Timeline of the History of the Five-Paragraph Essay

16th Century France – de Montaigne develops what we call the essay, a group of works defined by critical thinking and their attempt at questioning.

16-18th Century Britain (Extends to 19th Century America)  – Theme Writing – A type of writing giving explicit instructions for the formulation of an argument on a specific theme with an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

1870-1920 – Current Traditionalism – A period of study that was characterized by a favouring of rules and regulation, especially in teaching methods, and resulting in increasingly standardized methods of assessment, often using versions of the five paragraph essay.

20th Century Germany – Essays are used as a tool to grade students on their understanding of a topic, in a form similar to what we would term short research papers.

Mid 20th Century – Standardized testing emerges across the Western world as an easily regulated method of assessment. Rather than teaching the skills that the tests measure, instructors begin a shift towards teaching students how to write from the standardized formula on the test.

Mid 20th Century to Present Day – Five Paragraph Essays have virtually replaced the open form of Montaigne’s origin. They are taught as the base on which to build an argument throughout a student’s school years, a process which most often carries over to secondary education. They have moved from being an assessment of knowledge to an assessment of writing.


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