Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Text Structure: Compare and Contrast

Teaching the text structure of comparison and contrast can be tricky. If kids don't understand what either of these words mean, or if they don't know the words compare, contrast, similarity, and difference, they will have trouble with this text structure. "Introduction to Comparing" is an easy introduction to finding similarities and differences.

It's often helpful to give kids texts that have the clue words highlighted. When readers see these words, they often can figure out what the text is trying to say. Many less experienced readers have a habit of sliding right past transition words. When these words are highlighted, readers can't help but look at them and figure out what they mean.

Some compare and contrast texts don't use the clue words at all. This is often seen in texts that use the "clustered" style of compare and contrast--giving all of the information about one topic, and then giving all of the information from the other. The "Times Change" series from Heinemann-Raintree is an example of this. On one side of the page the reader finds details about the past; on the other, the reader finds details about the present. These texts are often more challenging for readers. All of the similarities and differences are left implicit for the reader to open up and consider.

If you are teaching compare and contrast as a text structure, it's helpful to show readers examples of both clustered paragraphs and alternated paragraphs. It's very effective to do this on the overhead. I used one of the Antarctica paragraphs from "Text Structure Resources" to show students what an alternated paragraph looks like. The South Pole is being compared to Pennsylvania. We underlined everything about the South Pole in blue, and everything about Pennsylvania in green. It quickly became clear that the paragraph was alternated!

Once students understand the basic format of compare and contrast, it's helpful to have them work with a graphic organizer. I like to teach students a comparison matrix to use as an alternative to the Venn diagram. (I've never been good at drawing circles!) For most texts, it's three columns: Criteria, Topic 1, and Topic 2.

The most difficult part of the comparison matrix is coming up with the "criteria" . Resist the urge to do this for your students. Model it once, and then give them a nice and easy text to try it for themselves. Experience with looking at the criteria that other authors use will help students when they start to write their own comparison and contrast paragraphs.

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