If I had a nickel for every time I heard the term “5 paragraph essay,” I’d be rich. First, to be clear, there is a 5 paragraph essay, but there is also a 4 paragraph, 17 paragraph, and a 22 paragraph essay. The number of paragraphs isn’t as important as whether the writing is organized appropriately for the task.
The Common Core requires us to move away from counting paragraphs and instead, teach students to focus on the task, the intended audience, and the purpose of writing. Sometimes it is appropriate to address a prompt using 5 paragraphs, but there is no rule that essays are bound to a scripted format or paragraph count.
Teaching writing is like cooking. It is valuable to start with a recipe, or writing instruction, that outlines predictable formulas, but then provide scaffolding to move students away from those templates. Great writers don’t follow formulas, just as great chefs don’t follow recipes. They keep the recipe in the back of their mind, but then they use their own style to make magic. Wherever you start with students, be sure to provide scaffolding so they know that a 5 paragraph essay is just a starting point and not a rule.
The best site to transition to teaching students to write for multiple purposes is the Literacy Design Collaborative, which gives tips on writing prompts and organizing each type of essay. I love the site and use it all the time. http://www.literacydesigncollaborative.org/