traci's lists of ten

Traci's 44th List of Ten:
Ten Unusual Five Paragraph Theme Assignments

Posted to NCTE-Talk, WCENTER, WPA, and TechRhet on 06/16/02.

There are few things more frustrating than writers who have been brainwashed into believing that the only acceptable kind of paper is a five-paragraph theme. Five-paragraph themes have their place, but at a certain point, writers need to break out of the mold. If you follow competitive ice skating, it's sort of like the difference between the compulsories and the long program. Sure, you need to learn the basics and prove that you know them. But at a certain point, you need to break out and do something more. The moves that you complete in the compulsories are part of the long program, but there's much more.

The point of these alternative five-paragraph themes is to persuade students to break out of those molds. The assignments here all call for five paragraphs, but they aren't the magical five paragraphs that students usually rely on.

  1. [JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS - ARGUMENT] Your job is to write a basic argumentative essay. What's different about this essay is the way that you'll construct the essay. The five paragraphs in this paper won't follow the traditional 5-paragraph theme structure. Instead, I'd like you to construct five paragraphs that follow this structure for your paper:

    Paragraph 1
    State your conclusion about the topic you're writing about. Cut to the most important points. What is your position on the topic, and what supports your position? You can use any of the techniques that you'd usually use to begin a paper -- an anecdote, a startling fact, and so forth. The point of your first paragraph isn't just to indicate what you'll be arguing about, but to make your position on the issue and your reasons for that position clear.

    Paragraphs 2, 3, & 4
    Each paragraph should explore a reason that your conclusion is wrong. Develop your reasons well. The point isn't to set up "straw men" that you'll simply knock back down; but to explore the alternate perspective(s) on the topic fully, giving your readers enough information to understand the other point of view completely.

    Paragraph 5
    In your final paragraph, state why you maintain your position on the subject despite the reasons that you've outlined in paragraphs 2, 3, and 4.

  2. [A SENSIBLE APPROACH - DESCRIPTION] Choose a particular place that you like to visit, ideally one you can revisit to collect notes while you work on this paper. Your paper should consist of five paragraphs, one focusing on each of the five senses and how you perceive the place through that one sense. Your feelings about the place should be clear through your description -- however you won't state them directly. For instance, if you're describing a place you love, the details that you share should make it clear how much you enjoy the place. If you are anxious about the place, the specifics that you include should make your anxiety obvious. Finally, though you'll consider each sense separately, it's up to you to determine the order of the paragraphs. Think about the place: do you see it before you hear any of the sounds associated with it? do you smell aromas associated with the place before you see anything? Remember to keep your senses sharp and in separate paragraphs!

  3. [PERSPECTIVE - DESCRIPTIVE] Choose a particular place that you like to visit, ideally one you can revisit to collect notes while you work on this paper. Your paper should consist of five paragraphs--the perspectives of five different people who come to the place plus your own perspective. Try to think of people who will have very different perceptions about the place. For example, if your place were the waiting room outside the emergency room at the hospital, the four people might be a doctor, a volunteer, an ambulance driver, a mother waiting with her child, and the child. By showing your own perspective in the final paragraph, you can agree or counter or empathize with the perspectives of the others in the room. To build transitions from one perspective to the next, try focusing on a linking object or idea that is the last thing noticed in one paragraph and the first thing noticed in the following paragraph.

  4. [PROBLEM-SOLVER] Your job is to write a paper that explains a problem at your school and recommends the best solution. You can begin by brainstorming a list of problems that you notice at your school (examples: inadequate parking, cost of tuition, limited computer resources, litter on the campus, or censorship of library materials). Your paper will be comprised of these five paragraphs:

    Paragraph 1: Problem/Situation
    Explain the problem or situation that you will focus on in your paper. Provide whatever background you can about the situation and why it is a particular problem at your school.

    Paragraph 2: Options
    Explain the possible solutions to the problem. What can be done? How can the problem be resolved? What options exist?

    Paragraph 3: Challenges
    Explore the challenges to the various solutions. What will happen if the options are adopted? Will they be costly? hard to convince people to adopt? Will other problems arise? What will you need to look out for?

    Paragraph 4: Evaluation
    Analyze the possible options in light of the related challenges. How do they compare to one another? What do you think of the options?

    Paragraph 5: Solution/Recommendation
    Finally, explain the solution that you recommend for the problem. Which option is best, and why do you think it will be the best way to solve the problem?

  5. [JUST THE FACTS - NONFICTION BOOK REVIEW] Unlike the typical book review, your goal in this paper is to focus on four new facts that you learned from your book and a specific conclusion that these facts led you to about your subject. Your paper will be comprised of five paragraphs: one for each of the facts about your subject plus one that explains the conclusion that these facts led you to. Organize your paragraphs by discussing each fact in the order you discovered it in the book (in other words, paragraph one would be the first fact you discovered; paragraph two would be the second fact, etc.). In your fifth and final paragraph, draw all of the facts together and explain the conclusion that they led you to.

  6. [THE NEXT FIVE - DESCRIPTION] Choose a particular place that you like to visit, ideally one you can revisit to collect notes while you work on this paper. Your paper should consist of five paragraphs -- Each one describing what the place looks like at a particular point in time. Follow this pattern:

    Paragraph 1: What the place is like now
    Paragraph 2: Five days from now
    Paragraph 3: Five weeks from now
    Paragraph 4: Five months from now
    Paragraph 5: Five years from now

    As you're gathering ideas, think about how the location will change over time. Will seasons change? Will things grow or die? Will the things and people in the place change? What will stay the same? To build transitions, try focusing on a linking object or idea that is the last thing noticed in one paragraph and the first thing noticed in the following paragraph.

  7. [FIVE INGREDIENTS] Get a copy of a magazine that you enjoy reading. Brainstorm a list of words that come to mind when you think of your magazine. The words might describe the focus of the magazine, the ideals that are important to the readers, or qualities that the readers possess. Once you've created your list, choose five terms that together epitomize the qualities of the magazine. If you were writing a recipe for the magazine, these five qualities would be the ingredients. Another way to think of your list of terms is as a kit, that when put together would be the magazine. Write a paper that discusses how each term is represents the magazine. Explore how the magazine defines the term in its presentation of articles and advertisements. Your magazine, for instance, might be a mixture of "beauty," "fitness," "healthy living," "fun," and "love." Each paragraph in your paper should treat one of the ingredients that comprise the magazine. Refer to specifics from the magazine to help enforce your point.

  8. [5 W's - FICTION BOOK REVIEW] For your book review, you'll write a five-paragraph theme, but the paragraphs will be determined by the journalist's questions, also known as the 5 W's: who, what, where, when, why. As you work through your paper, you can label each paragraph with the journalist's question that it explores. Treat your paper as a kind of Question and Answer sheet about the book -- divided into five paragraphs.

    Paragraph 1: WHO is the main character of the text that you've read? How does the character change over the course of the story? Why does the story focus on this character? What is the character's significance?

    Paragraph 2: WHAT is the main theme of the story that you read? How is the theme explored in the story? How is the theme developed over the course of the story?

    Paragraph 3: WHERE does the story take place? What is the setting and how does it add to the book? How does the location relate to the characters and theme?

    Paragraph 4: WHEN does the story take place? What time of day? What time of the year? What time period? How can you tell? How is the time period of the story important to the main theme? How would the story be different if it took place at another time?

    Paragraph 5: WHY did the author write this story? What point is the author trying to make? Draw together the who, what, where and when to explain the significance of the story overall. Why did the author assemble this situation in this way?

  9. [WHO NEEDS IT?] For this paper, you're to examine the structure of the traditional five-paragraph theme -- are you for it or against it? Each paragraph of your paper will explore a specific point, related to the topic, concluding in your assessment of whether the five-paragraph theme should be taught. Follow this organization:

    Paragraph 1: Personal Experience - How many five-paragraph themes have you written? What do you know about them? How did you learn the format? What are your feelings about the five-paragraph theme structure?

    Paragraph 2: Pro's - What are the benefits of the five-paragraph theme structure? How does the structure help an essay? What advantages does it have?

    Paragraph 3: Con's - What are the limitations of the five-paragraph theme? What disadvantages are there to the structure?

    Paragraph 4: Analysis - Pull together your experiences, the pro's, and the con's -- compare the information that you've gathered and recorded.

    Paragraph 5: Conclusion - Should five-paragraph theme be taught? When? How? Why?

  10. [GETTING DRAMATIC] Choose a local current event that you know a lot about. You might choose a recent sporting event, your school's student government election, a local political fundraising event, or a recent community charity function such as the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life or the Humane Society's Adoptathon. Learn as much as you can about the event. You might attend the event, look for information in the local paper and on television, as well as interview people involved with the event. Once you've gathered your facts, write a five-paragraph paper, each paragraph matching one of the stages of dramatic structure: exposition, rising action, climax, denouement, conclusion.

    Paragraph 1: Exposition. In your first paragraph, establish the time, location, the people involved, important background information about events that have already taken place, and any other facts that your reader will need to know in order to follow the story.

    Paragraph 2: Rising Action (complication/conflict). In your second paragraph, build interest in the events that take place, moving the report of events forward. You might establish a conflict between the people involved or complicate the situation that the people face as events occur.

    Paragraph 3: Climax (crisis). The third paragraph is the high point of the events that you're describing, the "turning point" in the series of events.

    Paragraph 4: Denouement (falling action). Your fourth paragraph explains the outcome of the climax. It resolves the remaining issues and explains any additional details necessary to complete the information about the main series of events.

    Paragraph 5: Conclusion. In your final paragraph, the failure or success of the main people involved in the event are pulled together. The conclusion points to the way that life will be now that the climax or crisis has passed -- how will things continue to be the same? how will they be forever different?

Originally Posted on the site on June 16, 2002.