How to write (and teach) the five-paragraph essay

For a student to participate in the western world of academics, it is essential they know the basics of the 5-paragraph essay. Organizing thoughts into an outline and then putting them into this formula is a specific skill that must be taught and practiced for students to master.

It is even more important to have a strong command of this form for students who want to apply for study abroad programs or work in Europe or the United States. I wrote this lesson plan while helping students prepare for the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) exam so they could have a better shot at becoming one of the amazing 60 or so students from Kyrgyzstan who spend an academic year at a US high school.

The following is a lesson plan for introducing and practicing the basics of the 5-paragraph essay. As always, it should be modified to meet the specific needs of your students.

Lesson Plan – The 5-paragraph Essay

Objectives: Students will be able to write a 200-250 word essay using 5-paragraph form to include 1) An attention grabbing introduction 2) A thesis listing 3 reasons 3) 3 paragraphs with 3 reasons being the topic sentences 4) A conclusion that restates the introduction using different words.

  1. Give students a straight-forward topic, like, “My favorite singer” or “Why I want to go to America.”
  2. Brainstorm and list many reasons why they like this particular singer, or why they want to go to America. Emphasize specific reasons.
  3. Have students complete the following chart to help them with the form and reasons. “My favorite singer is __Avril Lavigne__ because 1) __she is edgy__ 2) __she doesn’t take crap from anyone__ 3) __when I play her music all the cute girls gather around__”
  4. Explain the word “detail” (story, statistic, example, anecdote, supporting information) and brainstorm together a couple details for one of the reasons.
  5. Write the outline above on the board and have students copy into their notebooks.
  6. Provide a sample essay. Students must: a) Identify and underline the thesis; b) Number the reasons within the thesis; c) Number and underline the reasons in the topic sentences; and d)Number the reasons in the conclusion. Go over these one at a time and elicit answers from students. If students need help, have them work in pairs or small groups before providing answers.
  7. Students complete an outline for the sample essay.
  8. Students check their partners’ outline and match it against the elements in the example.
  9. Students write a practice essay. (For homework.)

Lesson notes: Learning to write essays using the 5-paragraph technique takes lots of practice. Students should have many opportunities to sit down with the teacher one-on-one to discuss outlines and critique writing tasks. I have found this lesson to be more successful if you first spend lots of time only writing outlines. Slowly build on thesis, reasons, details, introduction, conclusion and transitions. It helps to assign a topic every lesson (or day) and then the next day working in pairs, students can critique each others’ essays underlining and labeling the elements of the 5-paragraph essay. Lastly, please, for the love of learning, and all that is good and bright in the world, add your own personality and above all, humor to your teaching. Just like how our essays should be interesting in order to be memorable, the more enjoyable your lesson, the more the students will get out of it.

Topic ideas to assign as homework:

  • Describe a time you were a leader and give examples.
  • If I were a banana, I would…
  • If I don’t like my host mother’s food, I will…
  • You are home alone and you accidentally break the coffee table. What do you do?
  • The three most important people are…

For the FLEX test particularly, it’s necessary to stress to students the importance of being original, unique, and outgoing while showing a flavor of critical-thinking in their writing. FLEX recruiters are going to read a billion of these essays and students need to stand out to have a shot at a year in America.

5-paragraph essay outline

Topic: XYZ

Introduction:

  • Be interesting!
  • Be unique! The reader should remember this.
  • 2-3 sentences

Thesis:

  • Write the topic and give your opinion using 3 reasons.
  • “I think XYZ is good because 1)… 2)… 3)… ”

Body:

  • 3 paragraphs (3-5 sentences each)
  • Reason 1
    • Detail (example, story, anecdote, statistic)
    • Detail
  • Reason 2
    • Detail
    • Detail
  • Reason 3
    • Detail
    • Detail

Conclusion:

  • Write the introduction and thesis again using different words
  • “In conclusion, you can see that XYZ is very good because…”

Sample 5-paragraph essay

Topic: What will you do when you get back from the United States?

Studying in America will be an amazing experience, but I will also be very excited to come home. Of course I will miss my family. But I also am excited to meet my friends and tell them all about America! When I come back from the United states I will help lead an American Culture club, show videos of high school life and help Access students.

Leading an American Culture club will teach students about new things. I want to share new music and lead a hip-hop dance club. I went to many dances at my school in America and it was so fun! My dance group in America wants to keep in touch with us and we will record videos and send them to each other.

I took many videos of my high school in America. I want to show my school their cafeteria, their classrooms and the gymnasium. I know we can make some changes to our school to make it even better.

Access students learn American culture, but they don’t have a chance to visit, so I will help teach Access students English through American culture lessons. We will listen to songs and write letters to students in America. It is a good chance to learn English from native speakers!

After I come back from America I will be so happy to see my family and friends again! But I know I will miss my place in the United States too. I will be able to keep in touch with my friends in America and teach my friends new things by leading clubs, showing videos and helping with Access.


What ideas do you have for teaching the 5-paragraph essay? Write your suggestions below in the comments!

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