Structure as Mentor Text: How Can We Organize Ideas Beyond the 5-Paragraph Essay?

I’m so happy to share that starting this week, I will be a regular contributor to, a site dedicated to “move our student writers forward in their craft.” Moving Writers was founded by educators Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell, authors of the marvelous book, Writing with Mentors.  I’m so honored to join Allison and Rebekah in this worthwhile endeavor.  That said, below is the opening to my first blog post, posted yesterday. I hope you enjoy and continue reading at

A few weeks ago, I came across a post on the Teaching and Learning Forum on the NCTE website. The conversation centered around the usefulness—or the lack of usefulness—of the five-paragraph essay. Comments varied, with many teachers chiming in with their thoughts, both fervently for and against the form.

I spent the first five years of my career teaching 9th and 10th grade. During that time, I focused my writing instruction on the five-paragraph essay. And I was good at it. I mean, really good at it. My students, through much practice, could put together a thesis statement with three reasons, write the three body paragraphs with corresponding topic sentences, and a conclusion which restated their main ideas (in case those ideas weren’t already clear).

Not surprisingly, years later when I started teaching AP Lang, my juniors walked into my classroom in September unsure how to write an essay using any structure other than the five-paragraph form.