The 5 Paragraph Essay Is Bad

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Following instructional material provided to us, they wrote the essays that generally ended up as five-paragraph themes.

The five paragraph theme was the accepted standard, but whose standard was it?

Prepositions took on new currency when the picture prompt was introduced.

Students were presented a picture and asked to describe the scene.

I cannot tell you when it happened that the process became a formula resulting in five-paragraph themes, but I believe it was the scoring rubric of the standardized test and pressure to teach our students how to be successful based on that rubric that resulted in formula writing.

Students' opening and closing sentences began to appear as standardized.They could begin anywhere but were required to trace the picture in words by moving from top to bottom, left to right, right to left, or background to foreground—all in a multiparagraph theme.In front of, behind, to the right of, across from, in the distance, and near the right-hand corner were common tools students used to plow through the picture prompt.As a middle school language arts teacher for ten years in Texas, I came to believe in practice that this was the writing standard in Texas as we were given models of rubric scoring to evaluate our students' essays.These rubrics resulted in teachers preparing students to write five-paragraph themes.While I required my seventh-, and later, eighth-graders to complete four research projects during the school year, most of the year was spent writing five-paragraph themes.This had become the norm for preparing students for success on the TAAS, the test that supposedly promoted higher-order thinking and held teachers accountable for student learning.I did not make the connection when my own son failed freshman English at the local junior college in our East Texas city.I was pleased that he registered to repeat the course with the same teacher.Only later did she consider what had become a concern among educators: that overemphasis on the five-paragraph theme had locked students into thinking it was the only way to write.Now convinced, Moss examines her belief that focusing on the five-paragraph essay underprepares students for college.


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