The 5-Paragraph Essay

  1. From Paragraph to Essay

“A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end.” –Aristotle, Poetics, written in about 350 B.C.E.

An essay is a series of paragraphs that discuss a single idea in some depth.  It can be just a couple of paragraphs long, or it can be dozens of pages long, as in a research paper. Usually, however, an essay is much longer than a paragraph, though its structure has some similar points.

The paragraph structure that we have been studying is a good model for a “5-paragraph” or “hamburger” essay that you should master.

Paragraph “Hamburger” Essay
1 Topic Sentence (the first sentence) 1 Introduction Paragraph with “thesis statement” (as the last sentence of the paragraph.)
2~3 Supporting Sentences 2~3 Supporting Paragraphs, each with its own topic sentence
1 Concluding Sentence 1 Concluding Paragraph (restate the thesis, then give an opinion, prediction or suggestion.)

The Benefits of Extensive Reading

Extensive reading should be a key part of your English study. Not only is it an easy and fun way to study, but it is also the only practical way to learn all the millions of collocations–common word pairings–that occur in English. In addition, research has shown that it is as or more effective than any other kind of language study for all language skills, not just reading. Finally, if you make it a habit, you’ll be able to maintain your English even if you have no time for formal study. If you’re not practicing extensive reading, you’re missing out on a great way to study English.

Here’s the same topic expanded into a 5-paragraph essay. There’s more detail, but it is basically the same argument structure on a larger scale.

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Students of English as a foreign language have to spend years to acquire the foundations of the language. This can be frustrating and discouraging for many students, but those who press on will eventually find they have enough vocabulary and grammar to begin to understand simple texts. Once this happens, language acquisition can really start to accelerate. It turns out that reading a lot of simple texts,  referred to as “Extensive Reading”,  should be a key part of every student’s English study, whether beginner or advanced.

First, it’s the only practical way to study collocations. Collocations are high frequency word pairings in a language that sound “natural.”  (For example, you can play tennis or billiards or the saxophone; you don’t play bowling or judo or swimming.)  But what’s a student to do? There are simply too many collocations to count, let alone study formally. The only way to pick up these natural word parings is slowly, over time, through lots and lots of language input.  Reading extensively, especially in topics that are interesting, is the most efficient and practical way to get this input.

It may come as a surprise, but Extensive reading has also been shown to be one of the very best ways to study all aspects of a language. It’s obvious that it should improve reading skills. Reading is one of those things we learn to do by doing. But studies have confirmed, over and over, that extensive reading is a more effective way to prepare for exams like the TOEIC than actually taking a TOEIC preparation class! For those serious about improving reading, writing, listening and even speaking skills, extensive reading is highly recommended.

Extensive reading should also be the foundation for a lifetime of English as a foreign language study. Once students leave formal schooling, they find themselves busy with work and family, with little time for taking private lessons. But extensive reading is something anyone can do in their spare free moments. It’s important to have the right material of course–something easy and actually interesting to read. That way, reading becomes something to look forward to during the day, a pleasant reward. Students who make extensive reading a hobby, will at least keep the English they have, and likely grow it throughout their lifetimes.

The benefits of extensive reading are clear. While it may not look like serious study, and certainly should not feel like serious study, it is actually the most effective strategy for long-term language development and every serious student of a foreign language should make extensive reading a priority. And now, since there are hundreds of websites that provide free graded reading materials, it is easier than ever for each person to find just the right thing to read. There’s no excuse. Get reading!