Monday, April 13, 2020

Thinking About the 5-Paragraph Essay

Lately, the 5-paragraph essay has been getting a bad rap. After all, there’s really nothing wrong with an essay composed of an introduction, a conclusion, and three paragraphs that explain and/or support a main point sandwiched in between. In fact, it can be an effective way to structure a piece of nonfiction writing.

But it’s certainly not the only way. And therein lies the problem. While students should have the opportunity to practice explaining ideas and composing arguments in 5 paragraphs, they should also learn and practice lots of other ways of writing. 

So now that we’ve agreed the 5-paragraph essay isn’t evil—in fact it can really come in handy—I’d like to point out that sharing nonfiction children’s books with a list text structure can be a great way to show students that some authors use a similar format as they write.   

What exactly is a list book? It has an expository writing style, and the main idea is presented on the first double-page spread. Then each subsequent spread offers one (or more) examples that support that idea. In most cases, a list book has a concluding spread that links back to the opening or offers a fun twist on the topic, leaving readers with a sense of satisfaction. 

Sound familiar? A list book is basically a 10-ish paragraph essay (depending on how the book is designed and how many double-page spreads are devoted to backmatter). 

When students create a spread-by-spread book map of a list book, its similarity to a 5-paragraph essay quickly becomes clear, showing students that this kind of writing is authentic. It's more than just a classroom construct or a test-prep activity, it’s a kind of writing that professional writers have used—and in some cases modified in innovative ways—to create some of kids' favorite nonfiction picture books. 

1 comment:

  1. Melissa, this is such an interesting way to look at using picture books as the traditional 5 paragraph essay, I love it! Thank you for sharing.