Like many moms, you face new challenges as the high school years approach. Biology, chemistry, art, and geometry practically feel like a cakewalk compared with how to teach the five-paragraph essay in your homeschool!
One thing is certain. Regardless of how we get through the high school years, our homeschool teens need to master the basics of five-paragraph essay writing. Of course they’ll write essays for college applications, entrance exams, and English classes. But they’ll also face essay assignments and papers in nearly every college class—even if they’re science, marketing, or criminal justice majors.
But wait … my teen can’t even write a solid paragraph!
I get it. Sometimes we need to pause and rewind. If your middle school or high school student struggles with basic paragraph writing, make that your top priority.
Taking a year to teach WriteShop I will cement the fundamentals of concise and concrete writing. Then move up to WriteShop II once their critical-thinking skills have matured a bit and they’re ready to write—and correctly format—those 5-paragraph essays.
Teach the 5-Paragraph Essay Format
Teaching your teens how to write a 5-paragraph essay is a homeschool necessity. Unlike narrative writing, this traditional essay has a stringent structure that includes an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a closing paragraph. Let’s look at each of these.
1. An Interesting Introduction Sets the Stage
The introductory paragraph sets the stage for the entire essay. It should include an attention-grabbing “hook ,” a bit of background info, and a thesis statement.
The hook pulls the reader into the essay. As the first sentence of the essay, it gives a hint about the topic, captures the readers’ attention, and entices them to keep reading. A question, quotation, opinionated statement, or interesting fact can make an effective, engaging hook.
Next in the lineup is the background information, which gives the reader a short history of the topic. In addition, the introductory paragraph must include at least a couple of sentences that express the main points of the paper. Think of the intro as an outline of the rest of the essay.
The Thesis Statement
The thesis statement closes the introduction. Because the thesis statement serves as a road map for the essay, it should give the reader a short summary of the paper’s intent. By stating the problem and solution, the thesis lays out the essay’s basic argument.
Let’s look at an example: Dogs make good pets.
“Dogs make good pets” isn’t a thesis statement. Why? Because it doesn’t state a problem or a solution. Instead, try starting the thesis statement with although or because. These words allow the writer to jump right into the problem.
- Although dog ownership can be inconvenient or expensive, dogs make good pets because they provide companionship and teach children responsibility.
- Because dogs provide companionship and teach responsibility, they make good pets—even though they require a huge commitment.
TIP: Use action verbs and limit personal pronouns such as I, me, my, we, and our.
2. The Body of the Essay Supports the Thesis Statement
After the introduction, your teen needs to develop the essay’s three main points, each in its own paragraph. These paragraphs must support the thesis statement and flesh out the argument. So make sure students know how to defend or explain their claims using facts and evidence.
All three body paragraphs have the same structure: topic sentence, supporting details, and closing sentence.
For older high school kids, the body paragraphs make a great place to practice in-text citations. (It’s also worth mentioning that end notes have gone to their grave, so homeschoolers must learn parenthetical documentation instead. I required my students to get Diane Hacker’s Pocket Style Manual on how to format essays. It’s easy to use and not overwhelming.)
3. A Strong Conclusion Wraps Up the Essay
After you’ve said everything you want to say, how do you wrap up the five-paragraph essay?
In speech class, my professor drummed into us: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. And then tell them what you told them.” The conclusion forms the “tell them what you told them” paragraph.
This final paragraph is more than just a summary of the paper; it provides a solid conclusion that affirms the reader’s new knowledge or understanding of the contents. To keep it interesting, it should move right along. Students shouldn’t rehash the details they covered in the intro and body paragraphs.
We want to leave the reader with a BANG! The conclusion wraps up the essay in tidy package.
Transition from Body to Conclusion
Start the conclusion with a transitional topic sentence—a general statement that flows nicely from the last sentence of the previous paragraph.
Restate the Thesis in a New Way
After the topic sentence, restate the thesis. Students should not simply copy and paste the same thesis statement. Instead, teach them to reword it to leave the reader with a fresh and memorable understanding of the essay’s theme.
Ask Yourself “So What?”
At this point, I tell my students to play the “So What?” game. It helps them decide on the most important reason for the information in the essay. I invite them to ask themselves, “So what?” What do I want my reader to learn, do, or think? Next, couple that with the WHY. Why does this topic matter? Why do I want my reader to care? The answers to these questions will help students shape the rest of their conclusion.
Tie It All Together
Essays end with a closing sentence. The closing sentence should tie back to the hook from the intro, perhaps by referencing the same example, reiterating a word or a phrase, or ending with a new quote. When possible, the closing sentence should also tie into the title.
The 5-paragraph essay remains a time-tested and essential tool in our students’ learning toolboxes. Once they have the structure down pat, they can write a wide variety of essays with the same tools. You can teach the five-paragraph essay in your homeschool, and you don’t have to conquer it alone. As you teach writing and essay skills, WriteShop is here to help!
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As WriteShop’s curriculum consultant, Misti Lacy draws from her years of experience as a veteran writing teacher and homeschool mom to help you build a solid writing foundation. Whether you’re deciding on products for your family, exploring our program for your school or co-op, or needing someone to walk you through your WriteShop curriculum, Misti takes the fear out of teaching writing.
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