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Reading & Literacy

Good Riddance to the Five-Paragraph Essay?

By Francesca Duffy — May 15, 2012 1 min read
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In his blog The White Rhino: A Chicago Latino English Teacher, Ray Salazar argues that the five-paragraph essay should be tossed out the window. The Chicago public school teacher writes that the “outdated writing tradition” is “rudimentary, unengaging, and useless,” and that the format leads to the production of “low-level summary that nobody really cares about.”

Effective cover letters and news articles don’t follow the five-paragraph structure, he argues, so the organizational pattern will not lead to success outside of school.

Salazar also points out that the original essay structure, created by Aristotle, identified five parts that are critical to effective writing and speaking: introduction, background, confirmation, refutation, and conclusion. Over time, however, people began to implement these “parts” as separate paragraphs, resulting in “boring” and “predictable” writing, says Salazar.

He suggests that teachers go back to Aristotle’s original structure for writing persuasive essays, because it allows students to incorporate “compare/contrast, cause/effect, definition, or analysis paragraphs as appropriate,” as opposed to the five-paragraph essay that mostly forces them to write in expository paragraphs. He also writes that Aristotle’s form should be coupled with the College Board’s recommended format called SOAP (Subject, Occasion, Audience, Purpose), which helps students pinpoint the rhetorical context that they are writing for and provides a limitless structure for their writing.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.