The Five Paragraph Essay Is Awesome! Not!!!



Wiley’s article demonstrates the irrelevancy of the five-paragraph essay and students are too comfortable and hesitant to change the formulaic writing that was taught to them in secondary education. Students often assume that all writing stems from this format, and continuously use the format throughout their academic careers. Last night, I assisted my sister with her writing assignment. She is taking a remedial English course at Butte College and had difficulty beginning her essay. I noticed on the instructor’s assignment sheet, they used terms such as Basic Writing and incorporated examples that presented work that reflected similar structures to the five-paragraph essay. I became concerned with the content and showed my sister a different method on how to create small excerpts.


Here is the story:


Friday night, I arrived home late from work and my sister waited in the kitchen for my arrival. She needed assistance on her homework assignment and could not write her essay. I told her I would ignore my assignments to help her, due to her emotional state. She was anxious, nervous and overall felt insecure about writing.

As we began to look over her syllabus and the essay question, I noticed the instructor mentioned that this essay would help students understand the basics of writing. That this essay will help introduce students to the basic skill of synthesizing various resources into an essay to make their argument compelling.

I asked my sister what she thought the instructor would require for her to make a great essay. She then stated, “I think she wants an five page essay, right?” I looked at my sister and told her no.

I told her (in a simple way) that formulaic writing will not assist her to create an amazing essay and that she needed to forget about the dumb five-paragraph essay. I insisted that the five-page essay is not the only method of writing. We went over various sources from the book and selected excerpts that related to the question. I had her create Memo’s like the students that I worked with in my internship and placed important quotes in the memo. We created a total of four memos and she seemed really proud that she was able to accomplish the task within three hours.

We continued to work together till four in the morning. She became frustrated, angry, and wanted to quit several times. However, after completing the assignment (the rough draft), she looked at me and said, “I cannot believe I did that,” and “I never have written anything like this before.”

I told her that her grammar was not the best or that the essay was not a finished product, however, she incorporated the most crucial part of the essay: content. She seemed to gain confidence and realized that she had the capability to learn new methods of communication by being open and willing,


End of story.


I realized that instructors in secondary education or even higher education believe that students are not capable of challenging work. That student’s should only indulge themselves in the five-paragraph essay, because of their “inability” to not comprehend writing in different forms. However, interacting with my sister and assisting her throughout her assignment proved with proper motivation and sponsorship, a student can accomplish anything.


  6 comments for “The Five Paragraph Essay Is Awesome! Not!!!

  1. David Puerner
    David Puerner
    February 19, 2017 at 11:11 am

    Nice work Ruben! I’m glad you were able to work with your sister like that. I’m sure it’ll be something she remembers for a very long time after this.

    I’m curious. Do you think the five paragraph essay, and other forms of formulaic writing should be abandoned in altogether in academia, or are there ways to incorporate an “interchangeable-parts” perspective on writing (formulaic/standardized writing) into a composition course that stresses personal exploration and reflection alongside the old perspective in a more even handed way?

    I wonder if we need to give it up altogether, or if there is a middle ground.


    A student is given an assignment on global warming where they have to create and defend a thesis in the form of a five paragraph essay.

    After the essay is turned in there is a discussion about the limitations of such writing.

    Then the students are given another assignment where they have to generate a piece of writing on global warming that follows a different strategy (the student can either choose from a catalog of strategies provided by the teacher, or he/she could choose to try and create their own, or he/she could blend a few options to crewe a hybrid of sorts).

    After the alternative assignment is complete the teacher could then lead the class through two discussions on different days.

    1. What were the advantages and limitations of both approaches? What problems did you run into? Where you able to do things with the second approach that you couldn’t do with the first? Was it hard to stay focused with the second approach? Was focus even important to you in the second approach, or was it more of a general exploration and survey? And finally, Which did you like better? Why?

    2. When is it appropriate to use each strategy? Are there times in your coming academic career where sticking to a formula might be expected? Are there ways of tailoring the second approach, if you liked it more, so that it ends up looking more standardized in a situation where formulaic writing is expected?

    IDK if any of this makes sense man? What do you think?

    • Ruben Mendoza
      Ruben Mendoza
      February 19, 2017 at 2:26 pm

      Hey David,
      I love the intelligent questions that were asked. In my small opinion, I do believe that formulaic writing should be incorporated into academic careers, especially in secondary education. However, Students (like myself) are becoming to heavily reliant on format writing and refuse to expand their literacy practices. As a student, I had the tendency before taking Journalism courses to always write using the five paragraph essay. I never challenged myself, due to fear that I was not capable. Formulaic writing is a great method to introduce students to ways of writing, however, need to expand their capabilities by challenging them.

  2. kjaxon
    February 19, 2017 at 1:47 pm

    Ruben, love that you included this narrative! So, now I want to know more about the “memos”: are they basically breaking down the essay into a series of sections? Totally intrigued. Really appreciate how a mentor (you, in this case) can also make someone feel capable. We all know that the feeling of “oh my god I just wrote that” is what helps us want to write more…

    David, your questions above are great.

    • Ruben Mendoza
      Ruben Mendoza
      February 19, 2017 at 2:28 pm

      Yes. The Memos were used as sections of the essays. They did not include formats that are typically found in the five paragraph essay. I will try to swindle my sister by allowing me to show her paper in class when finished.

  3. Allison Clark
    February 19, 2017 at 6:48 pm

    Ugh…the five paragraph essay. I had a very difficult time learning this also, and the only reason I did was because of a dedicated teacher. I can so relate to your sister! Those essays are difficult, and its really easy to feel as if you are doing everything incorrectly. It sounds like you not only helped her understand but gave her confidence, which is like half the battle.

    I loved the things you suggested to help her! It seems like you really understand how she thinks and used a model that works well for you to help her as best you could. The memo idea is very interesting. It sounds like you had her write a point she could make and then find evidence from the text to support it. Is that about right?

    That must have been a really rewarding feeling to have her do the work and be proud of herself because of your help. I can’t wait for moments like that when I am teaching! I bet your sister will remember that forever.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Gabriela Luevanos
    February 20, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Hey Ruben,
    I enjoyed your short story. Honestly, you’re the sweetest to assist your sister on your own time because staying up till 4 a.m writing a paper must be so frustrating! When you mentioned the following, “I noticed on the instructor’s assignment sheet, they used terms such as Basic Writing and incorporated examples that presented work that reflected similar structures to the five-paragraph essay,” I understood why your sister felt incapable of completing the assignment. Shoot, I too have felt overwhelmed when the assignment is meant to be “basic” but sometimes it’s a different story when you’re actually about to write it.
    Your sister is lucky to have someone to guide her and open up her options instead of getting attached to the 5 body paragraph.
    Way to go Ruben!

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