Writing and the dread five-paragraph essay

For years, English professors who taught incoming college students have bemoaned the five-paragraph essay.  You know the one I mean:  an introduction that introduces three main points, followed by three paragraphs reiterating those three main points, and then a final paragraph restating those three points.  It’s perhaps a good exercise for inexperienced writers to learn to organize their thoughts, but it continues to be taught long after it’s served that purpose.  Further, it’s possibly the world’s most boring thing to read.  I take that back–probably user agreements are the most boring:

This User Agreement (this “Agreement”) is a legal agreement between you and Happy Reader Communications, Inc. (“Happy,” “we” or “our”) providing, among other things, the terms and conditions for your use of the Happy Reader sites, (collectively, the “Service”)… 

Yet the five-paragraph theme is a close contender.  I love cartoonist Sandra Boynton’s classic depiction:  Boynton 5 paragraph theme

The real problem isn’t really this essay’s ability to suck the life out of any topic.  Instead, the five-paragraph essay is miserable because nothing of interest can happen it.  By the end of the first paragraph, the reader knows everything that the essay offers.  There are no surprises.  Imagine if Game of Thrones began with a synopsis telling us when and how each of our favorite characters was going to die.  Moreover, the format of the essay makes it hard for the reader to avoid huge, unsubstantiated generalizations, such as “Since the dawn of time, our ancestors huddled in a cave despised the five-paragraph essay” or “I think it’s safe to say that everyone, from the smallest preemie in its isolette to that 115-year-old Japanese woman who was just in the news, hates the five-paragraph theme.” And those are just two of the problems with this form of essay.  And it’s not the only form of poor writing that K-12 education sometimes encourages.

Why are bad approaches to writing sometimes taught in high school?  Teachers presumably want to offer the best caliber of education possible, but they are hampered by some constraints they can’t control.  Of these, the most pernicious is standardized testing.  Standardized testing depends upon standardized formats, and teachers who want their students to excel on those tests need to encourage their students to master those formats.  With writing, that means getting students to produce something with attributes that can be graded mechanistically.  And students good at pinpointing those attributes can achieve high scores even if the actual content of the writing itself is ridiculous.  Consider the following example:

College Is Ambiguous

The author of this classic work was not a student but Les Perlman, an MIT professor on a crusade against standardized writing tests.  The automated grader at ETS gave this essay a perfect score.  And what does Perlman think about the five-paragraph essay?  According to a piece by Joanna Weiss at the Boston Globe, “it’s a staple of what Perelman calls ‘McLearning’—easy to evaluate and master, and not especially compatible with actual thinking.”

You can read Perlman’s essay writing tips for students here:  http://www.actoutagainstsat.com/essay-tips.pdf

 

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About profschell

I am a professor at the George Washington University, where I teach academic writing and conduct research on American popular culture, most recently on Turkish readers of American romance novels.
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112 Responses to Writing and the dread five-paragraph essay

  1. glowcloud says:

    Personally, my whole world changed (in terms of writing) when I was assigned my first exploratory essay. No longer did I have to wrap up my thoughts into neat little discussion points and ensure that my thinking was totally linear and neat. I prefer to write in the same way that I think, making connections that sometimes might seem tangential but in actuality are vital in truly exploring a topic to its fullest potential. In other words I have often felt suffocated by the five paragraph format because it has always been an unnatural way to think and write. I understand the value in teaching young students a way to organize their ideas in order to write coherently, but at the same time I believe that teaching this method early on ultimately puts students at a disadvantage by making them believe that the five paragraph structure is the only proper method of writing, when in fact the opposite is true.

    • profschell says:

      Glowcloud, when were you assigned your first exploratory essay? What was it?

      • glowcloud says:

        My freshman year of high school I had to identify a thematic statement from a novel we were reading (I believe it was called “A Teacup Full of Roses”) and assess whether that theme holds constant in other situations. I remember drawing upon examples from popular culture as well as my own personal experiences to answer the question of whether people are ever truly able to learn from their mistakes.

    • waterbottle19 says:

      I disagree that “teaching this method early puts students at a disadvantage”. For a vast majority of students the five paragraph essay was the first formal writing they were introduced to. Myself included, the structure and rigidity was needed so that it could be built upon when faced with more advanced writing assignments. Being thrust into writing an “exploratory essay” or almost anything would prove to be disastrous because the experience just isn’t there yet.
      However, I do agree that that the five paragraph format can feel “suffocating”. It doesn’t allow much room for the flow of ideas or anything for that matter.Thats why I think the format should be taken at face value: as a writing style that should be practiced and groomed until you find your own writing style and what you are comfortable with. It should be viewed as nothing more than a stepping stone into something greater.

      • glowcloud says:

        I agree with you about using the format as a tool or a “stepping stone into something greater”. The problem that I have found, and I suppose this is more of a problem with education in general, is that students often don’t progress beyond this point and get stuck in sort of a rut. Maybe schools should introduce other methods of organization in conjunction with the five-paragraph style so students can understand earlier on that there are other options.

      • tom1371 says:

        I agree with waterbottle. I believe that writing is like any other skill. First you need to crawl, then walk, then run. I view the 5 paragraph essay as the walk phase. Looking back with some of the knowledge that we have now about composing essays it does seem slightly ridiculous. But, we all have to start somewhere and I do think that it does its job as an introductory tool. The first time I was introduced to the five paragraph essay was middle school, which is an appropriate age I think.

        However, I think that the five paragraph essay should not make its way out of middle school. By the time you are in high school you should be learning more about APA or MLA format writing in order to prepare you for life after K-12.

    • jwmigook says:

      I read an article that definitely speaks to your points.
      http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/1287

      Your reference to the five paragraph format being suffocating definitely seems to be a point made by Glenda Moss in her Quarterly article “The Five-Paragraph Theme” (2002). As mentioned in the article, she calls the five-paragraph essay a “straitjacket.” The article also provides evidence of the inadequacy of the five-paragraph essay as an instructional tool, as it refers to a case study of three college ESL students in a remedial writing course.

  2. https://www.collegeboard.org/delivering-opportunity/sat/redesign

    I dont know if you have all heard of the new changes coming to th SAT but I believe that they offer a strong support for this argument. College Board is adapting the essay portion of the test to be more research orientated and condusive to better writing skills. Personally, I think this will be a good adjustment. I have known too many of my peers who spend thousands of dollars on SAT prep just to learn how to format their essays in the perfect way so that they get a perfect score, as we saw in Perlman’s piece. The three paragraph essay has no true practical applications in the real world and it appears that people are finally beginning to notice that. Thank GOD! Or evolution…

    • While they are making changes in a positive direction by encouraging research oriented essays, they have also made it optional so many students may bypass that section unless required by colleges.

      • Has it not always been optional? or was that the ACT?

      • The ACT writing section is optional.

      • glowcloud says:

        I believe the ACT has always been optional but I’m not sure if I agree with the concept of having an essay component of a standardized test to begin with. The idea of having to write a well thought out and well formulated paper in such a short period of time is, I think, a little ludicrous. I know that the way I write in those situations is nothing like how I normally write so I really don’t find it to be a good indication of who I am as a writer. Do other people have the same issue?

      • greyelephant1 says:

        I agree with glowcloud that the idea of having to write an essay in that short of a time is ridiculous and that then colleges judge you based off of your score on it. Unfortunately, I think it is realistic that most people will run into assignments where they are crunched for time and/or do not have time to formulate a well edited paper and I believe that the test itself is a reasonable thing to test students on. I think that the college essay is a good chance for college’s to also see how well the student can write a well crafted piece of writing.

      • I agree that writing under such time constraints can be stressful to say the least. But I believe that the new format is not ment to be as “creative” or dependent upon you developing you own opinion. If you read it, it say “Students will read a passage and explain how the author builds an argument to persuade an audience. Students may analyze such aspects of the passage as the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and stylistic and persuasive elements.” This sounds more like answering questions to me and seeing if the student has been introduced and is practiced in analyzing other people’s writing. Which, I believe, is a very important skill

      • butterjones says:

        I really agree with you guys about the flaws of the SAT essay– I have always considered myself a strong writer, and was top in my AP Lit class senior year, but I consistently scored my lowest in the essay section of the SAT (mind you, that means I scored higher in math… which is ridiculous, considering I am not a “math person”). I’m simply incapable of writing a full-length essay of any merit in 20 minutes, and I feel as though I’m compromising my identity as a writer by submitting to their standards and format. I’m glad I’m not the only one the SAT essay pissed off

    • cfc0567owls says:

      It’s about time they changed this! The SAT essay grading format encouraged boring and rigid essays. Students need to be creative thinkers, not mindless robots following a basic format. It’s really great that The College Board is redesigning the essay portion. Responding to an argument naturally promotes critical thinking, whereas the old SAT essay was simply a measure of how well you can pretend to think. Good job to the College Board for changing the SAT for the better

  3. And I forgot to point out the fact that College Board is changing their tests seems to suggest that they too have recognized the idiocracy surrounding assesments based off the 3 paragraph essay

  4. sm4321 says:

    Wow! What an interesting set of articles. The first part of this post focuses on the five paragraph essay, and I agree with the authors in the fact that it is a tool used to get beginner writers used to a format and writing essays. I wonder if there is a different form that we could teach younger writers from the get-go that would produce better, more mature writing results for an entire academic career. This could involve teaching them to use this five paragraph format simply as a way to organize their thoughts yet still teach them a different way to write essays that promotes complex thinking and analysis. The second part of this post is very interesting to me, as it focuses on the SAT. I attended a Quaker private school for the first ten years of my life and did not take a single test until the seventh grade. As someone with little test experience I struggled deeply with the SAT and its format and restrictions. I think that there are several good points made about how easy it is to manipulate the system and create an essay that’s “perfect score” worthy but is actually quite horrible. I think that much of the problem with the SAT is simply in the fact that it is designed to quickly score hundreds of students “ability to succeed in college.” I have always wondered why there could not be a more fair and accurate way to measure intelligence. This is a very poignant article that articulates some of the main flaws and I think works such as this could be what we need in our society to draw attention and get the ball rolling for change.

    • I think that the problem might be resolved slightly if educaters didnt present the 5 paragraph essay as the only possibility. It would be adventagous to go through different types of essays as if they were different units. Just to show the different options and not present 5 paragraphs as the holy grail of structures

    • pianokid123 says:

      sm4321, I agree that the problem not only with the SAT, but rather our education system itself is that student work must be able to be processed and graded quickly, not allowing much room for variability or personilized attention. For example, whenever we are assigned math homework, we must do the required list of problems regardless of whether we need more practice in certain areas or not. This is so our math instructors can easily grade and handback assignments, just as the SAT writing portion is designed to be adminsitered to massive amounts of students and scored in a timely manner.

  5. At the elementary school I attended, students would have points counted off for not following the 5 paragraph formula. That led to several of my classmates receiving bad grades in high school for their writing.

    • profschell says:

      As early as elementary school? No wonder it’s hard for some college students to write in any other format!

      • butterjones says:

        I remember being so crushed when I was presented with the 5-paragraph expository format in middle school. All our “essays” in elementary school were creative writing pieces, and I loved them. I definitely lost a lot of interest in writing in middle school because the format stifled creativity. However, I was lucky to be able to break out again in high school. The assignments were more inspired, and though most people were afraid to defy the 5-paragraph format early on, those of us who did were encouraged, and eventually the rest of the class followed suit.

    • sm4321 says:

      Wow. That’s really unfortunate and draws attention to yet another flaw with the way writing is taught. I understand that this format is introduced to give beginners somewhere to start but I think that teachers should encourage students who attempt to develop their own flow in their writing so long as they still address the prompt(s) and create an effective piece. Circumstances such as this could be the reason that many students have a hard time ever abandoning the standard format and finding a more mature and complex style of writing.

    • collegeblogger19 says:

      I have to agree with your experience. I remember learning the five-paragraph essay mold in elementary school, and thinking it was the only “right” way to write a paper for a long time.

      • pigfish1116 says:

        I also agree, we were taught the different methods of writing bu the 5-paragraph essay was stressed the most. In elementary, when we would focus on creative writing, students would groan because they had to actually think, imagine, and create ideas with their own mind rather than use sources. That’s why I REALLY appreciate that many colleges are now requiring freshman to take writing courses and offering great writing tutors because I admit that my writing is a bit high school structured.

        • graduallychanging says:

          Your comparison of the five paragraph structure and creative writing reminded me of the manner in which essay wrting was presented to me. While I was in middle school, my teachers emphasized the usage of the five paragraph structure to a large extent. The problem with attempting to apply that structure to all writing was that stories and other creative works of writing are supposed to express emotions and ideas, instead of regurgitating information in what is commonly referred to as an “organized manner”. The five paragraph essay format, from my experience, prevents students from creating pieces of writing in which they are able to present themselves and their discoveries. Unless the goal of a student is “to get those good grades without thinking too much”, as stated by Les Perelman, then the five paragraph essay only serves as an unnecessary set of constraints.

    • sunny2018 says:

      Presenting the five paragraph formula as the pinnacle of writing to younger students is without a doubt a flawed practice. When I first began writing in school, this was the format we often used, but I don’t recall such strict regulations. If only this was presented as a guideline to begin teaching students how to organize and develop their thoughts. Then the five paragraph essay could be a stepping stone to more advanced forms, rather than a barrier.

  6. punky1218 says:

    I agree that the five paragraph essay is an unnatural way to write and to think. To build of the blog post’s point, part of the reason it has been so popular is that that style of writing is what is on standardized testing. Teachers will teach to the test and confine their students to the five paragraph essay and the makers of standardize tests prefer the five paragraph because that is the easiest way to grade thousands of essays quickly.

    • profschell says:

      Punky1218, did that happen in your school?

      • punky1218 says:

        My teachers in high school were very insistent on students writing in the five paragraph format. When I was I senior last year, I talked to students in college who had already graduated my high school and they told me that our school did a very poor job of preparing students for writing in college.

    • sm4321 says:

      Punky1218 I think that you bring up an excellent point. It is more common than not today that teachers merely “teach to the test”. This articulates the fact that education systems in America have put way too much emphasis on testing. I cannot tell you how many classes I have merely memorized material that I was told would appear on a test and have no stored memory of. I feel that there needs to be some way of gauging if a student is absorbing the material but I find a hard time understanding the pressure and extreme emphasis more classes than not place on testing. http://www.fairfaxtimes.com/article/20140827/OPINION/140829223/1076/Standardized-tests-doing-‘more-harm-than-good’&template=fairfaxTimes

    • I agree. I had teachers who would skip sections in other subjects because “it won’t be on the ACT.” So it would seem like that would apply to the way writing was taught as well.

      • Not terribly important, but I had a physics teacher who refused to conform his class to the curriculum of “test preparing” for IB Physics. While it made my testing experience more difficult, the class was one of the most enjoyable and interesting classes of my highschool career

        • graduallychanging says:

          I am not familiar with the IB test format, but how do you think the alternative teaching style affected your test results? I assume that you were able to see your results.

      • butterjones says:

        @vikingsfootball33— same. I had an AP euro teacher and AP lit teacher who refused to teach to the AP exams. Not only were the classes far more interesting than any “by the book” class, but I am certain that I learned much more than I would have preparing for the exam. I definitely value the time spent in class than any AP score.

        • graduallychanging says:

          Butterjones, could you clarify what you mean by by “by the book?” My AP World History class required analyses of textbook chapters and much reading outside of class. In class, we had debates, discussions, and presentations. Although the presentations and other projects were essential to improve skills such as oral communication, activities relating to the textbook were crucial to learning the material.

    • sunny2018 says:

      I agree that putting so much effort in education solely for the purpose of standardized tests is problematic. I feel that that is something that limits students as far as learning goes. However, while the format can be confining, I feel that it is a good way to teach younger students to write, as long as it is not presented as the ONLY way to write

  7. gwuw2014 says:

    I had the fortune of taking a class in creative nonfiction early on in my education in which the professor completely demolished the concept of the five-paragraph essay. While I did have teachers who insisted on the format (including a sophomore English teacher who outlined sentence-for-sentence the preferred model our essays should take), the knowledge that I did not have to write “like that” was a huge relief on topics that required more thought. Throughout my high school classes, I noticed an interesting juxtaposition between writing in the five-paragraph format and exploring other methods of relating my ideas and arguments. Topics that demanded my attention would receive exploratory essays, and I would feel obligated to spend more time articulating my thoughts. For those topics which interested me less, it was easy to revert to the five-paragraph structure just to complete them quickly and ensure a good grade. This is the flaw Perelman highlights in the SAT; if universities continue to uphold the exam as a measure of critical thinking, how can it be justified to mandate a time-constricted essay which all but demands to be written with a tidy formula? It’s a win for writers everywhere that the essay will now be optional.

    • greyelephant1 says:

      I agree with your statement that the five paragraph essay becomes the tool to use when you are forced to write an essay on topics that you are not as comfortable writing a lot about. I agree that the SAT essay is not the most effective way for colleges see an applicant’s writing skills, but I agree with slowdownyourmind in that it will be optional but many students will still find themselves opting in due to pressure from colleges to see a form of testing of their writing skills.

      • gwuw2014 says:

        I think I would end up writing the essay as well in an attempt to prove myself (look, I can write! Look, I take on tasks that aren’t necessarily required!) but the knowledge that it’s fantastic that it won’t be mandatory for those who don’t want to write it.

        • graduallychanging says:

          Even though the SAT’s essay will be optional, it does not make a difference for students applying to very competitive universities. Students that I spoke to in high school, like myself, thought that the essay would not be “optional” for any serious applicant. The reasoning behind that prediction is that the students that do not do the essay portion of the SAT will be compared to students that did. I am unsure, however, how colleges will regard students differently based on their choice of taking the SAT’s essay section.

  8. greyelephant1 says:

    I had always thought the five paragraph essay was an inefficient way for one to discuss their thoughts on a topic, due to the constant repetition of the three main points the author is arguing. I really enjoyed the Boynton cartoon. I had never seen it, but I feel like it portrays the nature of the five paragraph essay. In addition, I believe that combined with Dr. Perelman’s advice point in the direction that the five paragraph is a classic, yet not the most effective.

  9. collegeblogger19 says:

    The five-paragraph essay was a homework assignment that I always dreaded myself as a student in high school. One can not form any topic/argument into an already planned-out mold. Writing requires creativity, and being asked to conform to the typical five-paragraph essay requires no imagination whatsoever. Learning the standards of five-paragraph essay at a young age only hinders our future in becoming more interesting and informative writers. Once we learn how to do something, it is hard to rewire our brains to learn to do it a different way. Additionally, I find Perelman’s goal to destroy the SAT essay intriguing–and I absolutely agree with it. Standardize testing seems to me a well-planned scheme by top educators to grade students’ work easily. It’s much easier to grade a paper when there is a standard mold to look for. In my opinion, the SAT as well as the ACT do not accurately measure the level of intelligence students’ hold, and by no means portrays a precise score that colleges should evaluate for admission. Education has become a type of conformity that all students must form to, and it is not making us any smarter.

    • waterbottle19 says:

      I agree with what you say. The five paragraph gives no indication of the intelligence of the writer. However, I believe most colleges don’t take the ACT Writing or SAT Writing into account. I may be biased here as i only took the ACT Writing, but I was only required to submit it to one college out of the 8 or so I applied to. I think the college essays are much more important to admissions.

      • collegeblogger19 says:

        I agree. I think colleges and universities are beginning to shy away from depending on standardized test scores and focusing more on the creativity and intelligence of college essays.

    • graduallychanging says:

      In high school I presented a persuasive speech as to why school systems should find alternatives to standardized testing and I wanted to provide information as to standardized testing being a method to grade students easily. Although quick, often automatic, grading is a benefit of the use of standardized tests, most teachers need to employ standardized tests due to “accountability”. Standardized tests are the manner in which teachers prove that they have been teaching their students. The need to achieve good scores on standardized tests has led teachers to “teach to the test” and, in rare occasions, alter exam results. If you would like some background on teacher accountability, here is a study relating to how teachers perceive standardized testing: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED481836.pdf

      The results of the study are on page 123 and outline the various effects that standardized tests have on the teachers’ teaching styles and classes.

  10. profschell says:

    Let’s move into some actual analysis of the writing now. If you look at the “College Is Ambiguous” essay by Perlman (via the link in my post above), what do you see?

    • collegeblogger19 says:

      The essay follows a five-paragraph standard, but in the most ridiculous way. Jumping from one topic to another, it is hard to make sense of the entire essay. It clearly makes the point of how the standard of a five-paragraph essay with an introduction and conclusion paragraph can be easily discredited.

      • greyelephant1 says:

        I agree with colelgeblogger19 and glowcloud in that it was quite hard to follow. I also thought it was very redundant and followed exactly what the cartoon and the SAT writing tips suggested.

      • butterjones says:

        I loved that the writer made me do a “double-take” when they first jumped topics– the moment I realized what they were doing was like my own, personal, tiny moment of comic relief. Very clever

    • I noticed that he focused on presenting topic sentences that supported his thesis, or were simply related. But after that he was able to simply able to add length with whatever substance he wanted “namly condemnation of the 5 paragraph structure.” To me this suggested that the length was a significant factor but the content itself was not and as long as the beginning of your paragraphs related, that was all that mattered.

  11. glowcloud says:

    It’s also pretty incoherent and obviously factually unsound.

  12. sm4321 says:

    I agree with Collegeblogger19. While Perlman follows the five paragraph format, he makes a point of mocking it and discrediting it the entire time. He also makes obvious errors, and inserts things that make no sense. This is not so much a comment on the format as it is the content and how he manipulates his content to achieve the perfect score. Perlham manages to mock both the standard format and standardized tests in five simple paragraphs.

    • jwmigook says:

      I honestly was not sure if he was mocking it at first, but I looked more closely at the paragraph posted under the link to his essay on this post (as well as this comment, of course), and it’s clear to me now that he is not in favor f the five-paragraph essay. Thanks for clarifying this for me.

  13. pigfish1116 says:

    At first, after reading and analyzing the supporting articles I was confused. It seemed as though Les Perelman was being portrayed as a hypocrite while he criticized the five-paragraph essay then created a cheat sheet to master the SAT essay with a five-paragraph essay. Then I realized that he might have been trying to overturn the system by making it seem “easy” to write a perfect SAT essay so that now the College Board will have to change the system. In my opinion, his essay that was awarded a perfect score is a typical occurrence among my peers who took AP exams. I constantly heard stories of students being awarded a 5 when on the essay portion they wrote about topics completely irrelevant to the prompt. “The prompt told me to respond to how the guy connected with nature so I said that he was sexually attracted to it and used literary devices to back it up. I got a 5,” said by a classmate from my AP Literature course.

    I also wonder what the backlash will be of 9 years of standardized SAT writing. Now that students will be training to write a more research and knowledge based essay, will there be inequality in the quality of writing kills between the kids of 2005-2014 and students taking the new SAT?

    • profschell says:

      “The prompt told me to respond to how the guy connected with nature so I said that he was sexually attracted to it and used literary devices to back it up.” That’s too funny, pigfish1116! Perhaps the AP writing test encourages creativity, after all!

    • It seems like that type of transition with the SAT would be very difficult for student still in high school. They will be held to a much higher standard after preparing for the lower standard for years.

      • pigfish1116 says:

        Exactly, anonymousgwustudent! But I am glad that it is changing because if effective, then training for the new SAT will foster a more critical, creative writing skill in students rather than the monotonous structure of the 5-paragraph essay. I’m not encouraging that structure is horrible, only when it is the main or only writing option being taught.

      • In terms of standardised testing, we can hardly blame College Board for encouraging mechanical methods of writing. In their defence, they have clearly delineated their expectations from the essay- a rough draft outlining one’s response to the given prompt, not a piece of literary excellence. I believe that standardised testing is one of the rare instances where the five paragraph is actually well suited; mostly because students already have an idea of what the examiner expects and there is less ambiguity on behalf of the examiner on how to grade the student’s work. ‘Subjectivity’ can be pernicious to standardised testing and when both parties (student and examiner) know how to approach the essay, setbacks such as unfair grading practices (on behalf of the examiner) or test day anxiety (on behalf of the student) can be avoided.

        As far as the art of writing itself goes; I think it’s safe to say that most students already know what “real” writing is by the time they give their SATs and are preparing to enter an undergraduate course. Eloquent writing constitutes a certain flair and unpredictability that cannot be transmitted through the five paragraph; ergo, it should be advocated as merely a basic medium of writing, and students should not be encouraged to take it forward at university and post-university levels where they will be introduced to the more complex nuances and intricacies of writing.

        Similar to other academic disciplines, writing should be taught in a build-up manner with the five paragraph essay serving as an effective template of learning, helping a student structure, organise and convey his/her thoughts albeit in an extremely fundamental manner. Students who are inclined towards writing in a mechanical manner should be educated on it’s shortcomings and encouraged to pick up more creative alternatives.

  14. Most students and educators would agree that the 5 paragraph essay needs to completely reinvented; however, from a standardized test standpoint, it is extremely difficult to have a universal score that can be comparable across the country so that colleges can asses their potential students with essays that have little to no comparable form. In high school I wrote an op-ed piece from my opposing viewpoint on standardized test reform. While I used to believe that standardized test needed major reform, after research I have realized the necessity of having standardized tests. In this post, I really like the comparison of Game of Thrones spoilers to the thesis statement of a five paragraph essay. While true, a persuasive essay could have the potential to seem more organized and impactful if topics were stated. As someone stated before, the introduction into the world of exploratory pieces really redefines what you’ve been taught year after year. If you’re more passionate about what you’re writing about and researching into you’re own chosen topics it becomes a piece that means something and can evoke emotions out of other readers rather than trying to fill in the perfect “formula”.

    • glowcloud says:

      I get where you’re coming from in terms of needing some type of comparable format, but at the same time shouldn’t writing be judged based on the merit of the ideas expressed and the rhetoric used, rather than how they are structured?

      • I absolutely believe that rhetoric and creative ideas should matter but those can be incorporated into the “suggested structure” that is created by CollegeBoard graders. And again as I said before, I had to write from my opposing viewpoint and from the standardize perspective, there aren’t many ways to effectively compare without having an ‘ideal’ structure.

      • moneytrees3001 says:

        It seems there is a lot of rhetoric in the US about the ills of standardized testing, but very few feasible new ideas. Of course I don’t expect us to craft a new SAT testing model on this blog, it’s definitely a tough issue to tackle, but I believe the current testing mode is simply a necessary evil. In the performance world, artists are constantly bemoaning the process of auditions, and for good reason-they are stressful, unflattering, and allow little time to get a good picture of a performer-but there is simply no better way for casting directors to quickly judge a large number of artists. In the same way, standardized tests are the only way to efficiently cut past the differing grading systems, club activity, and ranking systems of individual American high schools. I would go further and say that the current SAT format is not such a strange way to test reading comprehension and grammar skills. While there’s always room for improvement, I think much of the criticism of the SAT is idealist.

    • macnplease says:

      On your point about standardized tests, I’m inclined to agree with you on the difficulty of grading essays that could be varying widely in form and structure. This is why they have a standard method, after all. I think the essay section of standardized tests like the SAT and ACT could be eradicated from the process entirely; it’s not as if colleges cannot see their applicants’ writing, since their applicants must submit one to several essays along with their grades and standardized test scores. As a result, the essay portion of these tests seems redundant and unnecessary.

  15. profschell says:

    slowdownyourmind, you wrote that “a persuasive essay could have the potential to seem more organized and impactful if topics were stated.” I’m not sure I understand what you mean. Could you clarify?

    • Maybe that’s my 5-paragraph-essay-molded mind speaking but when the ideas are clearly stated, the reader can then dive deeper into the persuasive points and have a better understanding and seriously take into consideration the argument.

      • profschell says:

        I suppose it would depend on the execution of the essay. Providing some sense of the direction is not a bad thing (such as, “In this essay, I will compare the onset of WWII to current circumstances in the Middle East. I will argue that the different global context will prevent the current armed conflicts from erupting into another world war.”). In contrast, having every single point already laid out (“I will argue 1) x, 2) y, and 3) z.”) reduces the introduction into a summary. In the sciences, this kind of overview is called an abstract, leaving the introduction as a place to provide preliminary information and raise reader interest.

  16. jwmigook says:

    A few of my English teachers I had in high school did talk to their classes about the limits involved when writing five-paragraph essays, but none of them actually discouraged the format. Most, if not all, of my papers had the same boring introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions. I knew that my professors in college would definitely more actively challenge this format, and I wasn’t sure how I would respond to the change. Luckily, I have loved writing since elementary school, and a part of me is glad that I can now look into writing exploratory essays that don’t strictly adhere to one type of layout. I am especially glad that this post targets the issue of the five-paragraph essay being the “proper” writing method.
    Regarding the “lifelessness” of a five-paragraph essay, I think that one problem this format creates is the urge to add something creative where creativity doesn’t really seem to belong. I’ve read plenty of SAT essays and essays written by classmates in AP classes, that include attempts at straying from the traditional transitions in between body paragraphs…but the humor sometimes just doesn’t get across to the reader. I feel that we all try to add something more to these essays to make them more interesting to read, but that the format just doesn’t allow us to do so sometimes. It is definitely important for students to learn that organizing ideas allows for efficiency in communication in all forms, but it also causes them to believe that that typical essay structure is the only way to go in terms of writing in the future (both in college and beyond). I like the fact that the word “mechanistically” was used in this post as well, because it really does describe the five-paragraph essay. The strategies involved in writing this type of essay are predictable, simple, and common; this is clearly demonstrated by Perlman in his essay entitled “College Is Ambiguous.” The essay is not particularly engaging or unique in any way, and I feel that Perlman wrote it that way to ensure that his point about what he thought of the five-paragraph essay (“not especially compatible with actual thinking”) would come across to readers.

  17. sunny2018 says:

    I agree that “nothing of interest” can happen within a five-paragraph essay; but I feel they are very helpful in teaching younger students how to begin drafting a formal essay. The first time I wrote a true five-paragraph essay was in middle school, and it was merely a book summary. This is very different from the analytical essays I wrote in high school, but I feel that it was essential to getting my feet wet as far as formal writing goes. The five-paragraph essay is also invaluable to standardized testing like the SAT, which is invaluable when applying for college. But outside of amateur writing and standardized tests, I think this kind of essay has no place in writing. It is indeed writing “mechanistically,” and there is no rhetoric or persuasion in these bland essays. They are useful up to a point, but I think beyond that, they are robotic and boring.

    • gatorade15 says:

      I agree with your points on the usefulness of the five paragraph essay as a teaching tool and its simplicity. However, I wouldn’t go as far as saying “nothing of interest” can happen within this essay. I wrote a five paragraph essay in a Pre Colonial Africa class that required tons of research and actually taught me a lot about the origins of racism against Africans. Yes, the paper could have been a lot more interesting and well rounded had it been longer, but it was still extremely educational and dense.

      • sunny2018 says:

        It’s great that you were able to utilize the format. I was so used to viewing it as merely summarization of topics, I didn’t think of research going into it. Maybe a large part of the problem might be in how people go about writing the essay and its content; not necessarily the format in itself.

      • csbennett1 says:

        Gatorade, I agree that there can be things “of interest” in a five paragraph essay. However, I think that with its concrete structure comes some restriction of more complex ideas. The five paragraph essay is more of an invitation for straightforward–while still interesting–thought development.

    • thinkbrush says:

      Sonny2018, I agree that writing five paragraph essays is mechanistic and often values form over content. After constructing my writing using similar five paragraph essay formats through middle school and high school, I found it difficult to adapt my writing in an AP English Literature class to offer more something original and an argument. I agree with countless other commenters that this simple format allows writers to efficiently organize their ideas but unfortunately, it is at the cost of a spectacularly limited scope.

  18. arcanium82 says:

    This article mentions the “pernicious” standardized testing. I would tend to agree that for the most part, standardized testing is a bad idea that stifles the creativity of students or does not address personal needs of students by forcing them into a cookie cutter mold of standardization. I have seen some utterly ridiculous ways of trying to teach math that are in accordance with standardization. However, I do feel that it is useful in certain situations (namely, the topic if this course: Evolution).

    If not for some measure of standardization by the government there would be places in this country that would only teach Creationism in science class. Some people believe that only things in the Bible should be taught in school. Personally, I think that would make for a very boring wood shop since every year the only thing you could build was an Ark…

    As Coyne states in the introduction to Why Evolution is True, teaching Creationism in science class is like “asking that shamanism be taught in medical school alongside Western medicine.”

    Standardization is a good concept and could be useful if it were correctly implemented. However, as with most government programs, they usually fall short when it comes to execution.

  19. gatorade15 says:

    Attending both a public high school and a preparatory boarding school has given me a look into two very different styles of how writing is taught. At my public high school, I think that almost every single one of my papers was written in the five-paragraph style. I believe that this style helped students expedite the writing process, finding only the necessary bits of information to add enough substance to fill up the basically three paragraphs (intro and conclusion don’t exactly use up different information). Don’t get me wrong I still learned some things from this writing style, exploring motifs and symbols in books such as The Great Gatsby and Huckleberry Finn, but to a limited extent. However, you would only need three major ideas, with subsets of information to support your ideas. Once I filled up the five paragraphs I called it a day. Moving on to prep school was an entire different world. Five paragraph essays were pretty much shunned and teachers urged students not to limit their essays to any set number of paragraphs or ideas. I struggled with this new writing style, but eventually it opened new doors for me. I was able to explore subsets of ideas with their own paragraphs, or even several, digging deeper into different sets of content instead of brushing over them in one of my three body paragraphs. My ten-plus paragraph papers definitely contained more substance and were entirely more enjoyable to read. I even had to write a “Meditation”, which is a style of writing where you connect ideas in a seemingly sporadic manner to create a web of anecdotes and reflections that paint a holistic picture of some theme in your life, ranging from loyalty, belonging, you name it. I couldn’t even tell you how many paragraphs were in the paper, but there were a lot. It almost brings another element into writing, like how sentences can be manipulated to be longer or shorter, creating different tones in a piece of writing. Shorter paragraphs can catch a readers attention in the same way as a short sentence. This style of writing is very to undertake, but i do believe that some experience with the five paragraph essay can be of use in learning how to organize ideas. Once this is mastered, you can move on to six, seven, twenty paragraph papers and still have strong organization.

    • profschell says:

      I love this mini-memoir about writing! I’m intrigued that, even once you left the five-paragraph theme behind, it seems as though you categorized your essays by the number of paragraphs. For me, the problem with this particular essay model isn’t solely its mandatory structure but the lack of any necessary relationship between the points. It lends itself well to lists, rather than to ideas that develop on one another. For instance, I could use a five-paragraph essay to talk about my three favorite books, but I wouldn’t necessarily be able to use it to talk about how a book I once hated became one that I love, and how that stemmed from a change in who I was as a reader. If I wrote the latter, the result wouldn’t be a five-paragraph essay, even if there were only five paragraphs in it. Does that make sense?

      • gatorade15 says:

        Yes that makes sense, I haven’t thought about the drawback of a five paragraph essay in the form of disconnected points before.

      • thinkbrush says:

        Profschell, the second part of your comment makes me think about jwmigook’s comment quoting an article in which the author describes the five paragraph essay as a “straitjacket”. I think your example of an essay five paragraphs long talking about how a book you once hated became one that you loved would not qualify as a five-paragraph essay. The simple format only allows for simple summarization and not usually opportunity to express complex ideas and transformations.

      • butterjones says:

        Prof, I liked that you pointed out how Gatorade quantifies his essays by number of paragraphs– that way of thinking has always been a pet-peeve of mine (no offense, gatorade). I always got annoyed when a classmate would ask me, as we worked on an essay, “how many paragraphs are you putting?” I always thought the answer was simple– however many to eloquently (and concisely– no overkill) present my thoughts. If it takes two paragraphs to introduce my piece, I’ll keep them. If it only takes two, carefully-thought-out sentences to comprise a particular conclusion, who am I to fluff it up? My lit teacher senior year told me that she was originally thrown off by the aesthetics of my work– having some extremely long paragraphs, and some very short– but after actually reading my pieces, she had no complaints about this style. I wish people would just let their work go its’ own direction, rather than trying to package it up cleanly and write to fulfill a quota.

      • butterjones says:

        (that was not meant in any way to be an attack on you, gatorade. prof’s comment just made me think)

  20. csbennett1 says:

    While I do think that the process of teaching the structure of the five paragraph essay can serve as an important step in the evolution of a student’s writing skills, I strongly oppose its role within the teaching phenomena of “teaching to a test”. Be it the ACT, SAT, AP exams, or any other of the slew of standardized tests that exist in today’s educational world, these tests, in my opinion, have lead to a decline of intellectual curiosity in students. The idea of teaching to a standardized set of expectations set by a third party corporation (such as CollegeBoard), to me, invalidates teachers’ authority and ability to help their students learn. Instead, school has become a game of memorization and shoving facts and formats down students’ throat to the end of meriting the magical score on a test scored by machines that somehow validates a students intelligence level. In school, I have always loved learning new things and finding new ways to apply them to the real world. The joy of learning is an endangered concept in the face of the convention of standardized testing and methods used in classrooms to prepare for them–the five paragraph essay included. This is not to say that a substantive and compelling five paragraph essay cannot happen–but the strict formatting of such an essay hugely restricts the level of nuanced complexity in its content that makes many other essays so riveting. I think that the five paragraph essay should be a starting point for students to branch off from–as their ideas become more complex and their writing skills become more advanced–rather than the end all be all of high school writing.

    • WestCoast17 says:

      csbennett1, I definitely agree with you that learning has become too standardized. Everybody learns and writes differently, and the five paragraph essay has made it much less likely for students to write a good paper.

  21. I am a product of the American K-12 public educational system. One which is categorized by having students memorize “acceptable” forms of writing. While in Mexico, I was able to experience first-hand the radical difference in teaching, particularly in writing. In Mexico, students were encouraged to make their argument and support them in any way they can, while answering the topic question that came alongside it. Here, or at least in California, I was instructed to follow the five- paragraph method. If any student dared to leave or challenge the path, one would receive a bad grade. What then can a student due when an instructor has control of your grade? Students, like myself, are left with no other option but to follow the format and obey orders.
    Sandra Boyton’s drawing pertaining to the mouth of the monster, particularly struck me. The mouth, which represent a five-paragraph introduction, helped me realize that indeed, as mentioned by Professor Shell, an introductory paragraph can come to “suck the life out of any topic.” When watching a movie or show, the audience would very much prefer for strategies to happen than to be told they will occur. Why would an audience want to read an essay which gives away the entertainment of the essay in its first paragraph? In Spanish, there is a saying that roughly translates to “dog that barks does not bite.” I would consider that saying relevant in this case due to the fact the reader has nothing more to expect out of the essay than repeated “evidence” that “supports” his/her claim.
    Finally, standardized tests, in my opinion, should not be the determine factor that defines a student as a whole, based on a one-day test. Pertaining to the written essay, again we are encountered with the same problem that occurs in a class room. You, as the student, either write the way they want you to or not receive a good score. Again, the student is left with no other option than to follow the five-paragraph format. Les Perlman’s story, regarding his SAT essay, I would consider to be a “special case.” A special case in that most of the time, students who venture off the traditional five-paragraph essay will receive a lower score (I am not making my statement based on official data but rather from students I have know thought my community). Based on the SAT’s website, in order to receive a good score, students should “be consistent, express ideas logically, be clear and precise, follow conventions, and recognize effective writing.” In other words, characteristics of the five-paragraph essay.

    • profschell says:

      californiarepublic79, you outed me! And you misspelled my name! Seriously, though, there are definitely going to be times on this blog when some of us know the real name behind the username. When that happens, make sure to protect the person’s online privacy by sticking to the username.
      Note: In this case, it doesn’t matter, because I’m already officially affiliated with this blog. 🙂

    • csbennett1 says:

      California, i completely agree with your comment about Boyton’s drawing. I also really liked the visualization of the “limp and drawn out” conclusion tail. I think it was a very accurate satirical representation of the five paragraph essay.

    • pianokid123 says:

      I think it is interesting how the SAT does not explicitly state the essay format they want, but instead provide vague instructions. It appears their purpose it is to provide a facade of open-mindedness in regards to evaluating unorthodox writing styles, when in reality they grade off of a rigid set of guidelines.

    • profschell says:

      You wrote: “I am not making my statement based on official data but rather from students I have know thought my community.” I like this, because you are being really clear with us about the source of your evidence!

  22. chrisan5 says:

    The standard five paragraph essay template is flawed for a number of reasons, but perhaps the greatest reason, apart from “sucking the life out of any topic” is that it doesn’t take into account the individual writing styles and techniques of the writers who are forced to use it. Just like standardized testing, they require conformity from the collective, while not allowing the individual to express themselves as they find fit.

    While it can be stated that the five paragraph scheme is useful to new writers in that it helps them structure their scattered ideas, its usefulness quickly turns into a monotony of introductions, bodies, and conclusions.

    Though I do find Perelman’s essay to be interesting and enjoyable to read, I do question whether the conclusion paragraph really did add any substance to the essay as a whole. Could the essay could have been that much more interesting had it been structured in a way that Perelman, a critic of the five paragraph system, found suitable, not just in terms of the essay’s flow but also in personal style.

    • profschell says:

      Chrisan5, I’m puzzled–to which Perlman essay are you referring? The one that begins “College is ambiguous”? Because that essay actually makes no sense. For instance, he writes that graduate assistants make six times as much money as college presidents.

      • chrisan5 says:

        I took the essay as a piece of satire or just comedic, not necessarily taking Perelman’s writings seriously, but merely finding them amusing.

  23. macnplease says:

    After reading the comments in this thread, it seems as though the blog post opened the flood gates for condemnation of the five paragraph essay, so to speak. Personally, as some others have mentioned, the five paragraph essay was quite helpful in my first days of academic writing, as it reinforced the idea of presenting an argument in a structured, organized manner along with greater details about your points to add emphasis. I still maintain that the five paragraph essay is an effective teaching method for (very) young writers. It allows students to understand how to present an argument in an easily visible structure.

    Having said that, the post references an essay written by a Professor who is trying to illustrate the negative aspects of “McLearning.” While this is all well and good, frankly I think it has very little to do with the subject at hand. The humor in his essay is the fact that the automated grading mechanism cannot comprehend the text, but rather catches the main points at the beginnings of each paragraph. While his point against automated grading is well noted, this does little to undermine the inherent benefits of teaching young writers this method of writing.

    Furthermore, I dislike the example of the plot of “Game of Thrones” being played out in the first paragraph, as the set of novels is a story that plays out as opposed to an analytic work about another work. As a result, this reference carries little to no weight.

    I will note, however, that the five paragraph essay is a laughably dry and ineffective learning tool for college students and high school students, where writing assignments are less about the structure and more about effectively delivering an argument in one’s own form. I remember how easy it was to get a perfect score on the SAT essay after simply learning their preferred writing structure and mimicking it with any essay they gave, regardless of the subject.

    • profschell says:

      macnplease, I think you may have misunderstood my point. The comparison with Game of Thrones is appropriate when it comes to thinking about one’s audience. A bored audience is less likely to keep reading. Frankly, if an author can adequately sum up everything necessary in the first paragraph, there is no need to keep reading. People forced by circumstance to finish the essay (for class, perhaps, or for work) are going to be less sympathetic to the argument than they would be otherwise. This applies as much to critical work as it does to creative work.

  24. WestCoast17 says:

    I personally utilized many of the tips Perelman listed when I took the SAT junior year of high school. It was perhaps the worst piece of writing I have ever done, but it did get me a great score on the writing portion of the exam. But for as long as I can remember, I have always been taught in school that writing is formulaic; teachers always emphasized following the five-paragraph structure and encouraged us to write to the rubric. So I never really strayed from that and rather than organically writing a piece, I would always look at the rubric before anything else, and did a hundred percent of my work in order to check as many boxes of the list as possible. This made writing nothing more than an exercise for me, and although I was able to crank out papers with ease, when I’m asked to provide writing samples from high school, I can’t really put forth anything I’m particularly proud of. I tend to think of writing as more of an art form that is wonderfully diverse: I could write a paper describing my observations and findings from a day in the lab, I could write a story about a finding love in a dystopian future, or I could write a fiery manifesto condemning the world as it is. I think the problem in the teaching of writing in secondary schools today is that writing has been made into a science, in which you have inputs become outputs through a very standardized process. This occasionally produces good results, but it in essence severely limits the potential that many student-writers can have in their work.

  25. gatorade15 says:

    Many of you are condemning the five paragraph essay, and the forms of standardized testing that require essays. However, I would like to pose a question to the readers: If not for the standardization of essay writing and grading, how would colleges and other institutions be able to gauge a students ability to write, without relying purely on grades? There needs to be a degree of structure in standardized testing for writing, and it needs to be efficient for it to be evaluated in a timely manner.

    • moneytrees3001 says:

      Yes! I brought up a similar point in my comment above. It’s a necessary institution, bemoaned by idealists. I think the subject of five paragraph essay instruction in school is much richer and open to debate, for classrooms certainly have the time to construct an efficient way to convey different styles of writing.

    • WestCoast17 says:

      gatorade15, I do agree that evaluating works of writing needs to be done efficiently, but I think we need to trust our teachers to be able to judge a paper holistically, without the help of a standardized rubric.

      • butterjones says:

        in regards to colleges’ and programs’ opportunity to gauge a student’s writing capabilities, is that not a main point of the dreaded college essay? and supplements?

  26. serrobert says:

    I am going to be completely outspoken here, but I feel that the 5 paragraph essay has its merits not just in learning to write and develop your arguments, but also in a fast paced professional world. The 5 paragraph essay is so good because, as many of you have said, it limits the tangents that you can go off on in your argument. I think it is an effective way to say what you think/ advocate for, and to back it up with x, y, and z examples. If you are an investor for example, you want to know, relatively quickly, reasons why you should buy a stock. It forces the writer to pick his strongest points and his strongest evidence and provide them in a structured argument. Think about how much easier it would be to figure out the main points in a text if it was structured more like a 5 paragraph essay.

    • profschell says:

      Trust me when I tell you that no one in the fast-paced professional world has time to waste reading someone say the same thing three times. The five-paragraph essay is only a classroom form of writing.

    • gatorade15 says:

      I completely agree with you that the five paragraph essay efficiently outlines and presents three (main) supporting ideas to back up some central topic. However, I don’t believe that extra information is necessarily always tangential and unrelated. Going off of your example, what if you chose to buy stock A for reasons X, Y, and Z, but you forgot to take into consideration the seemingly insignificant reason Q which describes how the company may be under a mountain of debt, and this information was only obtainable through thorough research? Sometimes, it is necessary to uncover many different sets of information to develop many ideas that support and add to your central theme. I’m not saying that the five-paragraph essay is bad. In fact, I love simplifying things into neater sets. I just don’t believe that extra information is always, if ever, a bad and unnecessary thing. It can be difficult sometimes to expand your mental horizons to contemplate new ideas, but it can instill in you a greater and more useful understanding of the topic.

  27. serrobert says:

    I do think it is an effective way to deliver a complete and concise argument in writing.

  28. profschell says:

    I find it fascinating but slightly sad that none of you mind that colleges are selecting you based in part on standardized tests. You or your parents will spend tens of thousands of dollars on your college experience–why shouldn’t universities take the time to get to know you as the complex, interesting people you are? Moneytrees3001 made the comparison of these tests to a recital, and I do see the analogy: it’s a decision based on a single performance. But the difference between the standardized test and the audition is key, in my opinion. An audition is evaluated by real people, right there in the same room. Imagine if auditions were just scored by a computer.

    • arcanium82 says:

      Since I did not go to college straight out of high school, I feel that GW did take a more personal look at my application. I never took the SAT or ACT so I did not have those to submit for my application. All they had was my transcripts from a former college, the essay that I wrote and my prior job experience. I think that being former military helped my case quite a bit since GW is very veteran friendly.

      When you describe it like an audition that’s evaluated by a computer, it does sound rather cold and impersonal. I’m glad that I was able to waive the ACT and SAT scores because I probably would have failed miserably had I tried to take them after being out of high school for so long. What I find disturbing is that there are many smart young people out there who may have just had a bad day when taking the SAT and get a low score. I do not believe that a person should be haunted for years to come by one bad test.

  29. moneytrees3001 says:

    I’d just like to say that reading these comments is a truly eye-opening experience for me, as I’ve never been exposed to any type of academic writing outside of five paragraph essays. Looking at that format now, it seems similar to teaching someone to paint only using squares, or to sing with only one note. The depth and life that can be found in all forms of art is beautiful, and is what allows film, theater, and music to continue to be relevant and novel each year. I understand the feeling of diving into work at creative angles from my experience with other art forms, and I believe I simply never looked at writing in that way- not sure if this is the fault of our educational system or my unadventurous spirt.

  30. regan1984 says:

    The way I see it, as a student who has gone through the SAT prep courses, the SAT is not a method in which to gauge your intelligence. Its a method to see how well you can solve problems. The essay, in Perelman’s case, was not to see how well versed or knowledgeable he was about the topic. It was to see how well he could pick a side and defend it. As he said each grader has to grade 30-40 essays in an hour. They’re not looking for your expertise. They have a set of requirements that in turn will fulfill a predetermined grade. Perelman’s essay provided all the necessary requirements to receive a perfect grade. You see how he kind of went of on a tangent about the 5 paragraph essay? Perelman’s essay didn’t need to prove anything else. As sm4321 said, I think that much of the problem with the SAT is simply in the fact that it is designed to quickly score hundreds of students ‘ability to succeed in college.'”
    It’s a sad reality of today’s standardized tests. Students need to meet a standard to pass, Perelman did just that.

  31. pianokid123 says:

    Like some of the orginal commentators, I agree the five paragraph essay is a stepping stone to more mature writing. Therefore, it should be seen and treated as an excerise, not professional writing. That being said, I believe there is too much emphasis on the five paragraph essay archetype. Instead, high school curriculum should try and complement our education with other forms of writing assignments. For instance, I did the IB program, and we were assigned essays that were meant to mimic the work and rhetoric of great writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson. This coincides with our class discussion on the best ways to learn to write: reading and emulating the styles of other writers.

  32. regan1984 says:

    I know I’m probably very out of touch with the whole conversation that’s going on right now, my internets not acting right. In terms of the whole 5 paragraph essay issue, I agree. It hinders students abilities to write effectively while expressing and expanding on their own ideas as well as others. However there is another perspective in play. I was raised in a Montessori school. A school known for not conceding to normal methods of teaching, rather it followed the path of self discovery and change. Thus I didn’t write my first essay until 7th grade, on top of that I was never taught the 5 paragraph format to begin with. I didn’t learn about it until freshmen year. Thus my essays were long. I mean long. Not only were they lengthy, they were always very vague. They seemed to bounce along a sea of fluffy clouds, lightly touching upon subjects while actively thinking about others. Yet, I thought I was good at writing. Trust me, when I entered high school. My first english grade was a slap in the face.

    In retrospect, I was lucky to have learnt the 5 paragraph method as late as I did. It taught me to control my mind essentially; it taught me to structure my ideas and get right to the point. Had I learned the 5 paragraph method any later and there would be no hope for my writing. As collegeblogger19 so eloquently said, “Once we learn how to do something, it is hard to rewire our brains to learn to do it a different way”. While most of you are discussing the issue of the 5 paragraph format constraining your own and others ideas, I think the problem goes both ways.

  33. cfc0567owls says:

    Reading this, I realized that I am also a victim of the five paragraph method. My natural writing style was always very fluid and conversational, but my teachers always encouraged us to use the five paragraph method. Using the method not only made my papers boring to read, but also boring to write. My papers became a string of statements separated by simple writing cliches, as if following a simple template. After a while I just didn’t enjoy writing any more. I understand why young students must learn to write using the five paragraph method, but it should be completely done away by High School.

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