Master the Five-Paragraph Essay
The five-paragraph essay is one of the most common composition assignments out there, whether for high school or college students. It is a classic assignment because it presents an arena in which writers can demonstrate their command of language and punctuation, as well as their logic and rhetorical skills. These skills are useful not only for classroom assignments and college application essays, but even in the business world, as employees have to write memorandums and reports, which draw on the same skills.
Mastering the five-paragraph essay is doable, and here are some tips.
Components of a Good Essay
The five-paragraph essay lives up to its name, because is has five paragraphs, as follows: an introductory paragraph that includes a thesis, three body paragraphs, each which includes support and development, and one concluding paragraph.
Its structure sometimes generates other names for the same essay, including three-tier essay, one-three-one, or a hamburger essay. Whether you are writing a cause-and-effect essay, a persuasive essay, an argumentative essay or a compare-and-contrast essay, you should use this same structure and the following specifics.
Keys to Introductory Paragraphs
Any introductory paragraph contains from three to five sentences and sets up the tone and structure for the whole essay. The first sentence should be a so-called hook sentence and grabs the reader. Examples of hook sentences include a quote, a joke, a rhetorical question or a shocking fact. This is the sentence that will keep your readers reading. Draw them in.
What Makes a Thesis Statement
The last sentence should be your thesis statement, which is the argument you are going to make in the essay. It is the sentence that contains the main point of the essay, or what you are trying to prove. It should be your strongest claim in the whole essay, telling the reader what the paper is about. You should be able to look back at it to keep your argument focused. The other sentences in this paragraph should be general information that links the first sentence and the thesis.
Content of Supporting Paragraphs
Each of the next three paragraphs follows the same general structure of the introductory paragraph. That is, they have one introduction sentence, evidence and arguments in three to five sentences, and a conclusion. Each one of them should define and defend your thesis sentence in the introduction.
The first body paragraph should be dedicated to proving your most powerful point. The second body paragraph can contain your weakest point, because the third body paragraph can, and should, support another strong argument.
Concluding Paragraph Tips
Your concluding paragraph is important, and can be difficult. Ideally, you can begin by restating your thesis. Then you can recall or restate all three to five of your supporting arguments. You should summarize each main point. If you have made similar arguments multiple times, join those together in one sentence.
Essentially, in the concluding or fifth paragraph, you should restate what your preceding paragraphs were about and draw a conclusion. It should answer the question: So what? Even if the answer seems obvious to you, write it down so that your reader can continue to easily follow your thinking process, and hopefully, agree with you.
A Note on Compare and Contrast
Let’s look a little more closely at the compare-and-contrast essay, which is a very common assignment. It can be a confusing one due to the terms used. Comparing two items is to show how they are alike. Contrasting two items is to show how they are different. One way to approach this essay is to make a grid for yourself that compares or contrasts two items before you start writing. Then, write about those characteristics. Do not try to write about both. The name of the essay is actually misleading.
Keep these pointers in mind when you need to write a five-paragraph essay, and your end result will be clear in its argument, leading your reader to the right conclusion. Often, that conclusion is to agree with you, and who doesn’t like to be right?
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The Big List of Essay Topics for High School (120+ Ideas!)
Ideas to inspire every young writer!
High school students generally do a lot of writing, learning to use language clearly, concisely, and persuasively. When it’s time to choose an essay topic, though, it’s easy to come up blank. If that’s the case, check out this huge round-up of essay topics for high school. You’ll find choices for every subject and writing style.
- Argumentative Essay Topics
- Cause-and-Effect Essay Topics
- Compare-Contrast Essay Topics
- Descriptive Essay Topics
- Expository and Informative Essay Topics
- Humorous Essay Topics
Literary Essay Topics
- Narrative and Personal Essay Topics
- Personal Essay Topics
- Persuasive Essay Topics
Research Essay Topics
Argumentative essay topics for high school.
When writing an argumentative essay, remember to do the research and lay out the facts clearly. Your goal is not necessarily to persuade someone to agree with you, but to encourage your reader to accept your point of view as valid. Here are some possible argumentative topics to try. ( Here are 100 more compelling argumentative essay topics. )
- The most important challenge our country is currently facing is … (e.g., immigration, gun control, economy)
- The government should provide free internet access for every citizen.
- All drugs should be legalized, regulated, and taxed.
- Vaping is less harmful than smoking tobacco.
- The best country in the world is …
- Parents should be punished for their minor children’s crimes.
- Should all students have the ability to attend college for free?
- Should physical education be part of the standard high school curriculum?
- Schools should require recommended vaccines for all students, with very limited exceptions.
- Is it acceptable to use animals for experiments and research?
- Does social media do more harm than good?
- Capital punishment does/does not deter crime.
- What one class should all high schools students be required to take and pass in order to graduate?
- Do we really learn anything from history, or does it just repeat itself over and over?
- Are men and women treated equally?
Cause-and-Effect Essay Topics for High School
A cause-and-effect essay is a type of argumentative essay. Your goal is to show how one specific thing directly influences another specific thing. You’ll likely need to do some research to make your point. Here are some ideas for cause-and-effect essays. ( Get a big list of 100 cause-and-effect essay topics here. )
- Humans are causing accelerated climate change.
- Fast-food restaurants have made human health worse over the decades.
- What caused World War II? (Choose any conflict for this one.)
- Describe the effects social media has on young adults.
- How does playing sports affect people?
- What are the effects of loving to read?
- Being an only/oldest/youngest/middle child makes you …
- What effect does violence in movies or video games have on kids?
- Traveling to new places opens people’s minds to new ideas.
- Racism is caused by …
Compare-Contrast Essay Topics for High School
As the name indicates, in compare-and-contrast essays, writers show the similarities and differences between two things. They combine descriptive writing with analysis, making connections and showing dissimilarities. The following ideas work well for compare-contrast essays. ( Find 80+ compare-contrast essay topics for all ages here. )
- Public and private schools
- Capitalism vs. communism
- Monarchy or democracy
- Dogs vs. cats as pets
- Paper books or e-books
- Two political candidates in a current race
- Going to college vs. starting work full-time
- Working your way through college as you go or taking out student loans
- iPhone or Android
- Instagram vs. Twitter (or choose any other two social media platforms)
Descriptive Essay Topics for High School
Bring on the adjectives! Descriptive writing is all about creating a rich picture for the reader. Take readers on a journey to far-off places, help them understand an experience, or introduce them to a new person. Remember: Show, don’t tell. These topics make excellent descriptive essays.
- Who is the funniest person you know?
- What is your happiest memory?
- Tell about the most inspirational person in your life.
- Write about your favorite place.
- When you were little, what was your favorite thing to do?
- Choose a piece of art or music and explain how it makes you feel.
- What is your earliest memory?
- What’s the best/worst vacation you’ve ever taken?
- Describe your favorite pet.
- What is the most important item in the world to you?
- Give a tour of your bedroom (or another favorite room in your home).
- Describe yourself to someone who has never met you.
- Lay out your perfect day from start to finish.
- Explain what it’s like to move to a new town or start a new school.
- Tell what it would be like to live on the moon.
Expository and Informative Essay Topics for High School
Expository essays set out clear explanations of a particular topic. You might be defining a word or phrase or explaining how something works. Expository or informative essays are based on facts, and while you might explore different points of view, you won’t necessarily say which one is “better” or “right.” Remember: Expository essays educate the reader. Here are some expository and informative essay topics to explore. ( See 70+ expository and informative essay topics here. )
- What makes a good leader?
- Explain why a given school subject (math, history, science, etc.) is important for students to learn.
- What is the “glass ceiling” and how does it affect society?
- Describe how the internet changed the world.
- What does it mean to be a good teacher?
- Explain how we could colonize the moon or another planet.
- Discuss why mental health is just as important as physical health.
- Describe a healthy lifestyle for a teenager.
- Choose an American president and explain how their time in office affected the country.
- What does “financial responsibility” mean?
Humorous Essay Topics for High School
Humorous essays can take on any form, like narrative, persuasive, or expository. You might employ sarcasm or satire, or simply tell a story about a funny person or event. Even though these essay topics are lighthearted, they still take some skill to tackle well. Give these ideas a try.
- What would happen if cats (or any other animal) ruled the world?
- What do newborn babies wish their parents knew?
- Explain the best ways to be annoying on social media.
- Invent a wacky new sport, explain the rules, and describe a game or match.
- Imagine a discussion between two historic figures from very different times, like Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth I.
- Retell a familiar story in tweets or other social media posts.
- Describe present-day Earth from an alien’s point of view.
- Choose a fictional character and explain why they should be the next president.
- Describe a day when kids are in charge of everything, at school and at home.
Literary essays analyze a piece of writing, like a book or a play. In high school, students usually write literary essays about the works they study in class. These literary essay topic ideas focus on books students often read in high school, but many of them can be tweaked to fit other works as well.
- Discuss the portrayal of women in Shakespeare’s Othello .
- Explore the symbolism used in The Scarlet Letter .
- Explain the importance of dreams in Of Mice and Men .
- Compare and contrast the romantic relationships in Pride and Prejudice .
- Dissect the allegory of Animal Farm and its relation to contemporary events.
- Interpret the author’s take on society and class structure in The Great Gatsby .
- Explore the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia.
- Discuss whether Shakespeare’s portrayal of young love in Romeo and Juliet is accurate.
- Explain the imagery used in Beowulf .
Narrative and Personal Essay Topics for High School
Think of a narrative essay like telling a story. Use some of the same techniques that you would for a descriptive essay, but be sure you have a beginning, middle, and end. A narrative essay doesn’t necessarily need to be personal, but they often are. Take inspiration from these narrative and personal essay topics.
- Describe a performance or sporting event you took part in.
- Explain the process of cooking and eating your favorite meal.
- Write about meeting your best friend for the first time and how your relationship developed.
- Tell about learning to ride a bike or drive a car.
- Describe a time in your life when you’ve been scared.
- Share the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you.
- Tell about a time when you overcame a big challenge.
- Tell the story of how you learned an important life lesson.
- Describe a time when you or someone you know experienced prejudice or oppression.
- Explain a family tradition, how it developed, and its importance today.
- What is your favorite holiday? How does your family celebrate it?
- Retell a familiar story from the point of view of a different character.
- Describe a time when you had to make a difficult decision.
- Tell about your proudest moment.
Persuasive Essay Topics for High School
Persuasive essays are similar to argumentative , but they rely less on facts and more on emotion to sway the reader. It’s important to know your audience, so you can anticipate any counterarguments they might make and try to overcome them. Try these topics to persuade someone to come around to your point of view. ( Discover 60 more intriguing persuasive essay topics here. )
- Do you think homework should be required, optional, or not given at all?
- Everyone should be vegetarian or vegan.
- What animal makes the best pet?
- Visit an animal shelter, choose an animal that needs a home, and write an essay persuading someone to adopt that animal.
- Who is the world’s best athlete, present or past?
- Should little kids be allowed to play competitive sports?
- Are professional athletes/musicians/actors overpaid?
- The best music genre is …
- Is democracy the best form of government?
- Is capitalism the best form of economy?
- Students should/should not be able to use their phones during the school day.
- Should schools have dress codes?
- If I could change one school rule, it would be …
- Is year-round school a good idea?
A research essay is a classic high school assignment. These papers require deep research into primary source documents, with lots of supporting facts and evidence that’s properly cited. Research essays can be in any of the styles shown above. Here are some possible topics, across a variety of subjects.
- Which country’s style of government is best for the people who live there?
- Choose a country and analyze its development from founding to present day.
- Describe the causes and effects of a specific war.
- Formulate an ideal economic plan for our country.
- What scientific discovery has had the biggest impact on life today?
- Analyze the way mental health is viewed and treated in this country.
- Explore the ways systemic racism impacts people in all walks of life.
- Defend the importance of teaching music and the arts in public schools.
- Choose one animal from the endangered species list, and propose a realistic plan to protect it.
What are some of your favorite essay topics for high school? Come share your prompts on the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook .
Plus, check out the ultimate guide to student writing contests .
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4 expository essay writing prompts for high school
by Kim Kautzer | Jun 7, 2017 | High school , Writing & Journal Prompts
Expository writing explains, describes, or informs. Today, let your high school student choose one of these expository essay prompts to practice writing to explain.
1. Treasures to Keep
People love to collect and display items that have sentimental value or special appeal. Key chains, seashells, vintage tea cups, action figures, and sports memorabilia are just a few examples. Do you have a special collection? Tell the benefits of having a collection , and explain how someone can begin to grow a collection of his or her own.
2. Blown Away
A devastating tornado has leveled much of a nearby small town. Write an essay explaining what you would do to help these families recover from their loss.
3. It’s Off to Work I Go
Your parents have decided it’s time for you to get a part-time job . Write an essay explaining the steps you need to follow in order to apply for a job.
4. I’m College Smart
With the rising costs of tuition, many college-bound students are relying on loans to help them pay for their education. Sadly, this means college students owe an average of $33,000 when they graduate, which often takes 10 years or longer to repay. Research different options for how to go to college without debt. Then, write an essay explaining several ways you can avoid facing massive debt when you head off to school.
If you enjoyed these expository essay writing prompts for high school, be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays ! Once a month, we feature topics especially suited for teens , including:
- Persuasive Essay Prompts
- Expository Essay Topics
- Cause and Effect Essay Prompts
Photo Credits: Draco2008 ( cars ), Ivan Walsh ( shells ), MixedGrill ( collection ), Steve Snodgrass ( Pez ), courtesy of Creative Commons .
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Expository essays discuss topics by using facts rather than opinions, requiring students to evaluate and investigate while setting forth their arguments clearly and concisely. Teachers often include expository essays as part of assessments , especially in college-level courses, so students can help themselves succeed by practicing writing these types of essays. When teachers are integrating writing throughout the curriculum, students can use expository essays to demonstrate what they've learned in other courses.
Sample Expository Essay Topics From Students
Tenth-graders wrote the following general expository essay topics. Students can practice writing these topics or use the list to come up with topics of their own. The important thing to remember is that these expository essays are based on facts rather than the writer's beliefs or feelings.
- Explain why you admire a particular person.
- Explain why someone you know should be regarded as a leader.
- Explain why parents are sometimes strict.
- If you had to be an animal, which would you be and why?
- Explain why you especially enjoy a particular teacher.
- Explain why some cities have curfews for teens.
- Explain why some students are forced to leave school once they are sixteen.
- Explain how moving from place to place affects teens.
- Explain why getting a driver's license is an important event in the lives of many teenagers.
- Describe the major stressors in teens' lives.
- Explain why you like or don't like working in a team.
- Describe some nonmaterial things that make you happy.
- Explain why some teens commit suicide.
- Explain how music affects your life.
- Explain the impact of different music genres on society.
- Explain why students listen to a particular type of music.
- Explain why some teens skip school.
- Explain the likely consequences of skipping school.
- Describe the likely consequences of doing poorly in school.
- Explain why teens do drugs.
- Describe the likely consequences of selling drugs.
- Describe the likely consequences of taking drugs.
- Explain why teens smoke cigarettes .
- Explain the likely consequences of being kicked out of school.
- Explain the likely consequences of skipping classes.
- Explain the likely consequences of brothers and sisters constantly fighting.
- Explain why teens wear makeup.
- Explain the consequences of having alcohol on the school campus.
- Explain the likely consequences of being sexually active without using protection.
- Explain why some teens' parents do not like to be alone with their child's boyfriend or girlfriend.
- Explain the likely consequences of increasing the time between classes from five to 15 minutes.
- Explain why some teens join gangs.
- Explain the difficulties some teens have once they are in gangs.
- Explain how life for a teenager changes once she has a baby.
- Describe what you feel a boy should do if he finds out his girlfriend is pregnant.
- Explain why you should or should not laugh at embarrassing moments.
- Describe the effects of marijuana.
- Explain the likely consequences of teens becoming sexually active.
- Explain why it is helpful to organize your materials and activities.
- Explain why your schoolwork is important.
- Describe the ways you help out at home.
- Explain the likely consequences of abolishing capital punishment.
- Explain the consequences of adopting a pass/fail grading system.
- Explain the likely consequences of enforcing an 11:00 p.m. curfew.
- Explain the likely consequences of ending forced busing.
- Explain why some teenagers dislike saying the pledge to the flag.
- Explain why some schools don't have open lunch policies.
- Explain why most teenagers are materialistic.
- Explain why some teens get jobs.
- Explain the consequences of having a job while in high school.
- Explain the likely consequences of dropping out of school.
- Describe some productive ways students can spend their leisure time.
- Explain why dealing with their parents' divorce can be difficult for many teens.
- Explain why teens love their parents even when family situations are difficult.
- Describe the things that bring you the greatest happiness.
- Describe three things you would like to change the world and explain why you would change them.
- Explain why you prefer living in an apartment (or house).
- Describe the likely consequences of requiring a childbearing license.
- Describe three objects that symbolize our culture and explain why you selected them.
- Explain why you are interested in a particular career.
- Explain the likely consequences of requiring students to wear school uniforms.
- Expository Essay Genre With Suggested Prompts
- Topical Organization Essay
- Understanding What an Expository Essay Is
- 25 Essay Topics for American Government Classes
- 30 Writing Topics: Persuasion
- Common Topics for Graduate School Admissions Essays
- 50 Argumentative Essay Topics
- Bad Essay Topics for College Admissions
- Personal Essay Topics
- How to Teach Topic Sentences Using Models
- How to Ace Your University of Wisconsin Personal Statements
- How to Write a Narrative Essay or Speech
- How to Write an Outstanding College Application Essay
- 50 Great Topics for a Process Analysis Essay
- What Is Expository Writing?
- Tips for the 8 University of California Personal Insight Questions
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Expository Writing: Introduction
Contributor: Delaine Thomas. Lesson ID: 12316
Have you or your parents ever tried to put together a toy or piece of furniture and couldn't figure out the instructions? Frustrating, isn't it? Learn how to explain just what you mean when you write!
Lesson Plan - Get It!
When I was a little girl, my favorite thing to do was to go fishing with my dad.
- What is your favorite thing to do?
- Can you explain to me why you like it and how I can do it, too?
Then, we can share the fun!
Expository writing explains a topic by telling how something is done, how something works, or by explaining what something is.
An expository essay includes an introductory paragraph with a topic sentence , at least one body paragraph with details , and a concluding paragraph.
Explaining in detail an activity you enjoy, or how to do that activity, is an example of expository writing.
Take out a piece of paper and pencil and take some notes as you watch Writing an Expository Essay from Mometrix Academy:
Before you jump into a full, five-paragraph essay, start with one paragraph that has all the same elements.
Begin by looking at the big picture, then shrink the paragraphs into sentences to create one well-written expository paragraph.
- So, your first step is deciding on a topic and how to approach the topic.
For example, you might decide that you want to write about cupcakes.
- What exactly do you want your reader to know about cupcakes?
You can write about how to make a particular kind of cupcake, or maybe how to select the best cupcakes from a bakery, or even the history of cupcakes. The point is, you need to have a very specific idea of what type of information you want to provide to your reader.
- When you write an expository essay, the next thing you will do after deciding on a topic is to write your introductory paragraph.
You want to include a hook that will grab your reader's attention before presenting your topic sentence.
- How can you get your readers excited about learning why popcorn is the best snack food?
First Paragraph or Opening
Write a topic sentence that tells your readers, in an interesting way, what they will be learning by reading your paper
You also want to use examples to explain to your reader why it is important for him or her to know this information.
- Supporting Idea 1: This might be because popcorn is easy to make.
- Supporting Idea 2: This might be because popcorn is good for you.
- Supporting Idea 3: This might be because popcorn tastes good.
(If you are writing an essay, you will need a closing or transitional sentence at the end of each paragraph.)
- In the following paragraphs, you will provide reasons that support your topic, or give a set of sequential steps if you are explaining how to do something.
When you are supplying your readers with reasons, you will start with the least important reason and build in each paragraph, with the last paragraph being the most important reason (or the final step).
For example, if you decide to explain to your reader why popcorn is the best snack food, you may want to complete a pre-writing outline such as the one that follows:
Body Paragraphs or Sentences (All body paragraphs or sentences will have the same format.)
Begin with your least-important idea, as presented in the first paragraph or sentence, and build up to your strongest or m ost-important idea.
When writing a full essay, each opening sentence will now become the topic sentence of each of your body paragraphs. You will want to present this information in an exciting way, much like you did your topic.
Supporting Evidence and Details
You will now include some details about your ideas or information. Use examples and anecdotes (stories) to help your reader to understand what you are explaining.
Continue this format with all your body paragraphs and use the same formula above for your concluding paragraph.
Concluding Paragraph or Sentence
In an essay, you would use the concluding paragraph to restate your topic in a fresh, new way; restate your most important ideas; and add a closing statement that makes your reader want to take action.
When closing your paragraph, you want to roughly do the same -- make your reader feel as though he or she has learned something or get them interested in your topic.
This format also works to explain how things work, or why something is the way it is, or why you like something.
For this lesson, as you focus on writing about something you enjoy doing, ask the question "Why?" for the outline process.
You will need to answer the "because" and offer good supporting details and anecdotes to support your reasons.
For now, you don't need to be quite so detailed because each outline section labeled "paragraph" will only need to be a sentence or two.
This pre-writing activity will help you craft your essay once you have decided on your topic and purpose.
- Are you ready to get started?
Move on to the Got It? section and practice completing some "because" statements.
Resources and Extras
- drawing paper
- Expository Writing: Ideas
- Expository Writing: Organization
- Expository Writing: Sentence Structure
- Expository Writing Across the Curriculum
- Rubric for Expository Paragraph
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