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:
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
The 5 paragraph essay is considered to be the standard essay writing assignment. It is used in most exams such as TOEFL, IELTS, and the SAT. Since most of these exams limit the student time-wise in the "Writing" section, students are trained to memorize this format. This allows the student to answer the exam prompt quickly and efficiently. The format’s plasticity allows students to experiment with various essay styles. Persuasive, Argumentative, Expository, Narrative and Cause and Effect can all adapt to this format. As a result, perfecting the 5 paragraph essay is a practice that often turns rookies into experienced essay writer.
Table Of Contents
Good Example Topics
- Can one learn a life lesson from an experience that they didn't have? Can you learn from other people's mistakes?
- Is animal testing ethical?
- Should same-sex marriage be allowed?
- Should laws on gun-control be more strict?
- Should the death penalty be abolished completely?
- Should marijuana be legalized?
- Should education be free for all students?
The paper topics listed above are some of the most common topics students write essays about. Of course, they are not limited to only these. Before choosing a topic and start the writing process, students should look to come up with a catchy title. The reason for doing so is centered around grabbing the readers attention right from the get go.
This type of essay has a very specific outline; It starts with an Introduction, goes to Body Paragraph 1, Body Paragraph 2, Body Paragraph 3, and sums things up with a Conclusion. Each body paragraph serves a specific purpose, and the essay is in the form of a keyhole. This means that it starts out very BROAD, gets more NARROW and finishes out BROAD.
Introduction: 3-5 Sentences
- The introduction sets the structure for the rest of the essay, with the first sentence being the HOOK sentence.
- The Hook Sentence is kind of like the spark to a flame; It grabs the reader's attention.
- The Hook is usually either a rhetorical question or some life example or a stunning fact
This is a rhetorical question, meaning it does not need an answer because it is obvious.
Brief Introduction of Supporting Arguments (1-3)
Here you are taking your supporting arguments and briefly introducing them to the reader without revealing too much information.
Tip: Think of it as a trailer for a movie, like it should be exciting but can’t give away the “PLOT”.
- The most important part of your entire essay; .
- This statement will be the basis for the rest of your custom essay
- Since we are talking about nature preservation, an example of a good thesis would be:
- “The preservation of our planet is the most important aspect of keeping Mother Nature in check and avoiding draconian disasters.”
Quick Tip: if you find that your body paragraphs have nothing to do with your thesis, you can go back and change the thesis.
Body Paragraphs 1,2,3 (5-7 Sentences)
- This is the “meat” of your 5 paragraph essay, where you explain the side you are defending (Thesis Sentence)
- Structure of the body paragraphs is usually: Intro sentence (1), Supporting Argument
- Explanation (3-5), Concluding Sentence (1)
- Intro sentence should briefly bring out your argument without revealing too much information
- Supporting Argument and Explanation: This is taking the topic and going into detail, while still most importantly DEFENDING YOUR THESIS!
- The Concluding Sentence should be the opposite of the intro: instead of introducing your argument, you are briefly concluding your argument, transitioning into your next one.
THE FORMAT FOR ALL 3 BODY PARAGRAPHS IS THE SAME
- The arguments should go in this order:
- First body paragraph should be your second strongest argument
- Second body should be your weakest argument
- Third body should be your strongest argument
To give our readers a nice keyhole format visual, we have a picture of a standard Graphic Organizer below.
Conclusion (3-5 Sentences): This is the “mirror” of your intro
- Restating Your Thesis (Sentence 1): You take your main argument (thesis) and restate it in a conclusive way. You are paraphrasing it in an assertive manner to show that you have “proved your point.”
- Concluding your supporting arguments (1-3 Sentences): This is taking your supporting arguments (your body paragraphs) and rephrasing the main points you made in one sentence per paragraph.
- If some of your supporting arguments are similar then you can combine them into one sentence to keep the good structure.
- So for example,
Concluding Hook Sentence (Optional)
A good way to end an essay is something unexpected, to surprise the reader.
Create a second hook, but this time it should be a hook that SUMS things up in a few words, rhetorical questions are good for this.
This gives the 5 paragraph essay some spice at the end and makes the reader question your statement.
General Grading Rubric
Several schools and universities worldwide use several different types of rubrics, but one of the most standard rubric styles is the 5 point style, where it is broken down into 5 segments: Focus, Organization, Conventions, Style, and Content.
- Focus: Did the writer spends his time proving his thesis? Did he accomplish his goal?
- Organization: Was the essay fluid and were the transitions in between paragraphs smooth? Did the writer follow the proper outline and not diverge from the set structure?
- Conventions: Did the writer make many grammatical mistakes? Did they have run on sentences?
- Style: Did the writer use high-level vocabulary, were words rarely repeated, how creative were his sentence structures?
- Content: Did the writer properly prove his argument? Were his statements logical and factual? Did he create strong arguments?
Essay Writing Advice From Our Professional Writers
Best Brian, fromEssayPro
A five paragraph essay is the first big writing assignment that your teacher will have you do in middle school! If you’re a beginner essayist, then my tip for you is to learn how to ensure that each paragraph has its own unique idea. Once you’ve mastered that, you can practice making your paragraphs flow into each other with transition sentences. Later on, in high school and college, this will be a very valuable skill to have. Connect your ideas together so your readers can follow along with ease. While writing, always keeps in mind what your next paragraph is about and try to lead up to it. In the first essays that you write, using words like “Firstly, Secondly, and In conclusion” is acceptable, but later on, you will need to find ways to separate your ideas without those linking words. Don’t make them a habit. Good luck with your writing!
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