Because of folks like Alfie Kohn and Rush Walsh, I've long disliked and dismissed the very concept of a 5 paragraph essay, the bread and butter of many high school teachers. I found/ find it stilted and contrived and its audience is limited. It is common to find sentiments like this all over the internet in from the progressive "21st Century Ed" crowd.
This blogpost gave me some pause and caused me to reconsider, at least for a moment, my thoughts on the 5 paragraph essay. The anonymous author writes,
"To suggest the essay form is not complimentary to this type of content is ludicrous. Students struggle with essay writing precisely because it is the form of connection making par excellence. Originally the essay was a creative argument that was anything but formulaic, achieved by making logical and creative connections between universals and particulars that remains quite difficult for most of us."
I still don't like the 5 paragraph essay but I concede her point that a good essay encourages and develops an important way of thinking. I'd go so far as to agree with her except for the fact that this format has indeed become formulaic and even stilted. Writing isn't paint by numbers. I am quite certain that most writers don't sit down to write with a predetermined amount of paragraphs in mind with only three points to make. However, I appreciate her point that good writing is the result of logical and creative connections that are "quite difficult".
For a recent assignment, I wanted to give students a logical and creative way to write to a audience beyond me using media beyond text. I came across this assignment from a college prof who assigned a Buzzfeed style listicle to his students. I feel the listicle gets to much of what the 5 paragraph essay asks students to do. It asks students to think about essential points in creative ways, critically examining which reasons prove the larger point.
Using this as inspiration, I altered a long-standing research assignment for 9th graders from my history department to make the the finished product a listicle. Students are assigned to research important historical figures from the 16th-19th centuries. Here is the assignment, feel free to borrow it. (Though please link to this post if you write about the assignment.)
The listicle is still a low brow form of writing for sure. Perhaps it will remain there. But I like the type of thinking it will promote it my students and I really like that their research "papers" will now include video and images.
Hopefully in the upcoming weeks, I can share with you some of the students' results.
Is a listicle better than an essay?
Listicle as a literary form?
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