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Example 5 Paragraph Essay Esl

Finding fault with the five-paragraph essay (FPE) as an instructional tool in the EFL writing class is easy. The paint by number format has many weaknesses.

Defenders argue there are few viable alternatives that teach organization and persuasion. I’d like to outline one alternative, an approach that meets the academic and professional needs of most EFL students.

Not Without Merit

To be fair, the FPE is an important instructional tool … in specific circumstances. EFL students who want to pass a high-risk test (e.g. ACT) must learn the formula. That usually means an introductory paragraph with a catchy opening and a thesis sentence, three body paragraphs each containing obvious topic sentences, and a regurgitation of the thesis and supporting ideas in a humdrum concluding paragraph.

What’s good about the FPE format?

  • Some say it’s a building block for EFL students who need to write 10-page essays while studying abroad. That’s debatable because the FPE does not prepare students for research, citations, or paraphrasing – let alone language development – all vital skills for university-level writing.
  • Easy to mark. Graders working for big test companies spend about a minute reading each essay. That’s good for companies who pay humans to score essays. Good for students? Meh.
  • Easy to teach. Teachers don’t need to prep much. Finding ways to be efficient is important because writing classes often involve lots of unpaid teacher time.

Faulty Construct

If the instructional objective is to help EFL students learn to describe things accurately and argue points persuasively, FPE is a faulty tool. Here’s why.

  • Irrelevant structure: Outside academia, the FPE format is almost never used in business writing, editorials or personal communication. I’ve been looking for a five-paragraph essay for twenty years and still haven’t found one.
  • Intolerance for ambiguity: The FPE format usually requires students to choose one side from a list of options. There is no room for hedging, itself is an important writing skill.
  • Structure trumps content. The FPE presents one way to organize information. What’s not included is an appreciation for the richness of ideas, elements of style or depth of reasoning.

An Alternative Approach to Writing Pedagogy

An inquiry-based approach to reasoning supported by three complementary skill sets is the teaching framework I use in my EFL writing classes.

Constructing a reasoned analysis is a four-step strategy that helps students think independently about a topic or issue.

  1. Begin with a question. Unlike the FPE, an inquiry approach asks students to generate good questions at the beginning of an assignment, not the answers. Believe it or not, formulating good questions is challenging, especially for students coming from a teacher-centred classroom environment.
  2. Collect evidence. This is a tough task because it asks students to sift through information and find the meaningful bits. Living in an age of information overload, I believe this is a thinking skill that writing teachers should foster in the classroom.
  3. Create warrants. A warrant is a principle or general truth that gives evidence context. Warrants are the glue in an argument that connect evidence to conclusions. These vital pieces of thinking are often ignored in the construction of FPE.
  4. Draw conclusions. These statements answer the initial question and are often presented as probabilities, not certainties.

Three Complementary Skills

My students spend a good deal of class time crafting papers and short analyses based on this reasoning framework. It is a necessary step for independent thinking, but insufficient. Students need to develop three other essential writing skills.

  1. Fluency. Almost every student needs to write faster.
  2. Proficiency. Writing with greater accuracy is vitally important, but which areas require immediate attention? In my classes, students benefit from language-focused teaching that addresses specific aspects of the writing process: articles, proofreading, appositives and complex sentences.
  3. Style. A little bit of knowledge helps students transform dull, repetitious text into passages that are joy to read. These elements of style include sentence variety, an eye for details, paragraph organization and text cohesion.

Wrap Up

Helping students develop four essential writing skills – fluency, proficiency, style and inquiry-based reasoning – is far more beneficial than drilling them with structure-focused lessons if the objective is to foster clear writing, thoughtful arguments and critical thinking.

Reasoning, supported by a suite of language-focused exercises addressing student needs, can result in surprisingly good work. More importantly, the strategies students learn to organize information and argue ideas will help them communicate effectively inside the classroom and beyond. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of the five-paragraph essay format.


Teach writing?

If you like these ideas and want detailed worksheets and lesson ideas for your classroom, buy the ebook Teach Essential Writing Skills. Transform the quality of EFL student writing by focusing on four essential skills. Click here for details about the ebook that should be part of every writing teacher’s resource library.


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"A dog is man's best friend." That common saying may contain some truth, but dogs are not the only animal friend whose companionship people enjoy. For many people, a cat is their best friend. Despite what dog lovers may believe, cats make excellent housepets as they are good companions, they are civilized members of the household, and they are easy to care for.

In the first place, people enjoy the companionship of cats.Many cats are affectionate. They will snuggle up and ask to be petted, or scratched under the chin. Who can resist a purring cat? If they're not feeling affectionate, cats are generally quite playful. They love to chase balls and feathers, or just about anything dangling from a string. They especially enjoy playing when their owners are participating in the game. Contrary to popular opinion, cats can be trained. Using rewards and punishments, just like with a dog, a cat can be trained to avoid unwanted behavior or perform tricks. Cats will even fetch!

In the second place, cats are civilized members of the household.Unlike dogs, cats do not bark or make other loud noises. Most cats don't even meow very often. They generally lead a quiet existence. Cats also don't often have "accidents." Mother cats train their kittens to use the litter box, and most cats will use it without fail from that time on. Even stray cats usually understand the concept when shown the box and will use it regularly. Cats do have claws, and owners must make provision for this. A tall scratching post in a favorite cat area of the house will often keep the cat content to leave the furniture alone. As a last resort, of course, cats can be declawed.

Lastly, one of the most attractive features of cats as housepets is their ease of care.Cats do not have to be walked. They get plenty of exercise in the house as they play, and they do their business in the litter box. Cleaning a litter box is a quick, painless procedure. Cats also take care of their own grooming. Bathing a cat is almost never necessary because under ordinary circumstances cats clean themselves. Cats are more particular about personal cleanliness than people are. In addition, cats can be left home alone for a few hours without fear. Unlike some pets, most cats will not destroy the furnishings when left alone. They are content to go about their usual activities until their owners return.

Cats are low maintenance, civilized companions. People who have small living quarters or less time for pet care should appreciate these characteristics of cats. However, many people who have plenty of space and time still opt to have a cat because they love the cat personality. In many ways, cats are the ideal housepet.

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