I’ve spent much of the winter break typing up students’ papers for my dissertation research. The task was descriptive writing — first describing the student’s house, apartment, homestay, or dorm room, and then (after the intervention) writing a featured home article about a house for sale as if for a local newspaper. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was still struck by the number of students who tried to shoe-horn one or both tasks into a pseudo five-paragraph essay, and this despite the fact that neither prompt mentions essays or even paragraphs! In fact, the featured house article is taught as a genre with a regular structure that has little to do the so-called English theme. Some of the results are awkwardly amusing: Everyone has a house, even animals. I’m going to describe my house. Or: this house has two floors. First of all, the first floor. You can imagine the rest.
For anyone still harboring a sentimental attachment to the “ahrehtorical” (to quote Christine Ortmeier-Hooper) and ageneric (as I keep misquoting Christine Ortmeier-Hooper!) teaching of a universal form of bland, banal writing, here are some recent articles fighting the good fight for teacher genre-aware, context-specific writing skills:
- “I cannot prepare students to write their (history, philosophy, poli sci, etc.) papers” by John Warner in InsiderHigherEd
- “Finding a voice for argument in ELT” by Elizabeth O’Dowd in TESOL Connections
- “Let’s bury the five-paragraph essay” by on Talk With Teachers
- “Kill the 5-Paragraph Essay” by John Warner (again) –spot a theme here?
Plus a few of my previous thoughts on the subject:
- Who’s teaching my students to write rhetorical questions?
- From generic writing to genre-based writing
- (Yet) Another anti-5-paragraph-essay rant
Update: Well, this is getting interesting. Over on the TESOL blog, Rob Sheppard has written a spirited defense of the 5-paragraph essay in which he usefully critiques Brian Sztabnik’s rather over-enthusiastic piece. But we couldn’t let that stand, so Luciana de Oliveira and I have written a rebuttal, “Why We Still Won’t Teach the Five-Paragraph Essay.” Let the games commence!