Friday, March 13, 2015

Teaching Compare and Contrast Text

This week I decided to turn text structure on its head and and start with compare and contrast! I made this decision to provide some additional continuity with our texts, and compare and contrast was the perfect bridge between our Antarctica theme set and text structure.

In the past, I've always started text structure with chronological order. This is the easiest text structure for many students to understand, as it is the structure of narratives and everyday living. But of course there is no rule for where to start, and I have to admit that I thought it would be fun to try things differently.

The teaching is much different, too, when compare and contrast is the first structure for careful examination. Here are some things that I've (re)discovered this week.

1. Not all transition words show similarities and differences.
Compare and contrast text is the perfect place to explore this! Teaching guides for text structure include lists of transition words...but these words often serve multiple purposes. Is the word while showing a similarity or a difference? Or is the author using it to connect two ideas? What about the word like? Even struggling readers can find looking for clue words and analyzing their use to be very meaningful and engaging.

2. Move to student-made charts as quickly as possible.

Beautiful graphic organizers just look so nice, don't they? But I've learned to get kids into making their own charts as quickly as possible. For looking at compare and contrast text, I prefer charts to Venn diagrams. This helps students to think more carefully about how information is organized in the text. Generating criteria for comparison gets readers looking more deeply at what aspects of the topics are being compared.

Student-made charts are gloriously messy. Kids think and rethink and change their columns. And that is all part of the process. When students decide, "I don't like the way I represented these ideas--I'm going to change it," major thinking has occurred! 

3. Connect, connect, connect!
Complex texts reflect complex thinking. Showing connections to the wider world helps students to see how ideas are reflected in the text.

After we read "Peregrine Falcons and Red-Tailed Hawks", we watched the peregrine falcon cam live from Harrisburg. This is always a student favorite. (I love it too!) Then we looked for sentences in the text to support what we were seeing. This got students diving once more back into the text, looking for connections between the live video view and the words on the page.

Our next text, "Vernal Pool or Puddle?", is the foundation text for a short text set about vernal pools. Students will read about vernal pools across several different text structures, hopefully helping them to see how content and organization connect.

Looking back
Teaching the text structure of compare and contrast turned out to be a great introduction to text structure. 

Have you tried changing up the order of any topics in your classroom? What have you noticed?

Texts mentioned
"Peregrine Falcons and Red-Tailed Hawks" is included in Introduction to Text Structure
"Vernal Pool or Puddle?" is included in Compare and Contrast Texts for Teaching Text Structure


  1. This year I started with Cause and Effect. I decided to use it because I wanted to use your invasive species materials to introduce non-fiction and do a "theme" type of unit and use it in reading, writing and science. I love how the subject matter engages students.

  2. Oh, cause and effect sounds like a great place to start! We are reading the invasive species article next week. :)