Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay

  • Title:Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay
  • Author:Kimberly Hill Campbell, Kristi Latimer
  • Publication Date:May 2012
  • Grade Level:6-12
  • ISBN:9781571108524
  • Publisher:Stenhouse

Love it or hate it, the five-paragraph essay is perhaps the most frequently taught form of writing in classrooms of yesterday and today. But have you ever actually seen five-paragraph essays outside of school walls? Have you ever found it in business writing, journalism, nonfiction, or any other genres that exist in the real world? Kimberly Hill Campbell and Kristi Latimer reviewed the research on the effectiveness of the form as a teaching tool and discovered that the research does not support the five-paragraph formula.

In fact, research shows that the formula restricts creativity, emphasizes structure rather than content, does not improve standardized test scores, inadequately prepares students for college writing, and results in vapid writing. In Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay, Kimberly and Kristi show you how to reclaim the literary essay and create a program that encourages thoughtful writing in response to literature. They provide numerous strategies that stimulate student thinking, value unique insight, and encourage lively, personal writing, including the following:

  • Close reading (which is the basis for writing about literature)
  • Low-stakes writing options that support students' thinking as they read
  • Collaboration in support of discussion, debate, and organizational structures that support writing as exploration
  • A focus on students' writing process as foundational to content development and structure
  • The use of model texts to write in the form of the literature students are reading and analyzing

The goal of reading and writing about literature is to push and challenge our students' thinking. We want students to know that their writing can convey something important: a unique view to share, defend, prove, delight, discover, and inspire. If we want our students to be more engaged, skilled writers, we need to move beyond the five-paragraph essay.


Author Bio

Kimberly Hill Campbell had a bit of a bumpy start as a beginning teacher. She taught language arts at Estacada Junior High School from 1979 until 1982. "Then," she says, "I became the statistic: a beginning teacher who left the profession. I was frustrated that I had no voice about the curriculum in my classroom." So she turned to law and received her JD from Willamette University College of Law and practiced law and taught in the legal assistant program at the community college level until 1986. She returned to teaching at Estacada High School in 1987. "I found my voice as a teacher through teacher research of my own practice and the research and writing of language arts teachers such as Nancie Atwell and Tom Romano." Kimberly received her MAT degree from Lewis & Clark College in secondary language arts and administration in 1994, and in 1995 she was the founding principal of Riverdale High School, a small high school based on the principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools. She is currently assistant professor in the MAT program at Lewis & Clark College. Her primary focus is working with beginning teachers who want to be middle school and high school language arts teachers. She also teaches classes in teacher research and language arts methods for inservice teachers.

Kristi Latimer is in her eighth year of teaching at Tigard High School in Oregon, where she teaches international baccalaureate senior English and freshman English. She is also an adjunct professor at Lewis & Clark College. Kristi received her bachelor's degree from Reed College and her master's degree from Lewis & Clark College. After working in the nonprofit world, the revelation that she wanted to be a teacher came during coffee with one of her college professors. "When she opened her purse to fetch something, I noticed three or four novels, Post-its lining the edges, covered in her familiar handwriting. I immediately thought: 'I want my purse to look like that when I go to work.'" So she combined her desire to help struggling kids and her love of literature and went back to school. "Returning to a high school classroom helped me reflect in new ways on my own education," Kristi says. "Growing up in a small town in Arizona, I did not always have access to the same educational opportunities that my students in Portland do. But I did have the support of family and some excellent teachers who believed in me and thought my love of language and writing might take me somewhere. I want to create a similar space for students to find their own voices, regardless of their path after high school." Kristi recently told her students in freshman English class that she loves the constant surprises of teaching English. "No two days are the same. In fact, no lesson plans are ever the same, regardless of how carefully I write them. Once the students arrive, they bring themselves to the lessons and push my initial ideas. I also love that texts I have taught for years become new when a student notices something I have never seen. Their ideas remind me of the power of language. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing the face of a student who finally 'gets it,' especially when 'getting it' means finally finding his or her voice as a writer."

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