Step 2.1: Meta Five Paragraph Essay

One of the steps I took to get my job was to write a sample lesson plan for teaching academic writing organization.  Part of my lesson included using this meta five-paragraph essay I wrote to help teach five-paragraph essay structure.  It is meta because the topic is about writing five-paragraph essays.  If you like it, feel free to use it.  If not, I promise I’ll get back to the paperwork soon.

Five-Paragraph Essay Structure
By:  Jeff Ochs

In colleges all across the United States, professors lament the lack of writing skills possessed by new undergraduates.  One of the biggest challenges professors identify is organization.  New college students can set themselves apart from their classmates by simply learning to write using the five-paragraph essay model, which is one of the most effective and conventional ways to organize academic writing.  The five-paragraph essay model is straightforward and consists of three sections – the introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph.

The introductory paragraph begins the essay, and it consists of two parts.  First, the paragraph must have a hook, which captures the reader’s attention and makes him or her want to read more.  The hook often employs quotes, anecdotes, questions, and historical context to motivate the reader.  The second part of the introductory paragraph is a thesis statement, which is a short, purposeful summary of the essay’s topic and main points.  While it must provide a guide to the essay, a thesis statement should not be too direct by employing phrases such as, “This essay will be about…” or “In this essay I will…”, which use informal structures unfit for a more formal essay.

Following the introductory paragraph are three paragraphs that comprise the body of the essay.  Usually the strongest supporting argument is found in the first body paragraph, the least important argument in the second, and the second strongest argument in the third.  Each body paragraph must start with a clear topic sentence that relates the paragraph to the thesis and summarizes the paragraph for the reader.  The remaining sentences in a paragraph support the topic sentence and provide evidence, often in the form of facts and quotes from research.  The first and last sentences in a body paragraph provide a smooth transition between each point.

The final paragraph in a five-paragraph essay is the concluding paragraph, which should mirror the structure and content of the introductory paragraph. First, it should restate the thesis statement in new language. Second, it should review the main ideas presented in the three body paragraphs. And finally, it should provide a concluding thought that wraps up the experience nicely for the reader.

Using a five-paragraph essay model is one of the most important skills a college student can possess.  While its three-part structure, which is based on an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph, is basic, it is also powerful.  Knowing how to organize an essay using this model translates to better grades for students and allows a professor to focus more on teaching exiting new content rather than remedial skills, a win-win situation for students and professors alike.

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2 comments

  1. Jeff Magnuson · ·

    Hi Jeff,

    Your mother gave me a copy of your essay on essay writing. It’s great. I used it today as the basis of a lesson for the 7th and 8th grades at your old school, St. Helena, and I think it worked a treat. Especially with the older kids, it really seemed to spark an appreciation for how a five-paragraph essay works.

    Many thanks for your great little essay. I hope you are thriving in China and relishing the experience of being an alien. It’s a great experience.

    Cheers,
    Jeff Magnuson

    1. Glad you liked it! Even more happy that you found it helpful for your class! Feel free to pass it around. Did Jane ever see it? She probably would get a kick out of it. She was a good middle school writing teacher back in my day.

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