What Is a Five-Paragraph Essay?
A five-paragraph essay is the basic essay form, consisting of an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. If your assignment doesn’t tell you specifically how to write an essay you need to come up with, it is implied that you are expected to write a 5 paragraph essay. This staple essay is most often found in high-school and junior college years, and as an academic complexity of studies goes up, essay writing assignments get more sophisticated too.
Why are five paragraph essays important?
It has been conventionally agreed that a five paragraph essay is a basic essay format. Its simple structure allows students to practice effective and organized writing by following an invariant logical pattern, which eventually results in increased ability to explain a problem or a phenomenon. The ability to write logically following a set essay format will on later stages evolve in clear and logical research and academic writing. Therefore the skills for writing a five-paragraph essay are essential for your academic success.
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What is the basic essay structure?
Generally speaking, five paragraph essays have a fixed structure. As its name suggests, a five-paragraph essay will contain five logical sections: introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The introduction is always the opening paragraph in your essay and you will need to include such elements as the thesis statement and the three sub-topics which are called ‘body’ paragraphs. The last paragraph is the conclusion and you will have to sum up the ideas expressed in previous paragraphs.
A good introduction has the ultimate power in either grabbing the readers’ attention or losing it. With thousands of essays out there, your reader will make a reading decision by reading the first couple of sentences and skimming through the body of the paper. Consequently, writing a good, eye-catching introduction is of ultimate importance to an effective composition.
Tips for writing an effective essay introduction
Make a general statement and then narrow it down. Generally, the way of starting an essay is the least interesting for the reader; however, it’s a proven technique that is effective. This would be the most appropriate beginning for most academic essays that do not allow starting an essay otherwise.
Use a quote that is relevant to the topic. This is generally a good and a powerful beginning for an essay that is written during high school and early college years. A quote from someone who is respected in a society will add weight to your paper and will provoke readers’ interest in the paper. However, you should bear in mind that subsequent text needs to be straight to the point and support the initial claim.
Use a rhetoric question. A rhetoric question is, in essence, a disguised statement that requires no response; however, it will set your reader wondering about an issue. All you need to do is elaborate on the topic and provide convincing examples. Initial readers’ interest won’t last long if the text that follows doesn’t support the initial claim. Again, this type of starting your essay is not universally acceptable, and you will need to take into account the kind of essay you are working on and its purpose.
Start with an example: use statistics or another example relevant to the topic. This is the opposite of the technique that’s been mentioned first – in this case, you go from the specific to the general. Provide an example and try to establish a general pattern based on that example. Ideally, you would need several such examples to make a generalization, otherwise, you can make a false conclusion (this is called a sample, generally the more examples you have, the better the sampling, and the more accurate is the conclusion.
The list of good and catchy ways of introducing your thoughts in an essay isn’t limited to the ones mentioned above. You can you any of them or any combination thereof – anything that is interesting to the reader will work. Remember that your goal is to catch your reader’s attention and retain it during the next several paragraphs, which will convey the main points to your reader. Once you have started with a strong introduction, it is high time to write the body paragraphs themselves.
Writing body paragraphs can be quite a straightforward process if one bears in mind their basic structure. Most writing experts suggest that a typical body paragraph should take the following format:
Topic sentence. This is the first sentence that introduces the main idea of the paragraph. This idea is going to be further elaborated within the same paragraph.
Details or examples supporting the idea from the topic sentence. The topic sentence should be supported with some piece of evidence that would get your essay more ‘weight’ and will sound more convincing. In a case of an academic paper, you will need to mention the source of the information.
Comments/Analysis. Add two or more sentences with a commentary of the idea expressed in your main essay. If this is an essay that requires your evaluation, this can be your thoughts, ideas, impressions, judgments etc. If this is an academic essay, you will need to base your judgment on previous research to gain credibility.
Conclusion. Paragraph conclusion recaps the main paragraph idea. It also serves the purpose of connecting the previous paragraph with the next one.
Essay conclusion should be the logical finale of your writing. Once you are done writing your body paragraphs, look at the ideas expressed in the introduction and body paragraphs, you will need to restate each of them individually and then relate to the thesis statement. In this part of your essay, you will need to pay special attention to the initial requirement and see if it needs you to summarize your key elements or analyze them. Whenever you are required to do an analytical part, you are expected to dig in a bit deeper, not just merely restate the items mentioned previously.
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Our state standards spell it out pretty clearly. My third graders need to be able to write opinion pieces on topics or texts that state an opinion within a framework of an organizational structure that provides reasons that support the opinion and provides a concluding statement. Oh, and they better use transitional words and phrases throughout. These would be the same 8-year-olds who still can't figure out it's not a good idea to put your boots on before your snow pants.
With all this in mind, meeting those standards seemed like a huge mountain to climb when I was planning out my persuasive writing unit a few weeks ago. I have students who still haven't mastered capitalization and punctuation, so I knew I would have to break down the mechanics of writing an opinion statement into a step-by-step process for them. This week I am happy to share with you a few tips along with the graphic organizers I created to help get my students writing opinion pieces that showed me that my students, while not quite there yet, were fully capable of making it to the top of that mountain.
Introduce the Language of Opinion Writing
The very first thing we did during a writing mini-lesson was go over the language of opinion writing and how certain words, like fun and pretty are opinion clues because while they may be true for some people, they are not true for everyone. We also discuss how other words, called transitions, are signals to your reader as to where you are in your writing: the beginning, middle or end.
After the initial vocabulary is introduced, I challenged my third graders to look for examples of these types of words in their everyday reading. Over the next couple of days, students used sticky notes to add opinion or transition words they found to an anchor chart posted on a classroom wall. Next, I took the words and put them into a chart that I copied for students to glue into their writer's notebooks. You can see our chart below. If you would like to print your own copy, just click on the image.
Introduce Easy-to-Read Opinion Pieces
Most of my third graders have read a wide variety of genres by this point in third grade, but when asked if they had ever read the "opinion genre," they answered with a resounding, "No!" I pointed out to them that they actually read opinion articles nearly every week in our Scholastic News magazine. At that point, I let them dive into the archives of old articles online and they were quickly able to find opinion pieces in several of the issues we had read this year. Students also used the debate section of the online issues.
On the board we listed some of the articles students found in Scholastic News that contained opinions:
Many Scholastic news articles are perfect to use because they are short, and for the most part have a structure that is similar to how I want my students to write. The articles often include:
- Both sides of the argument
- Clearly stated opinions
- Reasons for holding that opinion
- Examples to support the reasons
- Conclusions that are restated with enthusiasm
In the image below, you can see below how easy it was for my students to find the opinions, supporting reasons and examples in the "Debate It" feature we read together on whether the U.S. Mint should stop making pennies.
Model, Model, Model!
Once students read the article about pennies, they were ready to form an opinion. After discussing the pros and cons with partners, the class took sides. With students divided into two groups, they took part in a spirited Visible Thinking debate called Tug of War. After hearing many of their classmates voice their reasoning for keeping or retiring the penny, the students were ready to get started putting their thoughts on paper.
At this time, I introduced our OREO graphic writing organizer. Using the name of a popular cookie is a mnemonic device that helps my students remember the structural order their paragraphs need to take: Opinion, Reason, Example, Opinion. In our class, we say our writing is double-stuffed, because two reasons and two examples are expected instead of one.
Because this was our first foray into example writing, we worked through the organizer together.
My students did pretty well with the initial organizer and we used it again to plan out opinion pieces on whether sledding should be banned in city parks.
Once students had planned out two different opinions, they selected one to turn into a full paragraph in their writer's notebooks. The organizers made putting their thoughts into a clear paragraph with supporting reasons and examples very easy for most students.
With each practice we did, my students got stronger and I introduced different organizers to help them and to keep interest high. Giving each student one sandwich cookie to munch on while they worked on these organizers helped keep them excited about the whole process.
After we worked our way through several of the Scholastic News opinion pieces, my third graders also thought of issues pertinent to their own lives and school experiences they wanted to write about, including:
- Should birthday treats and bagel sales be banned at school?
- Should all peanut products be banned?
- Should we be allowed to download our own apps on the iPads the school gave us?
As we continued to practice, different organizers were introduced. Those are shown below. Simply click on each image to download and print your own copy.
The organizer below is my favorite to use once the students are more familiar with the structure of opinion paragraphs. It establishes the structure, but also helps students remember to use opinion-based sentence starters along with transition words.
Below is a simple organizer some of my students can also choose to use.
Other Resources I Have Used
Scholastic offers many different resources for helping your students become better with their opinion writing, or for younger writers, understanding the difference between fact and opinion. A great one to have in your classroom is: 12 Write-On/Wipe-Off Graphic Organizers That Build Early Writing Skills.
Click on the images below to download and print. There are many more sheets like these in Scholastic Teachables.
A couple weeks into our persuasive writing unit and I have already seen a lot of progress from our very first efforts. We may not have mastered this writing yet, but we are definitely on our way and that mountain doesn't seem quite so high anymore. I hope you find a few of these tips and my graphic organizers helpful! I'd love to hear your tips for elementary writing in the comment section below.
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Teacher Store Resources
I love using the graphic organizers in my Grade 3 Writing Lessons to Meet the Common Core. Other teachers in my building use the resources for their grade level as well. They make them for grades 1-6.