How to Write a 5 Paragraph Essay: A Complete Guide
Essay writing can be the bane of many a student’s life.
Gone are the days when many students tried writing in big letters to quickly fill the allotted number of pages with the minimum of effort.
Now, it’s all constant word count checks and taking a dozen words to say what could be said in three.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be like this. When students have a clear, set structure to follow, essay writing can be a much less painful experience. Indeed, it can even be enjoyable!
In this article, we’ll lay out a clear template that our students can follow to effectively produce a well-organised essay on practically any topic.
Let’s get started!
THE HAMBURGER ESSAY – THE STUDENT’S FRIEND
The common 5 paragraph essay structure is often referred to as the hamburger essay. And this is a memorable way to communicate the concept to your students.
The hamburger essay structure consists of five paragraphs or layers as follows:
Layer 1 – The Top Bun: The Introduction
The uppermost layer is the introductory paragraph which communicates to the reader the purpose of the essay.
Layers 2,3, & 4 – The Meat Patties: The Body Paragraphs
These are the meat patties of the essay and each paragraph makes an argument in support of the essay’s central contention as expressed in the introduction.
Layer 5 – The Conclusion: The Bottom Bun
The bottommost layer is the conclusion, where the arguments are summed up and the central contention of the essay is restated forcefully one last time. We have a complete guide to writing a conclusion here.
Soon, we’ll take a closer look at each of these parts in turn. But, there is more to an essay than just the writing of it. There are also the prewriting and post writing stages to consider. We will look at all these aspects in this article, but first, let’s examine what our students need to be doing before they even begin to write their essays.
THE PREWRITING STAGE – DEFINING THE THESIS STATEMENT, RESEARCH & PLANNING
The Thesis Statement
Every essay needs a clear focus. This focus is usually defined in a thesis statement that presents the topic of the essay in a sentence or two. The thesis statement should also include the writer’s stance on that topic.
As this will help guide the direction of the essay, it is essential that our students define their thesis statement before they begin the writing process.
Sometimes during the process of writing, we find out what we think about a given topic. The writing process can act as a kind of reflection on the merits of the various arguments, before finally revealing to us our own opinion. This is writing as a method of discovery.
Usually, though, it is more efficient for students to decide on their opinions prior to beginning to write.
Defining their thesis statement early on not only helps guide the students writing, but helps ensure their research is focused and efficient at the crucial prewriting stage.
Research & Planning
As students begin their research and gather their evidence to support their thesis statement, they should also be encouraged to pay particular attention to the counterarguments they come across.
A well-written essay does not ignore opposing viewpoints, students should be taught to preempt counterarguments where possible so as to strengthen the power of their own arguments. Good research is essential for this.
Not so long ago, research meant hours in dusty libraries being constantly shushed, but with the advent of the internet, there is now a wealth of knowledge right at our fingertips (and the end of a good Wifi connection).
While this has made research a much more convenient process, students need to be reminded of the importance of seeking out reliable sources to support their opinions. In an era of ‘fake news’, this is more important now than ever.
As students gather the information and supporting evidence for their essay, they’ll need to organize it carefully. Graphic organizers are an effective way of doing this, either on a paper printout or by using a premade template on the computer.
It can also be helpful for students to sort their collected information according to where they intend to use it in the five-paragraph outline or layers mentioned above.
Finally, while good research, organization, and planning are essential for producing a well-written essay, it’s important that students are reminded that essay writing is also a creative act.
Students should maintain an open mind when it comes to the writing process. They should allow their thoughts and opinions the room to develop over the course of writing their essay. They should leave the door open for including new thoughts and ideas as the writing progresses.
The Writing Stage: Introduction, Body Paragraphs, & Conclusion
A good introduction paragraph serves a number of important functions. It:
- Grabs the reader’s attention and interest, known as the hook
- Orientates the reader to the essays central argument, the thesis statement
- Outlines briefly the arguments that will be explored in support of the thesis statement.
To become an effective writer, it is important that our students learn the importance of grabbing the reader’s attention, as well as keeping it. Opening with a ‘hook’ or a ‘grabber’ is a great way to achieve this.
There are a number of techniques students can use here. Let’s take a look at some of the more common ones.
- The Surprising Fact – this can intrigue the reader to want to find out more, especially if it challenges some of their existing assumptions on a topic.
- The Quotation – a carefully selected quotation can be a great way to secure the reader’s attention and there are many curated quotation collections freely available online to help get students started.
- The Joke – this opening should be used judiciously as for some topics it may not be an appropriate way to open. In the right context however, humor can be a great way to engage the reader from the outset.
- The Anecdote – anecdotes are a great way to personally connect with the essay’s topic. They are a helpful way of climbing down the ladder of abstraction when exploring more theoretical arguments. They assist the reader in relating universal themes to their own lives.
Practice Activity 1:
To encourage students to develop strong opening paragraphs in their essays, it can be helpful to isolate writing opening paragraphs.
In this activity, provide your students with a list of essay topics and challenge them to write four different opening paragraphs for their essay, one each for The Surprising Fact, The Quotation, The Joke, and The Anecdote as listed above.
When students have completed their four paragraphs, they can then share with each other in groups and discuss which worked best and why.
This activity will help students to remember the different types of opening and how they work. It will also give them a feel for which openings work best for different types of essays.
The Thesis Statement
We’ve already discussed what a thesis statement is and what it is intended to achieve, but where does it fit into the overall shape of the introductory paragraph exactly?
While there are no hard and fast rules here, thesis statements work well towards the end of the introductory paragraph – especially as the paragraph’s final sentence.
Readers are often hardwired to look for the thesis statement there. It connects the arguments that follow in the body paragraphs to the preceding sentences and contextualizes the essay for the reader.
THE BODY PARAGRAPHS
Now we get to the ‘meat’ of our essay. Each of the body paragraphs will explore one of the arguments supporting the thesis statement as laid out in the introduction.
While we are focused on the 5 paragraph essay here, longer essays will usually be constructed in exactly the same manner, they’ll just include more body paragraphs to cover the extra level of detail.
Generally, each body paragraph will open by stating the argument, with subsequent sentences supporting that argument by providing evidence along with some further explanation. Finally, a statement or phrase will help transition to the next paragraph.
The PEEL Paragraph Writing Process
The acronym PEEL can be a very useful tool to help students to understand how to organize each of their body paragraphs.
Point: start the paragraph by expressing the central argument
Evidence: support the central argument of the paragraph by providing evidence or reasons. Evidence may come in many forms including facts and statistics, quotations from a text or other authority, reference to historical events etc.
Explanation: explain how the evidence provided supports the paragraph’s central argument.
Link: provide a transition into the next paragraph by linking this argument and the central thesis to the next point to be made.
Practice Activity 2:
Just as students isolated the opening to their introductory paragraph for practice purposes, in this activity they’ll isolate a single argument on a chosen essay topic.
When they have chosen a topic and selected a single argument related to that topic, they can begin to write one body paragraph using the PEEL structure outlined above.
This activity works well when several students write on the same argument. When each has completed their paragraphs, they can then compare the results with each other.
It can be a fascinating experiment that allows the students to see just how diverse different treatments of the same argument using the same PEEL formula can be – there is freedom within the discipline of the structure!
The purpose of the conclusion is to close the circle of the essay. It is a chance for the writer to restate the thesis statement, summarize the main arguments, and tie up any loose ends as the writer drives home their point one last time.
At this stage of the game, no new arguments should be introduced. However, students should revisit the previous arguments made in the body paragraphs and it is acceptable to offer up a new insight or two on these.
The student should take care here to make sure they leave no doubt in the reader’s mind that the essay question is fully answered. One useful way of doing this is by incorporating words and phrases from the essay question into the conclusion itself.
To help students grasp the underlying structure of a concluding paragraph, the following sequential structure is useful to keep in mind:
- Starts with a closing phrase such as In conclusion, There is no doubt, Finally etc
- Restates the main thesis statement
- Summarizes the main point of each of the body paragraphs
- Leaves the reader with something to think about.
Practice Activity 3:
Again, here we will isolate the concluding paragraph for focused practice.
Students select a topic they know well, decide what they think about that topic, write down a few key arguments, and then begin writing a concluding paragraph to an essay on that topic.
Students should use the template above to structure that material.
You could also include an element of peer assessment here by having students swap their paragraphs with each other, before offering each other feedback.
The Post Writing Stage: Editing & Proofreading YOUR 5 paragraph ESSAY
The final stage of writing a five-paragraph essay is perhaps the least glamorous of an unglamorous process, but no less essential for it – the editing and proofreading.
Often, our students overlook this stage. After completing the process of research, planning, and writing their five-paragraph essay, they let themselves down at this final, crucial stage.
Frequently, students fail to adequately edit and proofread their work not just because of laziness, but because they are unsure of exactly what this process entails.
To avoid this, ensure students understand that editing and proofreading involve reading through and correcting mistakes in the following areas one after the other:
- Text Organisation: title, headings, layout etc
- Sentence Structure: coherence, grammar, sentence variety etc
- Word Choice: suitable word choices, avoid repetition etc
- Spelling and Punctuation: accuracy in both areas.
Practice Activity 4:
Once students have completed their essays, appoint each a partner to work with and each then edits and proofreads the other person’s work.
Sometimes students struggle to gain the necessary distance from their own work to adequately edit and proofread it, this exercise overcomes that issue while giving them an opportunity to gain some valuable editing and proofreading experience that will benefit them in future.
CLOSING THE CIRCLE
So, there you have it – how to write a five-paragraph essay from start to finish. As with anything, the more practice students get, the quicker they will improve.
But, bear in mind too that writing essays is hard work and you don’t want to put students off.
The best way to provide opportunities for students to develop the various skills related to essay writing is to isolate them in the manner apparent in the activities described above.
This way, students can soon sharpen up their skills, without learning to dread the word ‘essay’ itself!
Use the resources and tools below with your students to improve their writing skills through proven teaching strategies.
Five Paragraph Essay exampleS (Student Writing Samples)
Below are a collection of student writing samples of 5 paragraph essays. Click on the image to enlarge and explore them in greater detail. Please take a moment to both read the 5 paragraph essay in detail but also the teacher and student guides which highlight some of the key elements of this structured model of essay writing here.
Please understand these student writing samples are not intended to be perfect examples for each age or grade level but a piece of writing for students and teachers to explore together to critically analyze to improve student writing skills and deepen their understanding of 5 paragraph essay writing.
We would recommend reading the example either a year above and below, as well as the grade you are currently working with to gain a broader appreciation of this text type.
5 PARAGRAPH ESSAY VIDEO TUTORIALS
Content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh. A former principal of an international school and university English lecturer with 15 years of teaching and administration experience. Shane’s latest Book the Complete Guide to Nonfiction Writing can be found here. Editing and support for this article have been provided by the literacyideas team.