by Lorena Lopez, SJAWP Associate Director
Editor’s Note: This summer, eighteen Teacher Consultants read, wrote and responded to each other in a week long Advanced Summer Institute led by SJAWP Director Jonathan Lovell. The institute centered on Peter Elbow’s 25th Anniversary Edition of Writing Without Teachers. In a ten minute quick write after listening to Laurie Weckesser read a planned response to Elbow’s book, Lorena Lopez wrote the following action.
Have you ever thought about how badly students need structure in their writing? Well, I have and I am going to tell you about it. Students need instruction on how to write an essay and you need to teach them.
First of all, students never have anything to write about because they don’t do anything and they don’t ever think anything either. So you need to tell them what to write about. For example, the students only write about non academic topics such as skateboarding and friends. There is nothing there that is interesting or of higher level thinking, so assign them the topic. Giving assignments like finding the theme or main idea, is more academic. Furthermore, assigning them that topic is really going to help them so that the next time they have to write, that teacher will have to assign them the topic too, proving that students don’t have a brain of their own. This paragraph was all about students never having anything to write about.
Next, when students write, it is all out of order. It is messy and hard to read. As you know, English teachers know all about what makes good writing so if they can’t make sense of it, it is an utter failure. For example, when I write and don’t follow the five paragraph structure, it doesn’t make any sense and no one gets my point because I didn’t put it in the first paragraph. Also, students should not be writing if they don’t know what a paragraph is. I learned about a paragraph in third grade with colors. The colors were green, yellow and pink. If you had a lot of pink, it meant that you had a lot of details. I bet there is a lot of pink in this paragraph. This paragraph was all about students not having writing in the right order.
We live in a five paragraph essay world where everything we read is in five paragraphs, with a catchy introduction and thesis statement in the first paragraph.
Last of all, students need to be taught how to write an essay because there is only one way to do it. We live in a five paragraph essay world where everything we read is in five paragraphs, with a catchy introduction and thesis statement in the first paragraph. If I don’t learn how to do this, I won’t be able to apply for college and I won’t do so good. For example, English Learners have to learn this kind of writing and as you know their writing really sucks. If you teach them how to organize it with this five paragraph model, their writing will be better. They might not be thinking of other ways to organize the writing that might be more interesting, but they shouldn’t be thinking anyway. Students need to be taught how to write a five paragraph essay to get to college.
All in all, I love the five paragraph essay, don’t you? Some of you might be thinking that there are other ways to write, but you need to remember, students can’t pick their own topics, their writing is messy and there’s only one way to write an essay. The next time you are assigned an essay, think about the five paragraph model.