Compare and contrast is one of my favorite reading skills to teach early in the year because it is approachable for students and can be used in so many different ways.
Venn diagrams are the most commonly seen graphic organizer for teaching this skill, and it is critical that students are taught how to use this tool to help them organize their thinking. Since they are also commonly included in state assessments, teaching students to use this type of organizer early in the school year can be helpful in easing the stress as testing approaches.
Today I want to share a great resource for teaching students how to use a Venn diagram to find similarities and differences between themselves and characters in a text. While we often teach this using character traits, it can also be a good tool for understanding and appreciating diversity in your classroom because it can help students see that we are much more similar than we are different.
To help you get started, I've included some great digital learning activities for students that you can access at the end of this post.
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Why teach compare & contrast?
Humans are constantly examining the similarities and differences in life, but it is still important to explicitly teach them how to compare and contrast.
Comparing and contrasting are skills students will use far beyond just reading. Science and social studies, for example, consistently involve having students be able to apply these skills to understand the world around them.
By explicitly teaching students to compare and contrast in reading, they'll easily be able to access this skill in other contexts.
In addition, making connections by teaching compare and contrast to elementary students is a relatively easy task, making it great for the beginning of the school year.
How to embed social studies when you teach compare and contrast
Helping students make text-to-self connections by comparing and contrasting is an important foundational skill. Teaching students to look beyond just surface level comparisons can help them dig deeper into their reading and build understanding.
Whether this is your first year teaching reading or you're looking for some new ideas to incorporate into your classroom, my hope is you'll find some ideas and ready-to-use resources you can add to your lesson plans for this skill.
Before we dive into the lesson plan, here's some background information on how this skill fits into the larger picture of teaching reading.
What standards address compare and contrast?
This skill is introduced in very different grade levels depending on what standards you use. This is a second grade standard in Texas, and students are expected to apply this skill to analyze character relationships by third grade, The Common Core standards introduce character analysis in third grade and expand upon it through the remaining elementary years.
Here are the Texas standards (TEKS) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS to aid with lesson plan documentation:
- TEKS 4.6E Make connections to personal experiences, ideas in other texts, and society
- TEKS Figure 19 Use a flexible range of metacognitive reading skills…to understand the author's message
- CCSS R.1 Read closely to determine what text says explicitly and make logical inferences from it
What books are good for introducing & modeling comparing and contrasting?
There are so many great books to use with lessons on comparing and contrasting. While we tend to look at picture books as mentor texts, informational texts are actually great for teaching this skill.
Here are my 10 favorite books for teaching students to compare & contrast:
- The Pain & The Great One by Judy Blume
- Apples & Oranges: Going Bananas with Pairs by Sara Pinto
- Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
- Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton
- The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant
- Aaron and Alexander by Don Brown
- Who Would Win series
- What's the Difference Between an Alligator & a Crocodile by Lisa Marie Bullard
- Poles Apart by Jeanne Willis
- Now and Ben by Gene Barretta
Before Reading: Introducing Compare & Contrast
Moving beyond the surface level can be hard for younger learners to grasp. While students can easily see external similarities and differences, it can be hard for them to dig deeper without prompting and support.
When you're introducing this skill to your students, it is important to begin by helping students define the terms and modeling the difference between a surface-level comparison and a deeper analysis.
Students need to be able to move beyond outward appearances when making connections. They also need to move beyond what the author explicitly states in the text. Both of these skills require time and modeling to successfully master.
A great way to get started is by creating a Venn diagram comparing yourself to a student in your class. Have students take turns giving examples of physical attributes first. Then push students to move beyond these basic responses to identify similarities and differences that require more thoughtful analysis. When you finish, compare the two lists to help students internalize the differences between comparing and contrasting on a surface level and digging deep to think critically.
Here's a great example of an anchor chart you may want to consider using with your class as you begin this foundational work.
Once you've done this as a group, you can even have students break off into groups and complete an example using themselves or another classmate.
The positive about this approach is that it doesn't require text. This means that your struggling readers get the change to understand the skill without using up all their mental energy on decoding.
Transitioning to Text & Making Cross-Cultural Connections
Once your students have a solid grasp on how to compare and contrast two things are, you're likely ready to transition them toward doing this using text.
At this point, I like to use Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley. As you read, have students pay attention to how each family's mealtime looks. Also, discuss how each family cooks rice in a different way depending on where they are from.
After you finish reading, have students compare and contrast mealtime at their home to one of the families in the story.
Give students a chance to share out how their family uses rice as a part of their meals. You'll likely be surprised just how many different ways your own class experiences rice as a meal staple.
Once students have this skill down solidly, you can transition them toward writing compare and contrast essays. However, it is critical they master the foundations of comparing and contrasting first.
Here are a few ways you can offer some fun additional practice:
- Use free online games to practice the skill & keep students engaged
- Use t-charts to have students practice comparing and contrasting
- Use hula hoops to create a lifesize Venn diagram
Grab the free resources for teaching compare and contrast
Now that you've read about how you can get students to understand how to compare and contrast beyond just the surface level, I'm sure you're ready to tackle this in your classroom.
That's why I created a set of free resources for teaching this skill. In this free digital practice pack, you'll find:
- Digital Read Aloud for Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley
- Interactive Everybody Cooks Rice Digital Story Organizer
- Venn diagram digital graphic organizer
Sign up to access these great freebies and enter your name to win a set of diverse mentor texts that are perfect for teaching reading skills inclusively this year.
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