The Problem with Five Paragraph Essays: Understanding they do Not Exist in the Wild

The Five Paragraph Essay is an artificial construct that does not exist in the wild.  No one will ask you to write a five paragraph essay outside of high school.  No author sits around writing five paragraph essays.  It doesn’t matter if you call them hamburger essays, or nacho essays.  The five paragraph essay does not exist in the wild.

CHUCK KLOSTERMAN is my favourite essayist.  He writes on a number of subjects, mostly related to popular culture, and he makes money writing essays.  Take a moment to explain to students that, yes, they can make money writing essays.  A great number of magazine articles are essays, a number of blog posts are essays, there are essays to be found all over your student’s home range of experiences once they have the definition explained to them.

Essay: A piece of writing on a particular subject.

Essay: A written piece that proves its thesis.

A thesis could be something academic, or something as simple as a persuasive concept the author believes in.  Essays are all around our students.  They probably just haven’t noticed because they were either more, or less, than five paragraphs.

Minds On

When students enter the classroom, they should find their desks arranged into groups of four to six.  Each group should have one action figure on it.  In the absence of action figures, a picture of the action figure or an image from the related property will suffice.

Each group will have an item from one of the following properties:

  • Paw Patrol
  • Fortnight
  • Harry Potter
  • Pokemon
  • The Avengers
  • Stranger Things
  • Riverdale
  • Batman
  • Game of Thrones
  • The Walking Dead

The item will be placed on a sheet of chart paper.

Students will have five minutes to write everything they know about their assigned property.  This can be, but is not limited to:

  • Names of characters
  • Plot summaries
  • References in other popular culture
  • Impact on how people speak
  • Merchandise available

At the end of the five minutes, students will rotate one desk-group clockwise.  Sitting in front of their new sheet, they will put a checkmark beside everything they already knew, and use a different colour marker to write things the original group left out.

Once again, students will rotate one desk-group clockwise.  They will then have five more minutes to consider how they will explain their current property to the class.

For Example:

The group may have started with: Riverdale

Then placed checkmarks on: Batman

Finally, they will have to present the importance of : Game of Throne

If students have a lapse of knowledge in any of these areas they will not be able to use personal devices to look things up.  They will have to do their best with the limited knowledge that they have.

Once each group has explained the importance of their property to the class, a brief discussion should be held about the importance of popular culture focused on the following three questions:

  1. Why do some things becomes universally know, while others fail to gain a following?
  2. Why is it important for people to be aware of the latest trends in popular culture?
  3. What will people miss out on if they’re unaware of popular culture?

Should students claim that there is no value to Pop Culture, you can use some examples from your own experience, such as the friend who Doesn’t Know Anything about The Simpsons, so a number of jokes and references go over her head.

Likewise, you could mention all the references to Biblical themes in the texts they may read.

This is a great time to give a short lesson on ALLUSIONS.


Once all the chart papers have been taped to the walls, students should be handed a copy of Chuck Klosterman’s essay DEATH BY HARRY POTTER.

As they read through it (individually, or as a class) they will notice similar themes from the Mind’s On activity popping up – namely that Chuck Klosterman doesn’t know anything about Harry Potter, and that he doesn’t care, even though he’s aware that it’s a problem.

Once the essay has been read, students should return to the previous three discussion questions in small groups, and see if their answers have changed.

Reconstructing an Essay Outline

Having learned to write an Essay Outline in the last lesson, students will not have a general idea of what one should look like.  You are free to have them deconstruct the essay using the prior Essay Outline Sheet, or you can use the MULTI-PARAGRAPHED ESSAY OUTLINE.PDF file from the resources below.

Students should spend five minutes, individually deconstructing the essay into an outline.  Once finished, they should see if their group has come up with  a similar deconstruction.  Finally, you can bring them all together by handing out the MULTI-PARAGRAPHED ESSAY OUTLINE – DEATH BY HARRY POTTER.PDF sheet, so you can speak from a similar place.

Ensure them that while their outline may not be the exact same, that doesn’t mean it is more or less correct – it is just a different interpretation of the paper.  What matters is having a common ground to work from.

Explaining the Importance of Multi-Paragraphed Essays

Ask students “Why do you think Multi-Paragraphed Essays are more popular than Five Paragraph Essays?”  Try to keep their answers on the format, and not on the fact that this paper was more fun to read.

You can explain to them that not all essays need to take themselves seriously, but you do so at your own risk.  You may find yourself being handed a number of unpolished informal papers, due to a lack of understanding of how a master of his craft like Chuck Klosterman can use the form to his advantage.

Introducing a different style of Multi-Paragraphed Essay

To reign them back into the dry stuffy nature of academic essays, introduce them to UNTIL DIVORCE DO US PART.  Once more, they will see that even papers that they might write for school are better suited for the multi-paragraphed approach.

After all, we tell students that each new idea deserves its own paragraph.  Clearly all three subtopics for one of three main essay topics would be their own idea.  And as such, they deserve their own subtopic.


Now is the time for students to apply this knowledge to their own writing.  Ask students to take a look at the five paragraph essay outline they constructed for Summer Vs. Winter, and have them reframe it as a multi-paragraphed essay.  Now that they know essays need not be limited to five paragraphs, have them jot a very rough bullet pointed outline on an exit card that you will take in.  This will allow you to assess if they have come away with a strong understanding of the form.


Multi-Paragraphed Essay Outline.PDF

Multi-Paragraphed Essay Outline – Death by Harry Potter.PDF

What’s Next?

Next up, we look at how to support all our claims with evidence.  Though there were no quotations in the Klosterman essay, there were in the Divorce Essay.  Demonstrating how to support one’s self with evidence will be presented by looking at a variety of ways students support their claims.  The next piece will show a number of examples ranging from no use of quotations, to embedded quotations.  Students will keep to consider their current ability, and what they will need to do to improve as writers.

Navigate the Essay Unit

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