Essay Writing Toolbox

Please stop teaching the five-paragraph essay for analysis. Please, pretty please with a cherry on top! 

Let’s talk for a moment about the purpose of the five-paragraph essay. Many scholars trace its origins centuries back. Its parallel structure was favored over more meandering approaches. Today, teachers and students value the five-paragraph essay because it’s both easy and economical. Write a thesis, support it in three paragraphs, tack on a conclusion, presto!

What really happens, though, is much less magical. There are three major issues with the five-paragraph essay.

Issue #1: The structure dictates a closed thesis, which means static thinking. 

A typical five-paragraph essay has what my school calls an XYZ, or closed, thesis. This means that the topics for each of the three body paragraphs are listed within the thesis (XYZ represents the list). It might go something like this: Richard Wright’s novel, Native Son, exposes the impact of prejudice through the characters Buckley, Max, and Bigger. Now each of my paragraphs will be about one of those characters, in that order. My thesis has structured my writing for me. However, I am essentially performing a redundant function with each body paragraph. While my support might change, I’m constantly addressing the same point. My thesis has halted any opportunity for my ideas to build. Students are constantly being told to show “deeper thinking.” Why would we train them to write in a way that, almost by definition, necessitates their superficiality?

Issue#2: The essay is built around five original sentences. 

Okay, there’s nothing wrong with five original sentences…except when that’s the extent of the original thinking for the entire essay. Think about it. A five-paragraph essay revolves around a thesis, three topic sentences, and a concluding sentence. Everything else is just support for those five sentences. If you want your students to summarize for an entire essay, this is great. But to demonstrate critical thinking that is not only sustained but grows over the course of the essay requires more than five sentences of real substance.

Issue #3: The essay turns analysis into a literary scavenger hunt instead of an exploration of purpose and meaning. 

An unfortunate teaching point of the five-paragraph essay is commonly that each paragraph should focus on a different device. Students dive into their close reading armed with lists of devices, eagerly trying to stick labels on as many devices as they can, regardless of whether they understand how the device functions in the text. While students should certainly consider an author’s use of devices to achieve an effect, that shouldn’t be the beginning or end of the thinking they demonstrate in each paragraph. More important is the way the meaning and purpose of the text develop over time, as shown through key quotations which contain devices that contribute to or reveal the author’s intended message or theme. Note that if you teach close reading through Costa’s levels of questioning, students who take this essay approach tend to get stuck and level two.

Beyond the pleasing parallelism, the five-paragraph essay is better as an example of what not to do in good analytical writing. Wondering what to do now? Stick with me for the next blog post, in which I’ll talk about a better strategy for teaching students to structure their analytical writing.

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Published by rhetorstoolbox

I'm a high school English teacher with a passion for teaching AP Language and Composition. I believe in curiosity, passion, collaboration, and critical thinking. View all posts by rhetorstoolbox




Please feel free to submit suggested additions. This Toolbox is meant to be a resource for anyone interested in writing.

TOP WRITING SCHOOLS IN THE US

Boston University
https://www.bu.edu/
Boston, MA 02215
617-353-2000
admissions@bu.edu

Brown University
www.brown.edu/
Providence, RI 02912
401-863-1000
admission@brown.edu

Colorado College
www.coloradocollege.edu/
14 E Cache La Poudre St, Colorado Springs, CO 80903
719-389-6000
admission@ColoradoCollege.edu

Columbia University
www.columbia.edu/
116th St & Broadway, New York, NY 10027
212-854-1754
askcuit@columbia.edu

Cornell University
www.cornell.edu/
Ithaca, NY 14850
607-254-4636
info@cornell.edu

Emory University
www.emory.edu/
201 Dowman Dr, Atlanta, GA 30322
404-727-6123
admission@emory.edu

Hamilton College
www.hamilton.edu/
198 College Hill Rd, Clinton, NY 13323
315-859-4011
admission@hamilton.edu

Johns Hopkins University
www.jhu.edu/
Baltimore, MD 21218
410-516-8000
gotojhu@jhu.edu

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
www.mit.edu/
77 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139
617-253-1000
admissions@mit.edu

New York University
www.nyu.edu/
70 Washington Square S, New York, NY 10012
212-998-1212
admissions.ops@nyu.edu

University of California, Irvine
http://uci.edu/
Irvine, CA 92697
949-824-5011

University of Iowa
www.uiowa.edu/
Iowa City, IA 52242
319-335-3500
webmaster@uiowa.edu

University of Michigan
https://www.umich.edu/
500 S State St, Ann Arbor, MI 48109
734-764-1817
info@umich.edu

University of Texas
www.utexas.edu/
Austin, TX 78712
512-471-3434
hello@utexas.edu

University of Virginia
www.virginia.edu/
Charlottesville, VA
434-924-0311
undergradadmission@virginia.edu

Washington University in St. Louis
www.wustl.edu/
1 Brookings Dr, St Louis, MO 63130
314-935-5000
admissions@wustl.edu

 

ADDITIONAL WRITING SCHOOLS
http://study.com/writing_schools.html

 

10 UNIVERSITIES OFFERING FREE WRITING COURSES ONLINE
http://education-portal.com/articles/10_Universities_Offering_Free_Writing_Courses_Online.html

 

WRITING SCHOLARSHIPS / CONTESTS 

Myveganlife Scholarship Program
http://myveganglutenfreelife.com/scholarship/

AussieWritings Scholarship Contest
https://www.aussiewritings.com/writingcontest/

Jaxfoodcritic Essay Scholarship
http://jaxfoodcritic.com/scholarship/

Nature-Saving Writing Scholarship
https://hikeandcycle.com/scholarship/

The Best Scholarship Search Platforms of 2017
http://www.reviews.com/best-scholarship-search-platforms/

Poets and Writers: Writing Contests, Grants & Awards database
http://www.pw.org/grants

Scholastic Art and Writing Awards
http://www.artandwriting.org/

FP Essay Writing Scholarship
http://fairestprincess.com/scholarship/

A-1 Auto Transport Scholarship
https://www.a1autotransport.com/a-1-auto-transport-scholarship/

Writing Contests and Competitions Guide 2017
https://www.inkitt.com/writing-contests-competitions?ref=v_4b6622b7-002d-4331-9cfd-b1acb9f9259d

 

NOVEL WRITING SOFTWARE

Power Structure
http://www.powerstructure.com/

Scrivener
https://www.literatureandlatte.com/

Storyist
http://storyist.com/index.html

WriteItNow
http://www.ravensheadservices.com/

Writer’s Cafe’
http://www.writerscafe.co.uk/index.htm

 

LIST OF FREE WRITING SOFTWARE

Best Novel Writing Software in 2018
https://www.editionguard.com/blog/best-novel-writing-software/

The best free software for writers 2018
http://www.techradar.com/news/software/applications/best-free-software-for-writing-10-programs-to-unleash-your-creativity-1141280

Writing Software you should know about
http://www.dailywritingtips.com/writing-software/

 

WRITING SCREENPLAYS/SCRIPTS

http://www.screenwriting.info/

http://www.writersstore.com/how-to-write-a-screenplay-a-guide-to-scriptwriting/

http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Script

 

SCRIPT WRITING SOFTWARE

Adobe Story
https://story.adobe.com/en-us/

Celtx
https://www.celtx.com/index.html

Fade In
http://www.fadeinpro.com/

Final Draft
https://www.finaldraft.com/

Montage
https://marinersoftware.com/products/montage/

Movie Magic Screenwriter
http://www.screenplay.com/

Movie Outline
http://www.movieoutline.com/

Scrivener
https://www.literatureandlatte.com/

Slugline
http://slugline.co/

Storyist
http://storyist.com/index.html

Trelby (FREE!)
http://www.trelby.org/

 

OTHER SOFTWARE

Dragon (Speech Recognition Software)
http://www.nuance.com/dragon/index.htm
Various pieces of software that turns TALK TO TEXT

Dramatica
http://dramatica.com/
Story Development Software

Read Through
https://www.readthrough.com/
Have computer voices or REAL actors perform your script, for FREE!

 

PUBLISH YOUR BOOK (HOW TO)

Amazon
http://www.amazonkdp.com/ (ebook publishing)
https://www.createspace.com/pub/l/diy.do?ref=1383688&utm_id=6072 (paper print)
http://www.acx.com/?utm_source=amzn&utm_medium=w&utm_content=cta&utm_campaign=selfpub (audio book)

Apple’s iBooks
http://support.apple.com/kb/ph2808 (overview)
http://support.apple.com/kb/PH12101 (how to)

Archway Publishing
http://www.archwaypublishing.com/

Bookbaby
http://www.bookbaby.com/

Instant Publisher
www.instantpublisher.com/‎

Lulu
http://www.lulu.com/publish/books/

Smashwords
http://www.smashwords.com/about/how_to_publish_on_smashwords

 

RECOMMENDED READING

25 Tips on Self Publishing
http://www.cnet.com/news/self-publishing-a-book-25-things-you-need-to-know/

25 Tips on Writing Nonfiction
http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/25-tips-to-make-you-a-better-nonfiction-writer

How Do Literary Agents Fit In?
http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeremygreenfield/2013/08/02/how-do-literary-agents-fit-into-the-new-book-publishing-ecosystem/

Nonfiction Writing Forms
http://thoughtcatalog.com/david-miller/2013/02/16-nonfiction-forms-and-how-to-write-them/

On Writing
By Stephen King
https://www.amazon.com/Writing-10th-Anniversary-Memoir-Craft/dp/1439156816

Plotters vs. Pantsers: Storyboarding Tips
http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/jan-29

The War of Art
By Stephen Pressfield
http://www.stevenpressfield.com/the-war-of-art/

Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer
By Roy Peter Clark
https://www.amazon.com/Writing-Tools-Essential-Strategies-Writer/dp/0316014990/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1469477236&sr=1-1&keywords=Writing+Tools%3A+50+Essential+Strategies+for+Every+Writer

 

RECOMMENDED VIEWING

Difference Between Writing a Screenplay and a Novel
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7J-eOR4dJQ

Screenplay Structure: The Five Plot Points (great examples)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2-E7pENfKE

So You Want to Write a Novel (funny/stupid but informative cartoon)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9fc-crEFDw

Short Story Writing by Stephen King
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIehHxcEuGM

Top Ten Writing Rules From Famous Writers
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLIGZEBmBUk

Quentin Tarantino on Writing a Script
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5NI7kN7P3o

Why a three-act screenplay?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FS0YvnCoj8

 

POPULAR AUTHORS (PER GENRE)

Dan Brown (thriller)
http://www.danbrown.com/

Michael Crichton (science fiction)
http://www.crichton-official.com/

Agatha Christie (crime/detective)
http://www.agathachristie.com/

Charles Dickens (literature)
http://www.biography.com/people/charles-dickens-9274087
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens

Victor Hugo (literature/poetry/plays)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Hugo

Stephen King (horror)
http://stephenking.com/index.html

Dean Koontz (thriller)
http://www.deankoontz.com/

C.S. Lewis (children’s/religious)
https://www.cslewis.com/us

J.K. Rowling (young adult fantasy)
http://www.jkrowling.com/

Dr. Seuss (children’s stories)
http://www.seussville.com/

William Shakespeare (poetry/plays)
http://www.shakespeare.org.uk/home.html
http://www.opensourceshakespeare.org/

Ultimate Shakespeare Resource Guide
http://www.freebooknotes.com/shakespeare-guide/

Danielle Steel (romance)
http://daniellesteel.com/

R.L. Stine (young adult horror)
http://rlstine.com/

J.R.R. Tolkien (fantasy)
http://www.tolkiensociety.org/
http://www.tolkien.co.uk/index.html

Leo Tolstoy (literature/philosophy)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Tolstoy

Jules Verne (adventure)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jules_Verne

List of the best selling authors of all time
http://the-best-selling-books.com/the-best-selling-authors-of-all-time/

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