“Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay” — now in print!

Yesterday, I was excited to receive my copies of the new TESOL publication, Effective Second Language Writing (in the Classroom Practices series), which opens with my chapter: “Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay: A Content-First Approach.”

In my essay — which is far longer than five paragraphs! — I set out the arguments against teaching (only) the five-paragraph essay/theme form, which I have been making for several years along with my former colleagues Andy McCullough and Ruelaine Stokes at Michigan State’s English Language Center. I then describe the sustained content-based writing course Andy and I developed at MSU for the advanced level of the IEP. (Another article we all wrote together appears in this month’s Second Language Writing Interest Section newsletter.)

The volume was edited with remarkable thoroughness and patience by Susan Kasten, and includes a total of 18 chapters on different aspects of second-language writing from around the world. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of it. Come to think of it, it’s so long since I wrote my chapter, I should probably re-read that, too, and see what I said. (This project was launched at TESOL 3 years ago!)

An architect’s view of writing

I’m glad that I saved the current issue of one of my alumni magazines, The Penn Gazette*, from the recycling bin long enough to read Denise Scott Brown’s essay “From Words to Buildings: What good is language to an architect?

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=chicago+bean&iid=3364983″ src=”d/2/9/7/Snow_Blankets_The_b291.jpg?adImageId=11079764&imageId=3364983″ width=”234″ height=”141″ /] (* I am an alum of Penn’s Graduate School of Education, but they keep sending me the magazine anyway, presumably in the faint hope that I might eventually make enough money to give some of it to the school …)

Scott Brown argues that language plays a critical role in the visual arts:

The client’s brief—a verbal statement—and the building’s social and visual context come first. They may provide merely a schedule of accommodations and relationships, or add qualitative instructions on character, performance, and context. Either way, they raise the problem of creating the physical from the verbal.

I find this especially interesting because this is basically the opposite of most research writing, in which the words come after the research and are an attempt to reconstruct the study for the reader. In architecture, writing appears to be primary: it is the source of the architect’s work, not the report of it.

This again points to the importance of knowing how writing functions in particular professions before trying to teach it to future professionals.