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Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay: Creative Ways to Teach Writing

English teachers from elementary school to high school can write five-paragraph essays in their sleep. While the five-paragraph essay is a popular way to teach students the basic elements of writing a paper, it is not the only way. Instead of sticking to the same old tired format, spice things up a bit by introducing students to creative writing formats that still help them learn the basics.

Changing the Audience

Start by changing the audience for the paper. Students rarely feel inspired when writing to a teacher or a random essay reader. However, if they are writing to their favorite celebrity, a best friend or another unique listener, they will have the opportunity to be more creative and infuse a unique voice into their writing. Students may write to their parents, siblings, made up pen pals in another country, a favorite celebrity or the CEO of a major company. To expand the audience options, you can also have students pretend to be someone else when they write. For example, they could pretend to be a shoe expressing its true feelings to its owner or a travel agent describing her favorite vacation to some clients.

Changing the Format

Writing to a non-academic or non-traditional audience often leads to writing in different formats. Students should not be limited to five paragraphs or even a traditional essay structure when they write. Branch out by allowing students to create brochures for descriptive pieces, instruction manuals for how-to essays and letters for persuasive pieces. Instead of a traditional narrative essay, students can write a series of diary entries, a script, a picture book or a comic strip. Changing the format does not change the skills students build. They are still required to create well-written, organized pieces that use the appropriate voice, transition words and the proper conventions of Standard American English.

The same writing standards and conventions apply when students publish their papers in non-traditional ways. Students may be more motivated to write when asked to move beyond the traditional pen and paper essay or the five-paragraph essay typed in a word processing program. They can publish their writing on a website, a blog or by sending actual e-mails. Papers can be presented as slideshows, turned into digital storybooks or recorded as podcasts.

Thinking Outside the Box

If you are considering assigning a traditional five-paragraph essay, think outside of the box. Ask yourself what students will be writing about, who they will be writing to and how they will format or publish their writing. A boring, uninspiring writing assignment will have students write about their favorite food, to a teacher, in the form of a five-paragraph essay. Thinking outside the box could change that same writing assignment into writing a recipe and description of their favorite food for the employees of a new restaurant in the form of a reference sheet for preparing the food and describing it to diners. Imagine how much more entertaining it will be to read the creative pieces instead of the traditional five-paragraph essay your students could have written.