All Roads Lead To The Persuasive 5-Paragraph Essay
A 5-part Mini-Series Based on this Conventional Form
If it’s true that you only gain perspective through experience and hindsight, then after nearly 20 years teaching writing I’ve realized that all any student needs to craft a dynamic, persuasive 5-paragraph essay can be wedged into five neat little bullet points:
The wonderful thing about writing is that everyone has a good voice. It’s not like singing where some people are seriously atonal and should only let loose alone in the shower. Often students will claim, “I have nothing to say.” If that seems true, then I say, “Fine. Don’t use your voice. Borrow your brother’s or your best friend who chats on Facebook 24/7 and seems to have an unlimited amount of things to say. Be them. Be anyone. You can in writing.”
Like voice, you can beg, borrow, or steal someone else’s way of seeing a situation. Pretend you want to write your Common App Essay on football. Pretend you’re pretty good at the sport and get a lot of recognition for your talent. Now, try writing the essay from the perspective of a player who’s not as good, but wants to be as good as you. Walk a mile in his shoes. Just that switch in viewpoint could make a dime-a-dozen essay about a good high school athlete into an original essay about a good high school athlete who has empathy about a teammate who might not be as skilled.
“Truth lies in the details,” or so goes my original twist on this old cliché! Every sentence a student writes could use some flavor. Just like a good tomato sauce, I say, add some salt! Add some basil! Add some oregano! One student whom I was tutoring said, “What about Hemingway? Less is sometimes more.” I said, “You think Hemingway didn’t agonize over what details to leave in and what to take out? You think Hemingway’s first drafts weren’t cluttered with unfulfilling (to him) adjectives and images? The descriptions in The Nick Adams Stories still make me weep with envy. They are vivid and memorable even if they are minimal. Be minimally perfect, I suggested to the student. Be memorable to your teachers and college admissions directors. Dare to.
Some writing teachers advise students to only write about what they know. I say, write about what you love, what you care about, or can pretend to care about for five paragraphs! Even if you’re not the best guitar player in the rock band, but you want to be, and you can feel the heat of the lights on the stage of that seedy little venue where your friends have played their techno version of “Stairway to Heaven,” and you can even mimic the chord shifts and have memorized the lyrics and Jimmy Page’s stance, then WRITE ABOUT IT, for Pete’s sake. Your infatuation and obsession with a hobby, interest, or sport is enough. Then, implement the other aspects of the persuasive 5-paragraph essay mentioned above and below. In short, own your point-of-view and voice if not the experience.
“This is so not fun,” said one 8th grader to me as we were midway through his high school application short-answer essays. He just wasn’t feeling any razzle-dazzle. To write a page-turner essay, the student needed to channel his favorite comedian, TV personality, musician, Facebook friend or texting buddy; everyone’s a communicator these days and needs to make his or her Voice and Point-of-View (see above) contagious. If being the class clown, class president, or team captain isn’t your goal, then identify some entertainer you enjoy and describe what he or she does that you love. This 8th grader with the six high school applications to complete had admitted that he wanted to be actor Jim Carrey. We watched some YouTube videos of Jim Carrey and no matter how hard this student tried to be Carrey, he wound up with his own take, his own spin, his own Voice and Point-of-View. He was very funny. The student, that is.
- Prologue – 5 Tips to Writing A Persuasive 5-Paragraph Essay
- Episode 1 – Persuasive 5-Paragraph Essay and the High School Application Prompt
- Episode 2 – Persuasive 5-Paragraph Essay and The College Common Application
- Episode 3 – Persuasive 5-Paragraph Essay and The High School Junior
- Episode 4 – Spring Into High School With the Fail-Proof 5-Paragraph Essay
By Elizabeth England, Writing Coach