Breaking out of the Five-Paragraph Rut: Creative Approaches to Teaching Writing and Thinking

While the five-paragraph theme is useful for college preparatory exams, honors curricula best serve students when they are encouraged to generate fresh ideas, a task not suited to the standard thesis—three supporting points—conclusion format. 

Timothy Berg and Elizabeth Dalton, veteran honors professors at Ball State University, will present and discuss several writing assignments that help students break free from the strictures of the five-paragraph theme. These assignments encourage critical and creative thinking, moving students beyond tired commentary and toward original creative, thought-provoking work. 

Prof. Dalton’s assignments emphasize inquiry. Informal reading responses begin with students’ questions about the text, which they attempt to resolve through careful examination of the primary source. Another assignment, “My Little Brother Could Draw That,” combines experiential learning with academic research as students study non-representational art.

Prof. Berg’s assignments employ creative writing and drawing as empathic methods to help students look closely and see new ideas. “Blind Spot” essays, inspired by Teju Cole’s book of the same name, get students to creatively extend an image by writing a short piece of flash fiction/non-fiction. Another assignment asks students to creatively “place” major ideas from a text onto a 3-point perspective drawing of a cube in space, resulting in new insights about the text and beyond. In both cases, the results have been startlingly good and motivating both the students and the professor.

Copies of the assignments and examples of successful student efforts will be provided. Join us if you’re ready to break out of the writing rut and explore new ways to motivate and energize your students’ thinking.

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