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The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast | ELA

Nov 23, 2023

This week I want to talk about argument, and why it seems so esoteric to kids when they learn about it at school, and so relevant when they watch it unfold on their screens. 

This week a member of our Lighthouse community threw out a question - is the five paragraph essay dead?

It really got me thinking about my experience as someone who basically writes all day long. I write podcasts, blog posts, Instagram carousels, social media captions, interview outlines, and emails from morning til night. And I am very often trying to argue something. I argue that slam poetry will help you engage students with poetry. Or that it’s important to build art and design into ELA classes because communication is increasingly through multimedia. Or that student podcasting is not as hard as it seems. 

But do I use the 5 paragraph essay structure that I learned back in high school? Do I use formal language and avoid contractions and keep slang out of it and always always always use 3rd person? 

Interesting question.

I often do use elements of the 5 paragraph essay. Hooks matter. Introducing what a piece is going to be about from the get go so people know what to expect. Supporting ideas with anecdotes, statistics, or relevant visuals to help bring home a point that makes the argument. Wrapping it all up, at least to some extent, with a concluding bow. 

But I almost never go with formal language or 3rd person, and the extensive online writing class I took long ago basically told me I had better use contractions or suffer the consequences of sounding stilted and distant. Slang, pop culture references, and a good GIF help me make my point. Even emojis have been recommended to me by professionals in the online community as important additions to certain types of writing.

So this week, I want to suggest that you talk with kids about how argument shows up in their world - maybe even ask them to go on a scavenger hunt for argument. 

What TikTokers are out there making an argument?

What are Youtubers trying to sell, and how do they make their case?

What Instagram accounts make an interesting enough point about, well, anything, that your students stick around to read it? 

These are arguments being made as surely as students are often asked to make arguments about The Great Gatsby, and the two are more related than it might seem on the surface. 

Think about ways you can build argument into other types of assignments, in addition to the argumentative essay.

But export the language.

Teach kids the power of a hook on a research-based Instagram carousel.

Show them how they need to use real evidence to back up the main points in an infographic, and how they still need a full sources cited. 

Let them try writing emails to the school board about something they’re passionate about, and don’t stipulate the number of paragraphs so much as the clarity of the ideas and the evidence to support them. 

I think of the 5 paragraph essay as a super-scaffolded practice round for the writing waiting for kids in the world.

Is it dead? Nope.

Is it the end-all-be-all of argument? Definitely not.

Can we frame it that way for our kids, kind of like batting practice for a professional athlete?

Yep. And this week, I want to highly recommend that we do. 


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