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If You Teach or Write 5-Paragraph Essays–Stop It! Part I: Introduction–What inspired my argumentative response? For decades, too many high-school teachers have been instilling persuasive writing skills by teaching students the five-paragraph essay. With the Common Core Standards designed to shift the way we teach students to think, read, and write, this outdated writing tradition must end. The five-paragraph essay is rudimentary, unengaging, and useless. If I were using five paragraphs to convince you, based on the argument above, you wouldn’t need to read any farther. Instead, we should use the original argumentative form Aristotle promoted but that somehow got watered down into the ordinary structure we, unfortunately, were likely taught or may currently teach.
Aristotle became one of the godfathers of rhetoric by creating structures for persuasive writing and speaking that–if taught to young people today–would transform writing instruction and facilitate the implementation of the Common Core, proving that students–when guided appropriately–can succeed with critical thinking in the 21st century. Teachers know that, in the 90s, state standards were developed to guide instruction. Each state, though, had its own. A few years ago, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers began work on national standards to increase consistency. These new national standards are challenging–and necessary. According to the Common Core Web site, the “standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.
The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. Besides allowing for instructional consistency among states, the states help align instruction vertically so one grade’s instruction leads to the next. The Common Core site also states that “these standards define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs. If high-school students and teachers are to succeed with Common Core Standards, the five-paragraph essay cannot be part of instruction.
Too many times, this ordinary format is the default mode for expressing thinking in English, in history, in science, in P. The problem is this format doesn’t encourage thoughtful persuasion. It promotes low-level summary that nobody really cares about. Aristotle rightfully promoted five parts to effective writing and speaking. Eventually, because of low expectations, because of poor literacy training, because of convenience or some combination, these five parts became five paragraphs. And writing became boring and predictable.