Creative Approaches to the Five-Paragraph Essay


Just the phrase "Five-Paragraph Essay" can induce coma in the most vivacious of students. Something about writing to a formula just crushes any sparks of enthusiasm that may be lurking beneath. But never fear. Even the driest of outlines have potential for creativity. Yes, you heard right. You, yes you, can enjoy writing your five-paragraph essay.

How, you ask? I'm sorry to say that the combination of creativity and the five-paragraph essay does not involve a restructuring of the essay map. You still have to write five paragraphs, and you still have to include the appropriate elements.

No, wait, don't stop reading! Just because you have to write to the form doesn't mean that you can't be creative in your approach and content. And you can begin even before you start writing, by employing the brainstorming approach. Take the topic of your paper, and write down as many examples and supporting details as you can think up. This is where you get to have fun, so be as out-there as you want to be. Even if you think of an example that doesn't seem like what you had in mind... well, that's exactly the point. Brainstorming gets you to think outside the box, to come up with ideas that you wouldn't have if you had thought carefully about what examples were the very best. (When put that way, don't you have just a little bit more faith in the creative approach?). And once you're all brainstormed out, you can come back a bit later and pick your favorites. You just may surprise yourself.

Now, regardless of what your previous experience may have taught you, you can be creative in your writing of the essay as well. There are, in fact, several techniques to try. The first, and perhaps most fun, is the Writing Backwards Technique. Unfortunately, it does not involve writing the actual words backwards. Tluciffid yrev si taht. No, all you do is write your sentences in reverse order. That is, start with the last one and write backwards toward the first. Start with your concluding sentence. Then, write the sentence that summarizes your examples. Follow that with the transition to your concluding paragraph.

You get the idea. Take the outline you have for your five-paragraph essay, and write it in reverse order. The reason for this technique? You get to focus on each sentence separately, and keep in mind how the whole thing will tie up. That's what you get when you look at where you're going, rather than where you've been. Who wants to live in the past?

Another technique you can try to have a bit more fun is the cut-and-paste approach. If you write each paragraph separately, then you won't be thinking as much about the structure and your brain will be freed to think more creatively. Obviously, you will need to figure out a way to make them flow logically from one to the other. But this way, these two tasks - writing the paragraphs and arranging them - become two separate and manageable activities. And since you write the paragraphs distinctly from the essay, you can allow yourself a bit more freedom to write them out of order, or even to compose them more freely. Feel free, whether you use this technique or not, to include a few extra sentences as you write or play with the ordering of your paragraphs. That's what editing is for: to give you a chance to "fix" things.

All in all, the less you feel like you are form-writing as you write the five-paragraph essay, the more creativity you will be able to allow yourself. Use one of the techniques described here, or come up with your own, knowing that you can always go back and edit and make it fit the formula. As long as the end product fits the map... the rest is up to you!

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