If you ask a student to get you a red coat from the class closet, they will likely find it easily among a sea of black coats. However, if there are 3 red coats, they will need more guidance to find the one you want. This is where comparing and contrasting comes in.
It’s a skill we use daily and it’s an important one.
Most kids can easily compare and contrast the obvious (i.e. the color of a coat), but kids have a harder time noticing more subtle differences, and an even harder time verbalizing similarities and differences.
If kids don’t learn to compare and contrast in a meaningful way, it will hinder their reading comprehension.
Comparing and Contrasting will not only help students with reading, but also in everyday life! It helps them:
- Organize and remember information
- Highlight subtle differences between objects or concepts and, in turn, help them make better decisions in life
This is why we need to teach comparing and contrasting in an explicit way, giving opportunities for lots of practice, breaking it down into easy steps and gradually becoming more complex.
How to Teach Comparing and Contrasting
Introducing the Skill
- Use 2 things kids have a strong background knowledge about, such as everyday objects
- Start with the obvious features – purpose, physical characteristics
- Allow time to think deeper
- Allow time to share and listen to other’s ideas
I made this PowerPoint presentation (part of my Compare and Contrast bundle) that incorporates all of the above. After a fun and silly introduction, kids are asked to compare and contrast a marker and pencil. I picked these 2 objects because they are items that most students are very familiar with, and they have some pretty obvious similarities and differences.
After comparing the marker and pencil, there is a game in which a similarity is given with a difference, and kids guess what is in the box.
Finally, our goal is to help them compare and contrast when reading so I bring it back to texts, using Cinderella. Make sure children are familiar with the classic version to help them compare and contrast it with my modern version. The story is told over several slides and there are built-in slides that allow students time to turn and talk to their partners to share their thinking and deepen their understanding.
Teach Text Structure and Graphic Organizers
It’s important for children to learn how to complete and read charts and diagrams that go with comprehension skills. This will help them when they encounter these structures in books they read- whether in the text, or in charts and diagrams. These include Venn diagrams, T-charts, side-by-side diagrams.
I include these in my PowerPoint presentation. After the concept is broken down into easy steps, we compare and contrast the two story versions with a Venn diagram. We also compare and contrast two of the characters.
*In keeping with my Decoding Strategy resources, and because associating the fun characters with the skills helps kids remember them better, I created animal mascots for each skill. However, these are optional and you can certainly use the resource without relying on the characters.
Teaching Compare and Contrast Vocabulary
- Teach the vocabulary needed to have an effective conversation comparing and contrasting two objects.
- Look for these words in texts and show to students.
- Practice using the vocabulary words and phrases! Use sentence starters to scaffold: “One way they are the same is they both….” “In contrast,…..”
One way I do this is with my Compare and Contrast picture cards.
First, we brainstorm words that are used when comparing and contrasting and make an anchor chart. It helps to have sample texts as models.
Then, I show students a card with two pictures.
We practice using the vocabulary on the chart to compare and contrast the pictures.
You will have students who just use the word ‘both’ when comparing, or ‘but’ when contrasting.
Here’s what you do:
Mark each vocabulary term as used, either with check marks or use post-it notes if you don’t want to mark up your chart. Let students know they can only use each term once. Once that term is used, they have to use a different one. This forces kids to expand their compare and contrast vocabulary, which will make them more comfortable using a variety of ways to compare and contrast.
After doing this whole-group a few times, hand out cards to pairs of students to try orally. Finally, give students each a card and have them compare and contrast using the graphic organizers included in the resource.
Opportunities for Practice
Of course, you want to allow plenty of opportunities for practicing this skill and it’s important that you differentiate the practice so that students at all levels are successful and challenged. Here are some activities included in my Compare and Contrast Bundle.
- Differentiated Reading Passages: color-code or complete Venn diagram
- Same and Different cards in notebook– Have kids use these during centers and allow them to choose how they want to demonstrate compare and contrasting- they can use a T-chart, Venn diagram, diagrams, or write sentences!
- Compare the Picture Pages- These pages also have two items for students to compare and contrast, right on the page. They have space for kids to list the similarities and differences.
- Compare and Contrast task cards
They are self-checking when you copy double-sided.
- Graphic Organizers- A variety of graphic organizers that can be used with any text, fiction or non-fiction.
In addition to the above, the bundle includes several options of posters and bookmarks. Display these in your classroom, keep a copy in your conference binder and give students the bookmarks for easy reference.
Comprehension Strategy Bundle
This Compare and Contrast bundle is part of a larger Comprehension Strategy Bundle, which includes all of the above components for the following 4 strategies and skills:
For a Christmas version of the printables and cards, click the pictures below.
Also available is a bundle for Cause and Effect. This one is not included in the bundle above.
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For more reading comprehension tips, read this post: Teaching Main Idea and Details