Thursday, November 25, 2010

Text Structure: Compare and Contrast

As part of a project for a children's literature class, I'm working on compiling a list of high quality picture books that show different text structures.  But I've run into a problem with one particular structure--compare and contrast.

Many of the compare and contrast books that I've tracked down have been ones comparing similar animals. What's the Difference Between an Alligator and a Crocodile? is a good example of this kind of book.The author tells about alligators and crocodiles, how they are similar, and how they are different. What's the Difference Between a Frog and a Toad?, by the same publisher, approaches the topic in the same way. (A problem with the frog and toad book, however, is that toads really are frogs, in a technical sense, and the author throws this idea into the middle of the text in a somewhat confusing way.)

Which--okay, it is useful to see how these animals are similar and different. But aside from these, there are not many other books that exclusively use the text structure of compare and contrast. Why not?

I think it's because compare and contrast is a difficult structure to maintain over a whole text. In the real world of text, a reader is much more likely to see compare and contrast used in small amounts throughout a longer text. In a book about habitat loss, for example, a writer might use a bit of compare and contrast to show how a forest has changed over time. In a book about an invention, an author might compare and contrast previous attempts to solve a problem. In both of these situations, the compare and contrast text would help to explain the bigger point or structure of the text.

One nice example of this is in the book Sea Soup: Phytoplankton by Mary Cerullo.The overall structure of the text is a question and answer format. However, within the answers, the author uses the text structure that fits the information. An answer to the question "Are they plants or are they animals?" leads to a section in which phytoplankton is compared with plants and animals. The comparison is somewhat implicit, signaled by the sentence, "Some phytoplankton behave like plants, some like animals, and some like both." This is the case with a great deal of real-life compare and contrast text--although we teach students to look for compare and contrast cue words, many authors use a more implicit style.

What does this mean for classroom instruction? Well, I definitely will be checking out my library's copy of What's the Difference...? when I am working on the compare and contrast text structure. But I will also help students to find examples of this structure in longer texts, and to look for less obvious examples of compare and contrast.


  1. Hi Emily,
    I like to use When Harriet Met Sojourner by Catherine Clinton and The Yellow House to teach text structure. Check them out. Christine

  2. Thanks for the recommendations! I'll check them out.