How to Write a 5-Paragraph Essay in 15 Minutes (Part II)

In my last post, I wrote about a brilliant idea I had while lying sick in bed, subsisting on chicken noodle soup and DVR’d episodes of 90 Day Fiancé.

Here was my idea:  I was going to teach my students how to write a 5-paragraph essay in 15 minutes. 

There’s a method to my madness; the lesson was going to reinforce the organizational basics of a 5-paragraph essay in a sneaky, fun way, and if you can’t see the brilliance in this idea, then you’re not as good of a teacher as I am. 

“These essays are gonna suck,” I explained to them breathlessly, face flushed, because I love when I have an idea that I know is going to hit home with them.  “You won’t have time to write a decent thesis statement or good topic sentences, so you’re just going to make sure they’re strong and placed in the correct spots so that they’re easily noticed. This paper is totally not going to show what you’re capable of along the lines of sentence structure and varying your writing. Complex sentences?  Beautiful introductory phrases that employ compound prepositions?” I balked. “FORGET ABOUT THEM.  Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

“But guess what it is going to do?” I continued.  I had their attention now. “It’s going to check all the boxes and help you squeak by when you get older and you procrastinate like I always did in high school and college. That Monday morning in a few years when you’ve stayed up all weekend playing video games or watching trashy reality TV while stuffing your face with pizza and dry cereal but need to eke out a paper before first hour?  You’re going to be thanking me, children, that the basic 5-paragraph essay has saved you again.”

Their reactions varied.  I always—no matter what I say or how I present it (Maybe it’s just me?)—get a few looks that say, “Is this woman serious right now?” so there was some of that. 

“Mrs. M would be having a heart attack if she were standing here listening to this…” one of my 8th grade girls, who wasn’t totally ready to go all in on this half-effort assignment, said.

I got a tiny bit sick to my stomach when she said that.  Because she was right.  Mrs. M had been the writing workshop teacher at our school for 24 years before she retired last year.  She’s a good, respected friend of mine who worked her tail off 80 hours a week teaching the Nancy Atwell method.

I took her place.  And she definitely would not be up for teaching the kids a life skill that would help them out of a bind after they had procrastinated enough that they needed a life skill to help them out of a bind in order to meet a deadline.

I paused for a moment, thinking. “You know what?” I said.  “You’re right, kiddo.  Maybe we should…”  I walked to the front of the room and grabbed the doorknob “…shut this door while we work.  And whisper.  And never speak of this to anyone again.”

So I shut that door tightly and we moved on, ready for a little irreverent nerdy fun that would keep us laughing while they learned something that would help them out in the future.

There was a little bit of awe and admiration around the room, too.  I saw it in their eyes.  A few kids nodded their heads slowly, smiles stretching across their faces like they were really getting away with something.  One of my 8th grade boys—wise beyond his years and who, I believe, based on work he’s handed in to me, already has the ability to be a published author rivaling James Patterson—lit up like a Christmas tree.

“Wheatzie,” he said, “you’re actually teaching us a really useful life skill today!”

“Actually?” I blanched. “Um, I actually teach you really useful life skills every day, kid.”

“Really?” he pressed, eyebrows raised in a challenging smirk.  “And when are we going to use all of the other crap like gerunds?”

“Oh my gosh,” I said, getting all excited again because who doesn’t love grammar?  “It’s a really fun party trick!”

“What kind of parties do you go to?” one of the kids muttered from the back of the room.

“Oh, I don’t,” I replied.  “I never get invited.  But people text me grammar questions from parties all the time, and I imagine that’s really fun for them.”

Fifteen giggly minutes later, the 5-paragraph essays were finished.  I sat at my desk cracking up as, one by one, the students printed them off and handed them in.  Again, reactions varied as the kids approached my desk.

One of the girls started to hand her paper over to me, then paused with the paper mid-air, holding onto it with a conflicted look on her face.   We engaged in a little tug of war until I was able to snatch the completed assignment from her.

“I feel almost…ashamed of myself?” she said, lifting her eyes to meet mine.  Then she burst into a huge grin. “But that was really fun!”

On one of the girls’ papers, I wrote a note:

“That was the worst conclusion paragraph I think I’ve ever read. So dull!  But it checks all the necessary boxes and you get an A+. Proud of you!”

I guess you could say I had a little fun with the assignment, too.


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