When I look back to my first experience teaching five paragraph essays to fifth graders, I can remember how terribly unprepared I felt. I knew that the five paragraph essay format was what my students needed to help them pass our state’s writing assessment but I had no idea where to start. I researched the few grade-appropriate essays I could find online (these were the days before Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers) and determined that there was a structure to follow. Every essay followed the same basic structure. I taught the structure to my students and they did well. I have been teaching five paragraph essay structure and everything that goes with it for a lot of years now. I hope that after you read this blog post, you will have a good understanding of how to teach and grade five paragraph essays.
Start with Paragraphs
We always start with simple paragraphs. Yes, this is basic, but if your students cannot write excellent paragraphs, their five paragraph essays will be train wrecks. Trust me! We spend a while cementing paragraph structure:
I give students topics, they come up with their own topics, we write together, they write with a partner or independently, the more variety, the better. We have fun with simple paragraphs. Then, it’s time to move on to organization.
Organize and Write the Body Paragraphs
Please refer to my five paragraph essay organizer below. The three body paragraphs are absolutely crucial to the success of the five paragraph essay. Some teachers have trouble teaching the structure of five paragraph essays because they start with the introduction paragraph. Always teach the body paragraphs first! The body paragraphs are where the bulk of students’ ideas will be written AND the topics of the body paragraphs need to be set for students to write a thesis sentence. So, once your students have planned out their three body paragraphs, it’s time to write them out on paper. I had a teacher say to me once, “What’s the point of just writing parts of the essay? They need to write the entire five paragraphs to get all of the practice they need.” I understand that point. However, think of it as building a house. Should you test out the foundation and make sure it’s sound and sturdy before building on top of it? Absolutely! That’s what we’re doing here. The three body paragraphs are the foundation of the essay. Ask students to write out their three body paragraphs just like they have practiced…Topic sentence…Detail 1…Detail 2…Detail 3…Closing Sentence. I “ooooh and aaaah” over their three paragraphs. Students are on their way to five paragraph essays, so be sure to build their confidence.
Teach the Introduction Paragraph
I have to say, this is my favorite paragraph to teach. The introduction paragraph is what draws readers into the essay and makes them want to read more. We start with what I call a “hook.” The hook captures the readers’ attention and can come in many forms: asking a question, making a bold statement, sharing a memory, etc. After the hook, I ask students to add a sentence or two of applicable commentary about the hook or about the prompt in general. Finally, we add the thesis sentence. The thesis sentence always follows the same formula: Restate the prompt, topic 1, topic 2, and topic 3. That’s all you need to write an excellent introduction paragraph! I do suggest having students write the introduction paragraph plus body paragraphs a couple of times before teaching the closing paragraph.
Teach the Closing Paragraph
In the conclusion paragraph, we mainly focus on restating the thesis and including an engaging closing thought. With my students, I use the analogy of a gift. The introduction paragraph and body paragraphs are the gift and the conclusion paragraph is the ribbon that ties everything together and finishes the package. When you talk about restating the thesis sentence, tell students that they need to make it sound different enough from their original thesis sentence to save their readers from boredom. Who wants to read the same thing twice? No one! Students can change up the format and wording a bit to make it fresh. I enjoy teaching the closing thought because it’s so open to however students want to create it. Ways to write the closing thought: ask a question, personal statement, call to action, or even a quote. I especially like reading the essays in which a quote is used as a closing thought or a powerful statement is used.
Example of a full five paragraph essay:
Let’s Talk About Color-Coding!
Who doesn’t like to color? This is coloring with a purpose!
Training your students to color-code their paragraphs and essays will make grading so much easier and will provide reminders and reinforcements for students. When students color-code their writing, they must think about the parts of their paragraphs, like topic sentences, details, and the closing sentence. They will be able to see if they are missing something or if they’ve written something out of order. Color-coding is a wonderful help for the teacher because you can skim to ensure that all parts of your students’ paragraphs and essays are present. Also, when you are grading, you can quickly scan the paragraphs and essays. Trust me, you will develop a quick essay-grading ability. I start color-coding with my students at the very beginning when they are working on simple paragraphs. I add the additional elements of the color-code as we progress through our five paragraph essays. This is the code that I use:
Let’s Talk About Grading Five Paragraph Essays!
Imagine a lonely, stressed teacher grading five paragraph essays on the couch while her husband is working the night shift. That was me! Seriously, guys, I would spend about ten minutes per essay. I marked every little error, I made notes for improvement and notes of encouragement. I reworked their incorrect structure. Those papers were full of marks. On Monday, I proudly brought back the essays and asked students to look over them and learn what they needed to fix for next time. You can guess what happened… there were lots of graded essays in the trashcan at the end of the day.
I decided that my grading practices had to change. I needed my weekends back and my students needed to find their own errors! This is my best advice:
- STOP correcting every error! Your students are not benefiting from marks all over their writing. They need to find those errors themselves so that they will remember their mistakes and change their writing habits.
- Do a quick scan of each student’s writing as soon as it’s turned in to you. If there are major problems with a student’s writing, call him/her over individually and show him/her what needs to be fixed or put the student with a competent peer editor who will help them fix their mistakes. If you have several students who are struggling with a skill, like closing sentences, do a mini-lesson on this topic. You can do a mini-lesson with a small group. However, I prefer doing mini-lessons with the entire class. The kids who need help will get it and the rest of your class will receive a refresher.
- It’s ok if there are some small spelling/grammar mistakes. If the errors are few and they don’t take away from the meaning/flow of the essay, I don’t worry about them. Our students are still learning. Even your brightest star writer will have a few spelling/grammar mistakes from time to time. Don’t discourage students from writing because of some small errors. Students who receive papers back with markings all over them don’t think, “Oh boy, my teacher has made it so easy for me to make all of these corrections.” They are thinking, “What’s the point in writing? I must be a terrible writer. Look at all of these mistakes.” If your students are taking a standardized writing assessment, the structure and flow of their essays will be worth much more than perfect spelling.
Need more help?
I created this five paragraph essay instructional unit for teachers who are new to teaching five paragraph essays OR just need all of the materials in one place. “Teacher Talk” pages will guide you through the unit and this unit contains all materials needed to help students plan, organize, and write amazing five paragraph essays! Click here to check it out:
I have a freebie for you! Click on the image below to reach the sign up page. You’ll receive three original prompts with five paragraph essay organizers AND two lined final draft pages!
Once your students are good essay writers…
These task cards will help your students stay sharp on their five paragraph essay knowledge. Students will review hooks (attention-getters), thesis sentences, body paragraphs, topic sentences, closings, and more. Each card contains a unique writing example!
I suggest using these task cards as a quiz/test, scoot game, individual review, or cooperative group activity.
Click on the image to view these task cards:
Filed Under: Writing
Here is the best collection of sample essays I have come across. A kind teacher up in Oregon who is using Pattern Based Writing: Quick & Easy Essay sent me the links. She is thrilled that the number of her students scoring high on the Oregon State Writing Assessment has doubled since she began using the program.
Below you will find excellent student writing samples for all of these grades: 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade, 6th grade, 7th grade, 8th grade, and high school.
Update:I’ve tracked down State Writing Assessment Tools and Resources from seventeen more states. On that page you will find additional student writing samples—and much more.
One nice thing about this Oregon collection of sample essays is most every grade contains four different types of writing:
1. Expository sample essays
2. Imaginative sample essays
3. Narrative sample essays
4. Persuasive sample essays (Starts in grade 5)
Another great thing about this collection of elementary writing samples and middle school writing examples is that there are five different scoring levels for each type of writing:
1. Low paper
2. Medium low
4. Medium High
How to Download the Oregon Student Writing Samples in an Organized Way
If you just start downloading them without following the system outlined below, you will surely regret it. Each grade has 40 separate files, so you will want to use an organized system for saving the files. It’s worth it to download them, and it’s worth it to do it in an organized way!
When you are at the download page, the table below will make more sense. You will see that this is a nifty little system. Here is how I would download them:
|High||Med. High||Med.||Med. Low||Low|
Directions:Open up a new browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari etc.) and copy and paste the link into the address bar. (The link starts with at the http://) I recommend getting samples for the grade you teach, as well as for the grade above it and below it.
• Grade 3 Sample Essays – http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?=528
• Grade 4 Sample Essays – http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?=525
• Grade 5 Sample Essays – http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?=529
• Grade 6 Sample Essays – http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?=530
• Grade 7 Sample Essays – http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?=526
• Grade 8 Sample Essays – http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?=531
• High School Sample Essays – http://www.ode.state.or.us/search/page/?=527
Ten Ideas for Using the Sample Essays with Students and for Teaching Writing
“Habit #2: Start with the end in mind.”
Stephen R. Covey – The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
Making it Authentic: Examining Sample Essays vs. Examining Your Students’ Own Writing
There are definitely ways to use these writing samples in ways your students will find engaging. However, sample essays are never as engaging to students as examining their own writing. That being said, it’s one thing to have students read their own writing in front of the class and quite another to place it on the ELMO/projector and have the class use scoring rubrics to evaluate it.
These Oregon writing samples are not a substitute for examining authentic student writing. However, the ability to set the right kind of productive tone for critiquing, analyzing, and evaluating students’ own writing is a skill unto itself—and deserves a separate and complete post. But the short version is this — students love to have their writing analyzed and critiqued when:
1. It is done in a safe and supportive environment.
2. Students feel they have actually been taught how to write.
3. Students understand how the writing process works and how it is the application of specific WRITING SKILLS and WRITING STRATEGIES that makes writing good. Students have learned that good writing is not just the result of some “artistic trait” that a person is born with or without.
When these three conditions are present, students are willing to endure the short-term discomfort of having their writing evaluated because they know it will take them to a new level. They know the evaluation will be objective and based on actual techniques and strategies.
High Scoring Writing Success for Your Students!
The Oregon teacher who sent me the links told me the number of student scoring high has doubled since using the Pattern Based Writing: Quick & Easy Essayprogram. She added:
I thank you for creating this program. It’s working wonders! You have truly made teaching writing fun. The program makes sense to both me and my students.
So, if you are interested in doubling your number of high scoring papers, be sure to check out the writing program on the homepage!
Even More Elementary and Middle School Writing Samples!
Be sure to check out this blog post: “State Writing Assessment Tools and Resources.” It has state writing resources from seventeen states, and there are tons of additional elementary and middle school writing samples.
Note to Visitors from outside the United States – Oregon seems to block IP addresses from countries outside of the US. Sorry, but there is nothing I can do about that. However, I’m sure you can find what you are looking for on this page: “State Writing Assessment Tools and Resources.”
1. First, create a folder on your desktop to save them in.
2. Once you are on the download page, for each file, right click and save or “save target as.”
3. Rename each file with just THE NUMBERS found in the table. You can change the names later as you wish. (When saving the file, just type over the original file name with the number.)
4. Go in the order shown below.
5. All the odd numbers will be student work. All the even numbers will be scoring commentary. For each group of 10, the low numbers will be the low scores and the high numbers will be the high scores.
1. Print out the essays and the commentary you wish to focus on.
2. Go through the essays. What are your students doing correctly? What are your students not doing and that they need to be doing? Read the commentary and make a list of skills you want to teach your students. Plan out how you are going to teach those skills.
3. Use the scoring guide and go over a number of essays with your students. Teach your students what scorers are looking for. What makes for a high scoring essay and what makes for a low scoring essay?
4. Create or find a few student friendly rubrics. Have students score at least a few essays using these rubrics. Make sure students understand the rubrics—and if you have the time etc., you can even have students help create them.
5. Compare and contrast the genres and modes of writing. This is a great way to show different types of writing and different styles. You can play the game, “Name the Genre.” What are the elements of the writing genre that you see in the sample essay? How can you tell it is a particular type of writing? (“Name the Genre” is also an effective strategy to use with writing prompts, and in particular, with released writing prompts.)
6. Have students compare and contrast essays that have different scores. Also, have students compare and contrast essays with the same scores but from different grades.
7. Use the low scores to show your students how good their writing is. Use the high scores to show your students where they need to improve.
8. Have students edit or build upon one of the sample essays. Take one of the low scoring essays and have your students transform it into a high scoring essay. You can do this with each mode of writing and students will notice both the similarities and the differences across different types of writing.
9. Demonstrate how neatness matters. Some of the sample essays are messy. Even a few high scoring ones are messy. Discuss how difficult it can be for scorers to fairly assess messy writing. (Note: Students will see messy writing and think that the paper is a low scoring paper. Explain that rubrics do help prevent this “rush to judgment,” but cannot completely eliminate it. This exercise also helps illustrate how important rubrics are, and how students must, in one sense, write for the rubric.)
10. Demonstrate how all the skills you have been teaching your students can be found in the high scoring writing samples and how all those important skills you have taught them are missing from the low scoring writing samples.