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How to Write a Perfect Five Paragraph Essay
Published in Big Apple Parent Magazine
by Emily Levy"I need to write a five paragraph essay. Where do I begin? How do I compose a thesis statement? What is a transition word? And how do I end with strong concluding remarks?"
Do any of these words sound familiar? As your child advances through elementary school, he or she will inevitably face the often daunting task of writing a five paragraph essay. Many students have little direction, and some have no clue at all, as to how to plan, write, and self-check their essays using an organized, logical flow. Since writing is certainly one of the most important skills for school success, it is imperative that students learn an effective strategy for organizing their thoughts and ideas on paper.
Here is a step-by-step process for how to write a perfect five paragraph essay:
1. The introduction paragraph. This paragraph tends to be, by far, the most difficult one for students to write. It is here that the student must lure in the reader with an interesting, thought-provoking remark or anecdote. The paragraph must end with a well-constructed thesis statement to set the organization and tone of the essay. Here are some guidelines for writing a strong introduction paragraph: a. The opener. Students can choose one of the following five ways to start the essay:
For practice, encourage your child to write just the opener of several different essays on various topics. These five choices will add variety and creativity to his or her writing!
- Question (Ex. Have you ever wondered how baked ziti is made?)
- General Statement. (Ex. Wearing a seatbelt can help protect your life.)
- Quotation. (Ex. A wise man once said, "If it ‘aint broke, don’t fix it.”)
- Opposite Statement (Ex. Many people believe that all ‘healthy’ foods are healthy.)
- Story (Ex. The manager left his store to take a quick lunch break. He was sure all of his employees were trustworthy. He was gone for one hour, and when he returned, all of the cash was missing from his register.)
b. The thesis statement. The thesis statement should always come at the end of the introduction paragraph. It should always contain the student’s opinion on the topic and his or her plan for the essay. For example, a well-constructed thesis statement might be as follows: Rocking Horse Grill is the best restaurant in town because of its food, atmosphere, and friendly staff. Note that for this thesis statement, the opinion is Rocking Horse Grill is the best restaurant in town and the plan is because of its food, atmosphere, and friendly staff. Thus, the first body paragraph of this essay would be about Rocking Horse Grill’s food, the second body paragraph would be about its atmosphere, and the third would be about its friendly staff. For practice, have your child write thesis statements on the following topics: winter sports, junk food, and holidays.
c. The lead-in. The lead-in actually comes before the thesis statement (3-5 sentences) and after the opener. We teach the lead-in after teaching the thesis statement, however, because it flows together and is easier to grasp this way. As practice, students should read well-written introduction paragraphs and highlight the opener in one color, the lead-in in another color, and the thesis statement in a third color.
2. The three body paragraphs. Remember that the thesis statement sets the plan for the content of each body paragraph. Ask yourself the following: If our thesis statement is: Snowboarding is a great sport because it is fun, social, and athletic, what would each body paragraph be about? Hopefully you answered that the first body paragraph would be about why snowboarding is fun, the second would be about why it is social, and the third would describe why it is an athletic sport.
Each body paragraph should include details, examples, statistics, quotations, and any other specific information. The old adage "Show, don’t tell" certainly applies here. It is important that the student describes information in detail, with concrete backup from credible sources, rather than just "telling" about it. Remember that if any information is taken from other sources, it must be credited as an outside source.
3. The Conclusion Paragraph. This paragraph can be a tough one to write! How does one reiterate all of the information from the essay without being redundant? And how can we add more information without really adding more information? The solution for writing this paragraph is as follows:
a. Restate the thesis statement. This is where the student should remind the reader of his or her opinion on the topic and restate the three supporting points. For example, for our Rocking Horse Grill essay, we might start our conclusion paragraph with the following: "Because of its delicious Mexican cuisine, convivial ambiance, and energetic staff, Rocking Horse Grill is one of the best restaurants in Chicago."
b. Lead-out. The next 2-4 sentences should lead the reader to the author’s final, conclusive remark. The student can reiterate some points about each of the body paragraphs. These sentences should, of course, contain words that are different from those used in the actual body paragraphs.
c. Concluding Remark. This remark should be conclusive, strong, and perhaps profound. It should leave the reader thinking. For example, a concluding remark for our Rocking Horse Grill essay might be: "The next time you are in town, do not bother with any other restaurants since Rocking Horse Grill has it all."
If your child follows the above model when writing, he or she will be well on the way toward a perfect five paragraph essay. But first, to your child, a few other pointers: 1. Try not to directly state your opinion. Avoid phrase like:
2. Remember to use transition words when transitioning between paragraphs and between points within paragraphs. For example, at the start of your first body paragraph, you might write, "The first reason why Rocking Horse Grill is the best restaurant in town is because it offers delicious Mexican cuisine." Between points within that paragraph, you might write, "Next, the burritos at Rocking Horse are some of the best I have ever had. They are warm, thick, and are filled with fresh ingredients. Furthermore, there is a wide variety to choose from." The words in italics are some transition words you might use.
- "In this essay, I will talk about…”
- "I think that smoking is bad for you because"(rather, simply state "Smoking is bad for you because…")
- "In conclusion, my essay proves…"
3. Perhaps the most important advice you should follow is to always use three steps when writing: brainstorm, write, and self-check. Use the following guidelines when doing so:
Note that the key theme here is re-read. You should re-read your essay five times, each time checking for a different element.
- Brainstorm. Use a visual diagram, a word processor, or even a hand-written list to plan your essay. Make sure you write out your opener, your thesis statement, your three points for your body paragraph, and some details, quotes, statistics, or other specific information that you might include in each body paragraph before writing. This step sets the stage for the organization and flow of your essay.
- Write. Use the above-mentioned guidelines for specific information on how to write the essay itself.
- Self-check. This step is critical; one that many students neglect! When self-checking your work, do not rely solely on the spell check or grammar check on your word processor. Many mistakes are missed by using just these tools! Instead, self-check your work using the following checklist:
- Capitalization: re-read your essay and make sure that all letters that should be capitalized are, and those that should not be capitalized are not.
- Tense: re-read your essay and make sure that all tense is consistent. That means that you should not mix past and present tense together. Rather, you should choose one of the two and stick with it throughout the essay.
- Organization: re-read your essay and ask yourself the following questions: Does my essay have a strong opener? Is that opener followed by a lead-in, and then by a well-constructed thesis statement? Have I clearly stated my points in each body paragraph? Have I restated my thesis statement in my conclusion paragraph and ended my essay with a thought-provoking remark? If so, then check off this box.
- Punctuation: again, re-read your essay and make sure all of your punctuation is correct.
- Spelling: re-read the essay and make sure all spelling is correct.
This information is certainly a lot to absorb – but it will make a real difference in your child’s writing! Remember that for many students, coming up with the content is not the challenge. Rather it is organizing that content into a well-written, well-structured, and logically flowing essay. Use these strategies to make the five paragraph essay writing process step-by-step, fun and easy for your child. So get to work!
Emily Levy is the founder and director of EBL Coaching and the author of "Strategies for Study Success: Writing Five Paragraph Essays," one of her three-part writing workbook series. She has also written twelve other workbooks as part of this "Strategies for Study Success" series, covering organizational skills, test taking, note taking, reading comprehension, and auditory processing strategies. For more information on these books and related tutorial services, contact EBL Coaching at 646-342-9380 or by visiting www.eblcoaching.com.
Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.
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