Is your child sitting down to write a 5-paragraph essay with tears streaming down their face because they just can’t understand their writing assignment? More often than not, the 5-paragraph essay is becoming the staple against which most schools test a child’s prowess in writing. This is the format that is most commonly used and also looked for during testing and also writing samples for applications—I have been asked throughout all of my high school career to use this format and this is what led to high SAT scores and a high acceptance rate to colleges. With more and more schools interested in students’ writing samples, its important to give them the tools they need to master this structure. But first, what is the 5-paragraph essay?
It follows the same basic structure and is largely used for critical, analytical, and argumentative writing. The first paragraph works as an introductory paragraph that leads into a topic and is always ended by a thesis statement. The three following body paragraphs contain the main argument or claim that the person is making based on the thesis. The last and final paragraph works as a conclusion that summarizes the paper and ties up any loose ends. This all sounds a little overwhelming, and can be until you master the structure. At MathGenie we cover various types of writing so that the 5-paragraph essay becomes not only accessible but also mastered by the students who practice it. In the meantime, this is what you can do to help:
- Draw out the 5-paragraph essay in a diagram that is easy to understand for your child. I like to imagine the 5-paragraph essay as a sandwich that needs to be put together. Your first paragraph is the first slice of bread that introduces everything. Then you add the lettuce as the second body paragraph that starts the argument/claim. The next layer would be the tomatoes that further develops the argument/claim in the third paragraph. Then we add the turkey which is the last layer of the argument/claim. Last, we add yet another slice of bread for the conclusion which wraps up the entirety of the paper and closes up the argument/claim.
- Work on it piece by piece. Give your child a 3-day span to complete their rough draft. The first day try to work on just the introduction and the first body paragraph. Pay special attention to the thesis, as this will be the most important part of your child’s essay. A good rule of thumb is that a thesis should make one argument/claim while using three examples. This makes sense because there are three body paragraphs, therefore letting the child explain one example/claim in each paragraph.
Day two should focus on finishing all the body paragraphs. This is where they do most of the critical thinking/analyzing. Then on the final day make sure the child ties up any loose ends and also writes a solid conclusion. In this way the paper is spread out over several days and doesn’t feel overwhelming.
Depending on how much time your child has to work on this particular essay, you can adjust the schedule accordingly.
- Ask your child to talk their way through their argument before they even start to write. Ask them about their topic and see if they have three examples/claims that can back up their thesis. This will let you and them know if they have chosen a thesis that they can successfully articulate and prove.
- Color code the essay. Make your child visualize the argument even as they write it down. Underline the thesis in red, underline the topic sentence in each body paragraph in orange, underline the main argument/claim in each body paragraph in purple, underline the conclusion in green. If the child has successfully color coded the essay, then they will see the rainbow of their work. If they’re missing a color, then it’s a good time to go back and check what needs to be done or added.
- Read examples of other 5-paragraph essays. Once your child understands that there is a known pattern, it is easier to recognize in others’ writing. This is a good chance to choose a level of writing that is slightly above their own in order to show them what their final product should look like. No writer ever reaches a level of perfection—so its important to always have something to strive for while improving on his or her current ability. Reading higher level essays can help develop this as well.
If you follow these tips you’ll soon see the tears and frustration turn into sighs of relief—I know mine did!