Today's installation from the Cites Literacy Promise Conference is about Katherine Bomer's session on writing essays.
I found this session particularly fascinating. Katherine's whole premise was that writing essays is a journey, not a formula. I love this idea--essays are an exploration and not necessarily a formula to follow. It is all about the idea with narrative, facts, questions, and the voices of others weaved throughout.
But my question is--How are my middle school students supposed to do this when they are just learning how to write? I believe the 5 paragraph formula is a perfect way for students who are just learning to explore their ideas. We need to teach them the elements of an essay: introduction, thesis/claim, evidence, examples, explanation, conclusion. Students need to know what goes where in each part of the essay. I like to walk my students through how to write an essay and be specific as to what needs to go where. I created a rough draft organizer for students to know where the topic sentence goes, where the examples and supporting evidence goes. You can find this on my Free Stuff page!
Once they have a grasp on the elements of an essay, then they can experiment with changing the structure and have a little more liberty. Katherine mentioned that some of the best essays are not written in 5-paragraphs. I agree. But how much practice have these essayists had before they wrote these master pieces? Where did they start?
Our students need to start somewhere, and that somewhere is with formulaic writing. When a child is learning to ride a bike, we don't just throw them on a 2-wheel bike and say "Go!" We first put training wheels on so they learn how to ride the bike. Then when they are ready, we take off the training wheels. As teachers we do need to move away from the 5-paragraph essay, but not before our students are ready. Once they are ready, we remove the 5-paragraph, formulaic training wheels and help them feel comfortable with their writing journey.