1. It can be empowering
  2. It gives repeated reminders of good paragraph structure
  3. It gives many opportunities to use transitional words and phrases
  4. It offers the chance to combine multiple ideas surrounding one topic into a cohesive piece of writing

I have been a public educator in a rural title one elementary school for nearly 20 years and while I can only really speak about this one school district, I think it is safe to say that writing instruction is often pushed aside for more time in math and reading. In my pull-out gifted and talented group, I like to push my students to their limits, and sometimes that looks like writing a five-paragraph essay. Some students I work with are amazing writers and beautiful thoughts flow from their fingertips in artfully designed sentences and paragraphs. Other students – are – um – just not as artful. That is going to be the case in a regular classroom and that is going to be the case in a gifted classroom. Not every essay is going to be award-winning, but it will form a foundation on which these students will build their future writing skills. Elementary school is the best time to build good habits that can be further refined as they grow older. It is such a treasure to get to be a part of the brain development of so many children. 

Reluctant writers may panic a little when they hear that they need to write five paragraphs on the same topic. Giving them an outline that helps them take it one step at a time can ease their burden and when they see the finished product, they can feel empowered that they did, in fact, have the ability to write so much. On many occasions, I have seen students think that writing a lot equals writing well. When I read their unstructured writing, it is often full of many words that really say nothing. Giving students small parts at a time and a lot of scaffolded instruction can help them keep the writing on topic. There is no doubt that as they finish their last concluding sentence, they will be able to look back at their work with pride. (And they will also think they are completely finished and do not need to reread or revise…because kids will be kids…)

Since an essay is simply a series of paragraphs on the same topic, the repetition offers a lot of reminders about good writing. I teach my elementary writers that every paragraph needs a topic sentence, detail or body sentences, and a conclusion. This simple structure helps them stay focused as they go and helps this long project seem less intimidating. The repetition of writing so many paragraphs at a time helps the structure set into their brains for future use

Transitional words and phrases are often a struggle for elementary writers. I often give my students a list of transitional words as a resource they can keep in their folders. Modeling good writing that uses transitional words and phrases between paragraphs is one way that I help my students understand how this helps their ideas flow together. I also like to use authentic text, such as an article or novel that we have in the classroom, to show how actual authors use these transitions to make the words flow well. Any time that students can see this in action, they will be more likely to try it in their own writing. 

Since writing is so time-intensive, a lot of writing that happens in their assignments involves a short answer or one paragraph response. When students are offered the chance to write many paragraphs on the same topic, they can see how the ideas can come together to make one great composition. Participating in a thorough explanation of a topic will help them see just how important it is to tell as much as they can about the information they are trying to share. This is a difficult concept and when left on their own, they often leave out imperative details that would help the reader best understand the topic. As they work thoroughly, step by step, to complete their essay, students will see that these ideas thoroughly explain the information. 

In my fifth grade group, we spend a few months learning about the Civil War. Students then work to make a museum exhibit surrounding the topic of their choice. Our final project is to write a five-paragraph essay. I have developed an outline that guides students through writing each paragraph. I have just started a Teachers Pay Teachers site where you can download the outline to use in your classroom. This one is specific to writing about how power influences the events and outcome of the Civil War, but you could easily adapt it to whatever topic you are teaching. Please let me know if you end up using it!