Like many teachers, I find myself moving away from encouraging a five-paragraph format. The students, however, are more resistant and like that a five-paragraph format gives them a clear format to follow. They don’t like having to test the waters because they are afraid of being wrong. But this is part of the problem. I don’t want my students to be married to a form; I want them to be married to proving their ideas.
One way to ease students into abandoning the five paragraph form is to push them to think about how their introductory paragraphs aren’t limited to one paragraph. I start by asking my students what seems like an obvious question: what is the point of the introduction? Of course they roll their eyes and respond correctly: “to introduce the ideas.” Yet, by forcing themselves to stay within one paragraph, they often forget key details. Most students think that they just have to introduce the literature they are analyzing in the essay, which leads to a boring introduction that doesn’t really prepare the reader.
So, taking a cue from the post on thesis construction, I ask students to label and annotate their thesis prior to writing their essay. Then, I ask them to underline each component and consider what underlined details are necessary to present to the readers in their introduction. If these ideas are the backbone of the essay then the students have to clearly address each component prior to stating the thesis. When the students look at these components in isolation it helps them to see how they should group them, thus often predicating more than one paragraph.
To clarify, here is the sample thesis from last week’s post:
Fitzgerald’s skillful, albeit superfluous incorporation of oxymorons within The Great Gatsby augments the inconsistencies of the lives of Nick and Gatsby, thereby heightening the reader’s awareness of the implicit incongruities hidden behind their apparent embodiment of the “American Dream.”
From examining the components, it is clear that the students need to introduce
- The Great Gatsby
- How the oxymorons are superfluous
- The characters Nick and Gatsby
- The inconsistencies of Nick and Gatsby’s lives
- The way the reader perceives the characters
- The degree to which Nick and Gatsby embody the American Dream
Now, the students are able to see categories emerging, which influence how many introductory paragraphs are needed. In the above instance, the student will most likely have two introductory paragraphs. The first will introduce the novel and author, focusing one Nick and Gatsby and how the reader perceives them. Then, the second introductory paragraph will explore the inconsistencies and oxymorons related to the characters’ embodiment of the American Dream. If tasked with placing all of these ideas in one paragraph students will either miss something or cover both so minimally that the reader is still left confused and unclear when reading the thesis.
When getting students to divorce the 5-paragraph format, ease them into it by teaching them how a complex thesis necessitates a multi-paragraph introduction to an essay.