Find out about where to tell the reader what the essay will discuss, how to write a good thesis statement, and how many pieces of supporting evidence to use. Learn all about topic sentences and how to support each point of your thesis. Plus, you’ll discover what goes into a conclusion and see some powerful ways to link your paragraphs together into a strong essay. Write your way to an A!

Writing, Reasoning, & Civics Lesson Plan: Drafting Board Game

In this lesson plan which is adaptable for grades 5-12, students use BrainPOP resources (including an online game) to explore the process of producing clear and polished opinion essays. Students will use arguments presented in a variety of resource documents to help them form an opinion on a controversial civics issue. They will then use an online essay-building platform to make their claim and support it with evidence and reasoning in order to produce a structured and effective argument. This lesson plan is aligned to Common Core State Standards.  See more »

Main Idea of a Text Lesson Plan: The TSN2 Game

In this free online reading and writing lesson plan designed for grade 8 and adaptable for grade 9, students use BrainPOP resources to practice finding and inferring the main idea of a text selection. Students will then use a free online game to apply their reading skills to a real world context. This lesson plan is aligned to Common Core State Standards.  See more »

Idioms and Clichés Lesson Plan: How to Identify, Use, or Avoid Them

In this multi-day lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades 6-12, students use BrainPOP resources to explore idioms and cliches. Students will identify idioms and cliches in books and use them in original writing. This lesson plan is aligned to Common Core State Standards.  See more »

One thought on “Teaching Students How To Write A 5 Paragraph Essay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *