5 Ways to Teach Writing Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay

5 Ways to Teach Writing Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay

The five-paragraph essay is a classic. Students have practiced it for years—and the structure is simple, well-organized, and familiar. These qualities make the five-paragraph essay comfortable for students. It’s a safe, easy way to express their ideas in an orderly fashion.

At the same time, this format can seem stale and monotonous. It sometimes buries student voices, making their writing formulaic and unoriginal. Plus, students probably won’t write many five-paragraph essays in the real world.

While the five-paragraph essay will always have its place in the English classroom, teachers should also give students more authentic writing opportunities. Below are five ways students can write outside the box.

Multigenre Research Papers

A research paper doesn’t sound like an especially innovative idea, but you can add a creative twist by assigning multigenre research papers.

Multigenre research papers incorporate a variety of pieces in various genres (pop-up book, journal entry, newspaper article, and so on) that manage to communicate a central thesis. Like a traditional research paper, this type of assignment requires students to synthesize research, advance an argument, and organize their ideas.

However, multigenre research papers give students more ownership and allow them to unleash their creativity.


Satire, the use of humor to criticize people, corporations, society, and politics, requires advanced critical thinking and writing skills.

Depending on the age of your students, you may have them read “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift as an example. Ask students what Swift is criticizing in this satire and how he makes this point clear.

Discuss the style, format, and intended effect of satire, then have students write their own. You can ask students to criticize a problem they see in society via satire. Alternatively, you can have students write parodies of classic poems or stories.

Student Debates

Debates incorporate reading, writing, critical thinking, speaking, and listening skills simultaneously. Assign your students debates on topical issues or related to literature that you’re reading in class.

Have them write opening statements and closing arguments. They can also do research to anticipate what their opponent might say, then record talking points to use as counterarguments.

Debates typically engage and motivate students. This makes them a painless way to get students practicing higher order English skills.

Student Blogs

Blogs give students the opportunity to find their voices and express their ideas more naturally. Instead of repeatedly assigning essays, ask your students to blog about books, stories, poems, and articles that you’re reading in class.

Students can also customize their blogs, making them unique and engaging. If you’d like to foster collaboration, you can require students to comment on one another’s blog posts as well.

With blogs, students can practice writing authentically, and they’ll learn skills that can easily translate to more traditional writing assignments.

Short Stories/Poems

Let your students get really creative with short stories and poems. Students can write poems or stories that are thematically linked to a text you’ve read in class, or you can have them write personal narratives with a focus on characterization, setting, or conflict. Similarly, students can explore complex topics through poetry.

Creative writing teaches students transferrable skills like figurative language, supporting details, organization, voice, and more.

When possible, allow students to replace a more traditional writing assignment by demonstrating the same skills in a creative piece. This allows you to differentiate learning, appealing to a variety of interests and learning styles.

Final Thoughts

The traditional five-paragraph essay is great for teaching students basic writing skills. But you can help students find their authentic voices and unlock their creative sides with varied writing opportunities.

These assignments are unique, challenging, and engaging for students. Plus, they’ll learn skills that easily translate to more traditional writing assignments. And they’ll have fun in the process!

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