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Teaching Five Paragraph Essays To Children With Autism

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Teaching five-paragraph essays can be very difficult, particularly for kids on the autism spectrum. Our students often excel in subjects with concrete thinking patterns, like math and science. They resist learning to write a five-paragraph essay which is more freeform and requires more creativity. Never fear though! There is a way to make it easier.

I love to write. This isn’t surprising. I do have a blog. 

I usually wind up working the cases with the same group of coworkers, and I have noticed a pattern. When we move on from teaching basic skills like processing language, talking, reading how to hold a pencil, and such, we wind up dividing the subjects.

Someone else usually takes math and science and does a wonderful job with it. I am normally left with writing because I love it. Also, according to my coworkers, because I’m better at it

I don’t mind. As I said, I love writing. 

But in my experience kids on the autism spectrum don’t take to writing easily or naturally, and they lack the enthusiasm you normally see when it’s time for math. 

So that makes teaching the five-paragraph essays to kids with autism particularly difficult, but certainly not impossible.

Make sure to join my email list to get access to the free resource library, which includes a goal tracking sheet! You can monitor your student’s progress in writing all for free while staying updated on my latest posts. 

Before we get into how to do it, we need to talk about why it’s difficult. 

Writing is generally considered a very subjective craft. What you need to do and say changes from assignment to assignment, and depends on your audience. 

The style I’m using to write this post is not the same style I use to write a report or an IEP goal. There is a social component to writing, and that is something kids on the spectrum typically struggle with. 

Additionally how I am going to craft an argument and prove my point is more free form. I can choose to go about it in many different ways, and most of them would be completely acceptable. 

That freedom can be a challenge to our kids who are used to high levels of guidance. Math teaches them formulas, and when you take away the cues they’ve come to know that tell them what to do, it gets scary. They don’t know where to start or what to say.

On top of that, a lot of kids with autism struggle with language from a developmental standpoint. They were delayed in learning to speak, have a hard time processing language, or maybe even need an alternate communication device to express advanced thoughts. 

Now you’re asking them to utilize language to explain something or prove a point? Of course, it’s difficult!

The best way I have found to make it easier is to teach five-paragraph essays to kids with autism is to make it more formulaic. 

It isn’t really. You can’t just plug in words to a sentence the way you can with a formula in math, but there is a logical order to things.

Each component of the essay has a specific goal and has to come in a specific order. You can’t dive into making your argument before you state your claim. 

Your essay always has to start with the hook. Then give interesting facts about your topic or argument to spike your reader’s interest. Last comes your claim or thesis, and bonus points if you can include a breakdown of what the body paragraphs will be about.

That is how you craft an introduction. 

Hook+Facts+Claim=Intro Paragraph

Yes, the words will change each time but the format will be the same. Emphasize that in each essay your kids write.

From one of my presentations

You always start by explaining what each component is and giving an example, to help your students better understand what it sounds like.

Having a quality example is very important, and I’ve found that it can be helpful to not only write an example in front of them but also to have them read an example essay and identify the role of each sentence.

That is why I made interactive slide shows for the three different kinds of essays my students most often write. These slide shows break down each component of the essay and ask them to identify the pieces that make it up, with high-quality example paragraphs.

Click here to learn more and purchase my lesson plan if you don’t want to make your own.

The great thing about my premade slide shows is they also break down why the sentence is doing the job it’s assigned. That way students get a super clear understanding of what each component is meant to sound like.

Sample Intro Paragraph I have my students analyze

I typically teach three different styles of essays. 

  1. Informational essays are about presenting facts and information in a narrative and logical way. 
  2. Researched Opinion Essays are about crafting an argument around a complex topic, and trying to convince your reader to agree with you. 
  3. Literary Analysis is about looking at a text and trying to prove a point about the author’s intentions.

Each of these essays also has different components. For example, the Researched Opinion Essay must have an argument in the body paragraphs, while the informational essay is just about presenting the information.

Start by teaching the informational essay, as it is the easiest. I then recommend moving onto the researched opinion, as it only requires the addition of an argument. 

Last and by far the hardest is Literary Analysis which I always teach last. 

To take out the guesswork on what the different components are to each style of essay, consider purchasing my pre-made slide shows with high-quality examples. Click here!

Making the differences clear helps our kids grow.

Each essay requires additional sources, and you should get your students in the habit of saving their sources early on.

I’ve watched a lot of my kids struggle to remember sources they used when teachers forget to do this. They wind up forgetting where they got information or just not doing a work cited page at all.

Don’t let your kids plagiarize! Give them a dedicated lesson on citation.

You can make your own or purchase my premade lesson here!

Don’t let teaching five-paragraph essays to children with autism intimidate you! 

Our students are highly perceptive, and if you seemed freaked out or miserable, they will seem freaked out or miserable.

Try to find the joy in writing yourself, and don’t be afraid to scaffold for them with checklists or sentence starters.

Be patient, and remember, it takes a lot of practice for them to get good. Don’t expect perfection the first time out, but stay positive and give them concrete feedback on ways to improve. 

You got this! And so do they!

Don’t forget to join my email list to get access to the free resource library, and download your goal tracking sheet to monitor student progress. Also if you need tips on novel studies for your students on the spectrum, check out this post

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