Sometimes teachers get stuck thinking that their students have to write a full blown compare and contrast essay (including all of the steps of the writing process) every time they write. Don’t get stuck thinking this way!
Students don’t have to write an entire essay every time you want them to practice comparing and contrasting within their writing – students can practice this skill just by writing a paragraph, or even a sentence!
As you begin incorporating this into your lessons, provide scaffolding through sentence starters or paragraph frames. This is especially beneficial for your ELL and low language students, but ALL of your students will benefit from this strategy.
Example Sentence Starters
1. _______________ and _______________ are different because _______________.
2. _______________ and _______________ are alike because _______________.
3. The most important difference between _______________ and _______________ is _______________.
4. An important similarity between _______________ and _______________ is _______________.
After students have been successful at writing sentences that compare and contrast, expand to short paragraphs. Provide similar scaffolding to help your 3rd grade, 4th grade, or 5th grade students be successful.
Example Paragraph Frames
1. _______________ and _______________ have many differences. The most important difference is ______________________________. Another difference is ______________________________. Finally, ______________________________.
2. _______________ and _______________ are similar in many ways. For example, _________________________. Furthermore, they both _________________________. A final similarity is _________________________.
This scaffolding not only provides students with a model for how to compare and contrast in their writing, but it also improves their own writing.
You might also find these ideas on integrating writing into text features, character traits, or point of view helpful.
From Theory to Practice
Together, students and teacher use charts and Venn diagrams to brainstorm and organize similarities and differences between two objects. The teacher then models the beginning of the first draft, inviting students to help rephrase, clarify, and revise as the draft is written. Finally, students take what they have learned to complete the draft independently.
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Comparison and Contrast Guide: This student-centered online guide provides a thorough introduction to the compare and contrast essay format, including definitions, transitions, graphic organizers, checklists, and examples.
Venn Diagram: Use this online tool during prewriting to organize ideas for a compare and contrast essay.
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FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE
Rick VanDeWeghe writes of modeling: "teachers show how they go about the processes of reading and writing-drawing students' attention to the ways readers and writers think and the real decisions they make, especially when they themselves are challenged." In her book Conversations, Regie Routman explains why this modeling process is so successful: "It has always been our job to teach directly and explicitly in response to students' needs-carefully demonstrating, specifically showing how, clearly explaining. Whatever we want our students to do well, we first have to show them how. Of all the changes I have made in my teaching, adding explicit demonstration to everything I teach has been the single most important factor in increasing students' literacy" (24).
Further, writing out loud with students gives me an opportunity to show my enjoyment for the writing process. Students see that revision and editing are part of the fun, and that even teachers don't get it correct the first time. As an added bonus, students are frequently more eager to share personal writings with me for feedback once they see this process modeled.
VanDeWeghe, Rick. "Deep Modeling and Authentic Teaching: Challenging Students or Challenging Students?" English Journal 95.4 (March 2006): 84-88
Routman, Regie. 2000. Conversations: Strategies for Teaching, Learning, and Evaluating. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
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