Monday, July 15, 2013

National Writing Project Day #6 & The Five Paragraph Essay

Welcome back to Post #2 on this Monday! Have I mentioned how much I LOVE my experience with the National Writing Project

We had a very interesting presentation today at UWM-WP (University of Wisconsin Writing Project) by Lisa who discussed the need for us to rethink the standard five paragraph essay.

How many of you teach the standard five paragraph essay (5PE) as a formula for writing when it comes to expository writing?  Do you have a poster or graphic organizer for writing that looks anything like a hamburger??

(I am raising my hand too...)

A question for you to ponder...

Should writing be more like a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, where you follow the directions and get the same result every time?  Or should writing be more like gourmet cooking, where you add your own special touches in an effort to get your dish to turn out to be something special?

Yep, I'd pick gourmet cooking every time....

The 5PE is the standard mode-of-operation in classrooms all across America.  However, when you really stop to think about it, when in life have you been asked to write a 5PE?  I personally can't think of any after I left school....I write until I get the job done, be it in two paragraphs or ten.

People who have supported the teaching of the formula for the 5PE have felt that mastering the structure is preparing kids for college.  However, according to Lisa's research, many colleges spend the first semester of college writing class RETEACHING students how to write.  We have programmed our students so strongly to follow the 5PE formula, that they are unable to think analytically and creatively.  We have taught them, without so much as saying so, that writing is more about the product (the 5PE) than the thinking behind their process.

And writing instruction really should be about the PROCESS....

We need to teach our students to write in a variety of ways so that writing becomes a transferrable skill.  Writing is not a formula.  It is not math.  We don't want the same result every time....

If you look at the Common Core, it states: 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Sometimes this writing might be a 5PE, but at other times it could be a letter to the editor, a movie review, a speech script, a RAFT, etc.

I understand that in the younger grades, some children need the scaffolded structure of the 5PE to be able to write.  However, I am advocating that we teach the 5PE as one genre, not THE genre.  Teach them the skills to write a 5PE, help them understand the parts (thesis, main idea, details, evidence) and WHY they matter, and when the 5PE is an acceptable form of writing.  Let their thoughts determine the product, not the other way around.  We should not stifle their creativity and thinking by requiring the 5PE all of the time, for all expository writing.

Teach the process, not the product.

On a side note, we were able to get out of our small gray, windowless room to do some on-site writing this afternoon.  We went down to Bradford Beach in Milwaukee and boy, was it awesome!  I am so excited by what I was able to write with the beach, people, and passers-by as my inspiration.

I may feel a novel coming on....  :)

Thank you SO MUCH for reading!  I have received some great feedback about the ideas I share with my NWP experience.  I'm glad that I can be a part of the conversation about making writing a priority in our classrooms.  Please email me with any questions!

Until tomorrow....


  1. I love, love, love your post! Can I quote you? Love your analogy about a gourmet meal! :):) WELL SAID! :)
    Creating Lifelong Learners
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  2. I appreciate all your thoughts about writing. Well said. Sometimes, it's easy to get caught up in a formula or the "right way" to do something. There is a time and place for that, but I agree that students' thoughts should determine the product.

    Thank you for sharing your experience with the National Writing Project.


  3. I love your blog and nominated you for the Liebster Award! Go to my blog to check it out! :)

    Mrs. Johnson's Little Prowlers

  4. Hmmm food for thought. I really like your mac 'n cheese analogy. I've never really thought about questioning 5E, it's how I was taught.. hmm great post!

    Teaching Tales Along the Yellow Brick Road


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