Teaching The Essay Format

When I look back to my first experience teaching five paragraph essays to fifth graders, I can remember how terribly unprepared I felt. I knew that the five paragraph essay format was what my students needed to help them pass our state’s writing assessment but I had no idea where to start. I researched the few grade-appropriate essays I could find online (these were the days before Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers) and determined that there was a structure to follow. Every essay followed the same basic structure. I taught the structure to my students and they did well. I have been teaching five paragraph essay structure and everything that goes with it for a lot of years now. I hope that after you read this blog post, you will have a good understanding of how to teach and grade five paragraph essays.

Start with Paragraphs

We always start with simple paragraphs. Yes, this is basic, but if your students cannot write excellent paragraphs, their five paragraph essays will be train wrecks. Trust me! We spend a while cementing paragraph structure:

Topic Sentence

Detail #1

Detail #2

Detail #3

Closing Sentence

I give students topics, they come up with their own topics, we write together, they write with a partner or independently, the more variety, the better. We have fun with simple paragraphs. Then, it’s time to move on to organization.

Organize and Write the Body Paragraphs

Please refer to my five paragraph essay organizer below. The three body paragraphs are absolutely crucial to the success of the five paragraph essay. Some teachers have trouble teaching the structure of five paragraph essays because they start with the introduction paragraph. Always teach the body paragraphs first! The body paragraphs are where the bulk of students’ ideas will be written AND the topics of the body paragraphs need to be set for students to write a thesis sentence. So, once your students have planned out their three body paragraphs, it’s time to write them out on paper. I had a teacher say to me once, “What’s the point of just writing parts of the essay? They need to write the entire five paragraphs to get all of the practice they need.” I understand that point. However, think of it as building a house. Should you test out the foundation and make sure it’s sound and sturdy before building on top of it? Absolutely! That’s what we’re doing here. The three body paragraphs are the foundation of the essay. Ask students to write out their three body paragraphs just like they have practiced…Topic sentence…Detail 1…Detail 2…Detail 3…Closing Sentence. I “ooooh and aaaah” over their three paragraphs. Students are on their way to five paragraph essays, so be sure to build their confidence.

Teach the Introduction Paragraph

I have to say, this is my favorite paragraph to teach. The introduction paragraph is what draws readers into the essay and makes them want to read more. We start with what I call a “hook.” The hook captures the readers’ attention and can come in many forms: asking a question, making a bold statement, sharing a memory, etc. After the hook, I ask students to add a sentence or two of applicable commentary about the hook or about the prompt in general. Finally, we add the thesis sentence. The thesis sentence always follows the same formula: Restate the prompt, topic 1, topic 2, and topic 3. That’s all you need to write an excellent introduction paragraph! I do suggest having students write the introduction paragraph plus body paragraphs a couple of times before teaching the closing paragraph.

Teach the Closing Paragraph

In the conclusion paragraph, we mainly focus on restating the thesis and including an engaging closing thought. With my students, I use the analogy of a gift. The introduction paragraph and body paragraphs are the gift and the conclusion paragraph is the ribbon that ties everything together and finishes the package. When you talk about restating the thesis sentence, tell students that they need to make it sound different enough from their original thesis sentence to save their readers from boredom. Who wants to read the same thing twice? No one! Students can change up the format and wording a bit to make it fresh. I enjoy teaching the closing thought because it’s so open to however students want to create it. Ways to write the closing thought: ask a question, personal statement, call to action, or even a quote. I especially like reading the essays in which a quote is used as a closing thought or a powerful statement is used.

Example of a full five paragraph essay:

Let’s Talk About Color-Coding!

Who doesn’t like to color? This is coloring with a purpose!

Training your students to color-code their paragraphs and essays will make grading so much easier and will provide reminders and reinforcements for students. When students color-code their writing, they must think about the parts of their paragraphs, like topic sentences, details, and the closing sentence. They will be able to see if they are missing something or if they’ve written something out of order. Color-coding is a wonderful help for the teacher because you can skim to ensure that all parts of your students’ paragraphs and essays are present. Also, when you are grading, you can quickly scan the paragraphs and essays. Trust me, you will develop a quick essay-grading ability. I start color-coding with my students at the very beginning when they are working on simple paragraphs. I add the additional elements of the color-code as we progress through our five paragraph essays. This is the code that I use:

Let’s Talk About Grading Five Paragraph Essays!

Imagine a lonely, stressed teacher grading five paragraph essays on the couch while her husband is working the night shift. That was me! Seriously, guys, I would spend about ten minutes per essay. I marked every little error, I made notes for improvement and notes of encouragement. I reworked their incorrect structure. Those papers were full of marks. On Monday, I proudly brought back the essays and asked students to look over them and learn what they needed to fix for next time. You can guess what happened… there were lots of graded essays in the trashcan at the end of the day.

I decided that my grading practices had to change. I needed my weekends back and my students needed to find their own errors! This is my best advice:

  • STOP correcting every error! Your students are not benefiting from marks all over their writing. They need to find those errors themselves so that they will remember their mistakes and change their writing habits.
  • Do a quick scan of each student’s writing as soon as it’s turned in to you. If there are major problems with a student’s writing, call him/her over individually and show him/her what needs to be fixed or put the student with a competent peer editor who will help them fix their mistakes. If you have several students who are struggling with a skill, like closing sentences, do a mini-lesson on this topic. You can do a mini-lesson with a small group. However, I prefer doing mini-lessons with the entire class. The kids who need help will get it and the rest of your class will receive a refresher.
  • It’s ok if there are some small spelling/grammar mistakes. If the errors are few and they don’t take away from the meaning/flow of the essay, I don’t worry about them. Our students are still learning. Even your brightest star writer will have a few spelling/grammar mistakes from time to time. Don’t discourage students from writing because of some small errors. Students who receive papers back with markings all over them don’t think, “Oh boy, my teacher has made it so easy for me to make all of these corrections.” They are thinking, “What’s the point in writing? I must be a terrible writer. Look at all of these mistakes.” If your students are taking a standardized writing assessment, the structure and flow of their essays will be worth much more than perfect spelling.

Need more help?

I created this five paragraph essay instructional unit for teachers who are new to teaching five paragraph essays OR just need all of the materials in one place. “Teacher Talk” pages will guide you through the unit and this unit contains all materials needed to help students plan, organize, and write amazing five paragraph essays! Click here to check it out:

I have a freebie for you! Click on the image below to reach the sign up page. You’ll receive three original prompts with five paragraph essay organizers AND two lined final draft pages!

Once your students are good essay writers…

These task cards will help your students stay sharp on their five paragraph essay knowledge. Students will review hooks (attention-getters), thesis sentences, body paragraphs, topic sentences, closings, and more. Each card contains a unique writing example!

I suggest using these task cards as a quiz/test, scoot game, individual review, or cooperative group activity.

Click on the image to view these task cards:

Filed Under: Writing

 

Flickr - University of Central Arkansas

8 Resources for Essay Writing that Make a Teacher’s Life Easier

What’s the toughest part of your work as an educator? You are used to teaching lessons… you already have the knowledge, so it’s not that difficult to express it. However, the task of motivating your students to write falls in another category. It’s hard for you to take control over the process and explain how they should infuse their creativity into the rigid form of academic writing. The following online resources will help you teach essay writing in a more inspiring way.

Essay Writing Lesson Plans

1. Schools rarely provide teachers with clear lesson plans on essay writing. You have full authority over this aspect of education, so you need to set clear goals that your students will achieve step by step. Scholastic offers lesson plans for all grades. You will discover resources that will help you cover the basics of academic writing, but you can continue using the same website when your students make progress.

Essay Writing Guide

2.  This is an amazing app that has the elements of writing arranged around four interface wheels: Content, Style, Organization, and Mechanics. You can click on any term around the wheels to reveal a new page containing the definition of that term, instructions for proper use, and examples from the literary canon.

Write My Essay

3.  You want your students to become great essay writers? Be a good example for them! Show unique samples on the topics you assign and tell your students how each part of the process is developed. You don’t have time to write papers? You can get them at this website! Custom writing service NinjaEssays assigns professional writers to the orders. They will complete a plagiarism-free paper tailored according to your instructions. Since you can monitor the project’s development, you’ll be able to explain to your students how the final result was achieved.

The blog at this website is another useful resource; you can recommend your students to enter contests and read tips that will boost their writing practices.

How to Teach Your Students to Write an Essay

4.  Busy Teacher features a detailed guide that teaches educators how to teach essay writing. First, you need to understand the writing process before you can guide your students through it. Some teachers just assign a topic and expect everyone to deliver a perfect paper. Don’t do that! Academic writing is a complex skill that can only be developed under proper guidance. Rely on these tips to learn how to be there for your students through every stage of the process.

Essay Map

5.  This interactive essay map, developed by ReadWriteThink, adds fun to the process of planning. Before they can start writing the actual essay, your students need to plan and organize its structure. They should develop a thesis and think of main arguments that will be supported with facts. This interactive essay mapping software asks students to write brief descriptions of the introduction, main ideas, supporting details, and conclusion. As a result, they will get a clear graphic outline that will make them more focused during the writing stages.

 

Writing Essays

7.  Time4Writing offers free writing resources in the form of printables, presentations, videos, and games. If you enable your students to obtain writing skills through fun and play, these projects won’t be overwhelming for them. The free resources are separated into categories according to the stages of the writing process.

How to Write Better Essays

8.  It’s important to support your students with practical tips on essay writing. This guide recommends reading other people's essays, building vocabulary, develop precise arguments, etc. Each hint comes with a thorough explanation that will enable you to make the academic writing process easier for your students. As a result, they will understand the assignments not as a punishment, but as a chance to prove their skills and showcase their arguments.

And here is are two posts on how to write the classic 5 paragraph essay:

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