Essay Writing for Standardized Tests: Tips for Writing a Five Paragraph Essay
Most, if not all, high school and college standardized tests include a writing portion. Students are provided a writing prompt and must then write an essay on the topic. Writing for standardized tests can strike fear in the hearts and minds of students of all ages, but it doesn’t have to. If you know what to expect and understand how to write a five paragraph essay, you will be prepared to tackle any essay writing prompt.
Types of Essays on Standardized Tests
When you begin to write your essay for a standardized test, you must first decide what type of essay you are being asked to write. There are many different types of essays, including narrative, expository, argumentative, persuasive, comparative, literary, and so on. The type of essay will determine your topic and thesis. Essays for standardized tests are typically either persuasive, in which you will answer a question, or literary, in which you will write about something you read.
For standardized tests, students usually have to write a five paragraph essay, which should be 500 to 800 words long and include an introductory paragraph, three supporting paragraphs and a concluding paragraph.
The First Paragraph: The Introduction
The first paragraph will introduce your topic. The introduction is the most important paragraph because it provides direction for the entire essay. It also sets the tone, and you want to grab the reader’s attention with interest and clarity. The best way to tackle the introduction is to:
- Describe your main idea, or what the essay is about, in one sentence. You can usually use the essay writing prompt or question to form this sentence.
- Develop a thesis statement, or what you want to say about the main idea. When the writing prompt is a question, your thesis is typically the answer to the question.
- List three points or arguments that support your thesis in order of importance (one sentence for each).
Voila! You’ve just written your introductory paragraph.
The Second, Third and Fourth Paragraphs: Supporting Details
These three paragraphs form the body of the essay. They provide details, such as facts, quotes, examples and concrete statistics, for the three points in your introductory paragraph that support your thesis. Take the points you listed in your introduction and discuss each in one body paragraph. Here’s how:
- First, write a topic sentence that summarizes your point. This is the first sentence of your paragraph.
- Next, write your argument, or why you feel the topic sentence is true.
- Finally, present your evidence (facts, quotes, examples, and statistics) to support your argument.
Now you have a body paragraph. Repeat for points two and three. The best part about introducing your main points in the first paragraph is that it provides an outline for your body paragraphs and eliminates the need to write in transitions between paragraphs.
The Fifth Paragraph: The Conclusion
The concluding paragraph must summarize the essay. This is often the most difficult paragraph to write. In your conclusion, you should restate the thesis and connect it with the body of the essay in a sentence that explains how each point supports the thesis. Your final sentence should uphold your main idea in a clear and compelling manner. Be sure you do not present any new information in the conclusion.
When writing an essay for a standardized test, outline your essay and get through each paragraph as quickly as possible. Think of it as a rough draft. When your time is up, a complete essay will score more points than an incomplete essay because the evaluator is expecting a beginning, middle and an end.
If you have time to review your essay before your time is up, by all means do so! Make any revisions that you think will enhance your “rough draft” and be sure to check for any grammatical errors or misspellings.
Online instruction like the Time4Writing essay writing courses for elementary, middle and high school students can help children prepare for state and college-entrance standardized writing tests. These interactive writing classes build basic writing skills, explain essay types and structure, and teach students how to organize their ideas.
For general tips on test preparation and details about each state’s standardized tests, please visit our standardized test overview page.
Five Paragraph EssayHome › Writing › Paragraph › Five Paragraph Essay
You will be amazed at how eagerly your students will take to this five paragraph essay lesson. I guarantee that they will beg to write (a little show and tell never hurts either!).
Organizing thoughts in expository writing (sometimes referred to as "explanatory writing") is difficult for children. Often they do not even understand that there is a different way to read these types of texts, let alone write them.
The five paragraph essay is a tool to aid beginning writers who are learning how to use transitions, opening, and closing paragraphs.
However, I also have used it for my middle school son and it made a world of difference for him.
He finally understood what it means to organize an essay. For kids who see things in black and white, this lesson is a life saver.
A Sample Five Paragraph Essay
This sample five paragraph essay lesson plan shows the students how to keep details together, write effective opening and closing paragraphs, and use transition words.
Crinkle crinkle! That's the sound of my All About Me bag opening. In my bag, I have three things: a flower, a map and a book. Each one of these things tells something special about me. Ready?
First, I have a flower. This flower is a daisy because that is my favorite type of flower. My mom always grows daisies out front in the summer. My dog likes them too, but he eats them and makes my mom really mad.
I also have a map in my bag. I have been to many different places in the world, like Germany and the Bahamas. My favorite place to go though, was Florida. I found a shark tooth on the beach!
Finally, I have a book. I love to read - my mom says I am voracious with books. Right now I am reading A-Z Mysteries. I didn't even know I would like mysteries until I started this series. I think most kids in second grade would love this series.
Of course there are lots of other things that are important about me, but those are my favorite ones. Now I would love to know more about you. Do you have three things you can share? I can't wait to read about you!
This student used a five paragraph essay outline, included transition words, had effective opening and closing sentences, utilized new vocabulary and learned about how colons help writers to list information.
Whew! That's a lot for an 8 year old…or is it?
How to Teach the Five Paragraph Essay
Send home a note to parents attached to a paper bag.
- The note should explain that the students will be writing a five paragraph essay about themselves.
- They will need to bring three objects to school with them that tells more about who they are.
- All objects should fit into the bag, do not send anything valuable, and they will be returned after the writing is complete.
- When the bags do come in, be sure to tell the students not to share what is in them. It's a secret!
Note: Get your own bag ready with three things. You will need it to do a guided writing experience with the students on Day One.
Download these graphic organizers with Five Paragraph Essay Writing (they follow the Stoplight Writing Method)
Primary - very basic
Day One: Introduce Paragraph Writing.
Take the students to your writing area, and tell them you brought your own bag to share with them.
Begin by writing an introduction (in GREEN if you are using Stoplight Writing) that will hook the readers.
When you get to the line: "In my bag, I have three things:" be sure to point out the use of the colon and how it designates a list. The students will write their supporting details in the same order as the list.
Open your bag with a flourish. The bag is the introduction. The objects inside are the details, or body of the essay.
You are showing them the GREEN.
After this, you are ready to start the first YELLOW.
Take out the first object.
This is the topic sentence for the first paragraph.
Using RED, write two supporting sentences that go with the object. These are the details.
- After you have written the second paragraph, put the object back in the bag.
- Tell the students you put it back in the bag because you are finished writing about it.
- Ask them what you should write about next - yes, the second object you listed after the colon back in the introduction. Take that one out of the bag.
Follow the same procedure for writing the third and fourth paragraphs.
When you are ready for the closing paragraph, close up the bag dramatically and tell the students that since the bag is closed, you cannot write anything more about what is inside the bag.
This is a key concept for students to understand about how details are not found in the opening and closing paragraphs in an essay.
The closing paragraph is about wrapping it all up effectively, like a present. I like to call this a "circle sentence."
- Go back to the first paragraph.
- Point out your beginning sentence, and show the students how to write a similar sentence in the last paragraph. By repeating a sentence that was already used, this gives students a way to anchor the idea of how to close a piece of writing.
- You will write your closing paragraph in GREEN (Stoplight Writing).
You should also find some time to do a mini-lesson on Transition Words. Transition words are like bridges in a five paragraph essay, and the students will need guidance to anchor this process.
Day Two: Guided Writing
This is a Guided Writing experience, and students will need their bags.
You will write a five paragraph essay with the students, leaving blanks for them to fill in. I like to give the kids Green, Yellow and Red strips of paper to write on.
This will provide a kinesthetic writing experience for them. Older students can do it with an outline such as this one, or use markers to underline as they write.
Here's how it can look:
Do you want to know some secret things about me? In my bag, I have three things: _________, __________, __________. Each one of these tells something special about me.
For older students, you can allow them more choice with words and sentence structure. Younger kids need more teacher guidance, and just learning about using a colon as an organizational tool is enough.
Next, instruct the students to take out their first listed object and place it on their desk. They will write one Yellow sentence about the object, such as:
First, I brought a ___________.
Then, the students will write two Red sentences, which tell more about the Yellow sentence. Again, guide the writing of the sentences, but this time, instead of copying from you, they will need to add two of their own sentences. Guide them with questions such as, "Where did you get this?" "Who gave it to you?" "Is it part of a collection?" "How does this make you feel?"
Day Three: Review and Guided Writing
Begin Day Three by reviewing yesterday's lesson. Have the students read what they wrote, taking out their first object as they read about it, and get ready for the next paragraph.
You will follow the same procedure for their bags as you did for Day Two. For each object, take it out of the bag, write a Yellow sentence, write two Red (detail) sentences, and then put it down.
You can end Day Three here if you are short on time, or move on to Day Four, the closing paragraph.
Day Four: Finishing Up
Now it is time to write the closing paragraph of your Five Paragraph Essay. This will be in Green.
After the students review what they have written so far and taken the objects out of their bags, instruct them to put them back into their bags and close them up.
Remind the students that by closing the bags they are showing that there will be no more sentences about the objects - we will not be mixing up details with the opening and closing paragraphs.
Go back to the first sentence, "Do you want to know some secret things about me?"
Talk with the kids about how that sentence can be re-worded, such as "Now my three things aren't really a secret!" or "Sigh…that's the end of my secrets!"
Explain that these are "Circle Sentences," when sentences repeat the same idea but use different words. Give them some choices of sentences to write, or let them do their own if they are able.
And there it is - Stoplight Writing. It is definitely a long process, but it is excellent explicit teaching.
Try using some of these topics, prompts or writing activities after your kids have mastered the five paragraph essay!