The process of comparing and contrasting is used to identify how two or more things are alike and different. The process helps readers clarify concepts and makes the information memorable (Allen, 2004). As a reading strategy, the process calls upon readers to think more deeply about what they are reading in order to determine these likenesses and differences. Comparing and contrasting are skills that are required across the curriculum.
A note about terminology: We know that frequently the term comparing, by itself, can mean the process of determining both how things are alike and how they are different. And we use the word this way in this reading strategy. But often in this reading strategy, we also use the term comparing and contrasting; and when we do, we are limiting the meaning of comparing to refer only to finding similarities and contrasting to refer to finding differences. Especially for younger students, it seems easier to learn the strategy by using two words to represent the two parts of the process.
Compare and Contrast Familiar Objects
One way of introducing the concept of comparing and contrasting to students is to have them state the similarities and differences between familiar objects. For example, you might ask, "How is a spoon like a fork? How is it different?" or "How is a cat like a dog? How is it different?" Then discuss with students why comparing and contrasting is important. Guide the discussion to help students understand that they can see things more clearly in their mind and remember them better after they have identified similarities and differences.
Graphic organizers can provide an effective means for students to gather and organize information in order to compare two or more characters, events, texts, themes, or concepts (Allen, 2004). Generally, students begin to make these comparisons with elements of stories such as characters, settings, story events, and plot lines. More sophisticated comparisons might include comparing lessons or themes of stories, comparing common elements, themes, or perspectives in works by a single author, comparing different versions of a story, and comparing concepts presented in expository texts (Harvey & Goudvis, 2007).
A Venn diagram is an effective organizer for comparing and contrasting information. Here are a few examples that show how it can be used for a variety of comparisons. As for just about every strategy, do one or two Venn diagrams with the whole class before having the students work in small groups or individually.
Students can use a matrix to show the similarities and differences between two (or more) things. The following example also uses Miss Nelson Is Missing, again comparing Miss Nelson and Miss Viola Swamp.
||Miss Viola Swamp
|Doesn't like story hour
|Expects students to behave
Across the Curriculum
By its nature, the process of comparing and contrasting hones observational skills in any subject area. In the following lesson ideas that cross the curriculum, the students will also add to their vocabulary and get practice in writing about comparisons.
Have students, working in pairs, draw two or three geometric shapes and describe how they are alike and different. This can be fairly simplecomparing and contrasting, say, a circle and a square. Or it can be more challengingfor example, comparing two kinds of triangles.
Let students compare two kinds of animalsincluding physical characteristics, habitat, and range. Make it Ohio-specificjust choosing animals from our state.
Or have students observe two plants, which they have grown from seed, to compare and contrast their growth. They can keep a journal of their findings and present them in a poster at the end of the project.
Most students love to see how things were in the "old" days. Find photos or newpaper stories about what the community looked like 50 or more years ago. If you can, include pictures of the school. Have students compare and contrastthrough discussion, writing, drawing, and even creating simple mapswhat things looked like then and now.
For students who are auditorily attuned, you can have them compare two pieces of musicor even play two pieces of musicand write a "newspaper review" of the similarities and differences. Or mix in the arts by having students compare paintings or photographs; this could even involve a bit of research about the artists.
The possibilities are almost endless for integrating content areas.
From the ORC Collection
The following list presents resources from the ORC Collection along with links to the records as well as direct links to the resources. Why go to the record rather than straight to the link? The records are time savers. In a short paragraph, they provide a peer-reviewed commentary about the resource so you can decide if you want to further pursue it. You will also find standards alignment and other pertinent informationplus a link to the resource.
- "Uppity Farm Animals" (ORC Record #4465) offers an engaging lesson that incorporates making comparisons between problems and solutions in a poem ("Farmer Brown Has a Problem" by the author of the lesson) and narrative text (Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Dorian Cronin). Access the ORC record at http://www.ohiorc.org/record/?id=4465, or go straight to the lesson plan at http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/content/3675.
- "Comparing Tales through Performance" (ORC Record #4462) gives students an opportunity to compare a traditional and contemporary version of The Three Little Pigs and to demonstrate their understandings of the similarities and differences between them through performance. Access the ORC record at http://www.ohiorc.org/record/?id=4462, or go straight to the lesson plan at http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/content/2343.
- "Building a Matrix for Leo Lionni Books: An Author Study" (ORC Record #3390) engages students in making comparisons between four Leo Lionni books. Access the ORC record at http://www.ohiorc.org/record/?id=3390, or go straight to the lesson plan at http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=263.
- "Comparing Fiction and Nonfiction with Little Red Riding Hood Text Sets" (ORC Record #9443) is a series of nine lessons focused on comparing different versions of Little Red Riding Hood, the way wolves are portrayed in various fictional texts, and these fictional portrayals of wolves with the lives of real wolves. Access the ORC record at http://www.ohiorc.org/record/?id=9443, or go straight to the lesson plan at http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=889.
- "Be a Reading Detective: Finding Similarities and Differences in Ideas" (ORC Record #1334) introduces students to the compare-and-contrast text structure within expository texts. Access the ORC record at http://www.ohiorc.org/record/?id=1334, or go straight to the lesson plan at http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=54.
- "Cinderella Folk Tales: Variations in Character" (ORC Record #1068) focuses on comparing the characteristics of the heroine in various Cinderella stores while a companion lesson, "Cinderella Folk Tales: Variations in Plot and Setting" (ORC Record #1069), concentrates on the variability of plot and setting in these tales. ORC Record #1068 can be accessed at http://www.ohiorc.org/record/?id=1068, and the lesson plan can be directly accessed at http://edsitement.neh.gov/view_lesson_plan.asp?id=420. You'll find ORC Record #1069 at http://www.ohiorc.org/record/?id=1069 and the lesson plan at http://edsitement.neh.gov/view_lesson_plan.asp?id=419.
Students can be taught suffixes in words describing objects (big, bigger, biggest or tall, taller, tallest).
You can also teach vocabulary words that signal that a comparison or contrast is about to be made in text. The following is a list of some of these terms. A more complete list can be found in The Reading Teacher's Book of Lists (Fry, Kress, & Fountoukidis, 2000).
||as well as
You can also post a class list and add to it as students discover other "clue" words.
Try the "solve the word mystery" game. Each day put a pair of words on the board, and ask the students to think about how they are alike and different. You might pair homophones such as dear and deer, in which case the answer would be that they sound alike but have different meanings. You could use synonyms such as buy and purchase. And be prepared for some off-the-wall answers when students see likenesses and differences that you didn't imagine.