The five sentence paragraph

Why the five sentence paragraph?  One reason is that teachers seem to think five sentences are long enough to explain a subtopic, but not too long.  One or two sentences seem skimpy, while seven or eight sentences might seem unduly long.  Five is just right.

Limiting students to five sentences straitjackets their writing.
Teachers also think 25 sentences give them sufficient material to judge the student’s writing skills.  In other words, twenty-five sentences meet the teachers’ need for evaluating student writing.

But I think limiting students to five sentences straitjackets their writing.  For example, I encourage students to use dialog to enliven their essay writing.  But when they find out that each time the dialog shifts from one person to another a new paragraph is needed, they freak out.  “But then I will have too many sentences.  And too many paragraphs!”

Sometimes students think up an excellent example that cannot be neatly stated in four sentences to follow the topic sentence of a body paragraph.  They tend to skip that example and settle on something less detailed and less good in order to limit their paragraph to five sentences.

When as a writing tutor I am working with students who know that their teacher demands five sentences per paragraph, I back off.  But when I am working with students who are writing to improve their skills, I encourage breaking this lockstep format.

Next we will discuss transitions.

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