Composing Comparative/Contrast Essays

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SWBAT compare and contrast their self-selected poem and essay using either the block style of organization or the alternating method of organization.

Big Idea

Comparing and contrasting clarifies similarities and differences among complementing and competing ideas, systems, and beliefs.

Lesson Time Frame and Task List

The comparison/contrast essay assignment will utilize three to four instructional days. 

This assignment is the culminating writing assignment for the unit and addresses two essential questions: 

  • How does the poem you chose help you understand life, the world, and/or each other?
  • How does the nonfiction you chose help you understand life, our world, and/or each   other? 


Day 1: 

  • Introductory paragraph activity.
  • Assignment review

Day 2: 

  • Lab time for writing the first draft in lieu of assigning as homework. 

Day 3:

  • Guide students in composing the final thesis statement. 
  • Review evaluation criteria.

Day 4:

  • Write with students to model a comparison/contrast essay.



Introducing Comparison/Contrast

30 minutes

Introduce students to comparison/contrast writing by having them work with a paragraph structured in the mode. "That Lean and Hungry Look" offers a good model for students. 


First, read the introduction to the paragraph and then read the paragraph. 

Next, tell students that the comparison/contrast essay uses one of two organizational patterns, block or alternating. Put this information on the board: 

Block:             Alternating: 

  A                          A

  A                          B

  A                          A

  B                          B

  B                          A

  B                          B

Then, ask the students which organizational pattern the paragraph uses. More than likely, some students will say "block" and others will say "alternating."

Afterwards, to help students understand the paragraph construction, have the students stand. Tell them you are going to read the paragraph and you want them to do the following: "When you hear a reference to "skinny" people, hold your hands over your head." Demonstrate for them. The posture will look like a surrender. Then say, "When you hear a reference to "fat" people, put your fists on your hips." Again, demonstrate. 

As you read, use one hand and arm to make the motions, especially if they seem a bit confused. Expect giggling, but also expect much student engagement. 


Discuss the organizational pattern. All students should at this point realize the paragraph uses the "alternating" pattern. 

Give students five minutes to complete the questions and discuss the answers with them. 

Giving students who struggle a formula to complete guides them to understanding while reinforcing their developing skills. 

*Note: An option to having the entire class "perform" is to have a small group of volunteers complete the activity. 


Explain the Essay Assignment

25 minutes

Follow-up the paragraph exercise by giving students the handout explaining the assignment. 

Read the handout to them, pausing periodically to allow questions and points of clarification. It's important that students understand they'll write more than one draft of the paper and that in the first draft they need to do their best work so the teacher can give her best feedback. 

Constructing a Thesis

30 minutes

After seeing their first drafts, I realized my students needed additional scaffolding in writing the thesis sentence.

  • To assist them, I first defined theme and thesis by putting the following on the board: 

Theme: The idea about life and/or human nature in a work of literature.

  • Next, I defined thesis:

Thesis: The central or controlling idea in an essay. The thesis articulates (states) the idea put forth in an essay.

Explain to students that theme is to literature what thesis is to an essay. Since students are composing an essay, they will construct a thesis. 

  • I asked a student to volunteer an essay title. Then I wrote the following on the board:

The essay "Dumpster Diving" suggests that ___________________________________.

  • I asked another student to volunteer a poem title. Then I wrote the following on the board:

The poem "I Am Waiting" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti suggests that __________________.

  • I explain to students that by filling in the blank they will have written a statement of theme for the poem and will have identified the thesis for the essay. 
  • To further assist students in constructing a thesis appropriate to comparison/contrast, I put the following on the board:

The poem "I Am Waiting" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Martin Luther King's "Letter fromBirmingham Jail" both suggest that ____________________________________________.

It is, of course, preferable that students compose their own thesis w/out this scaffolding; however, assisting students w/ their thesis construction after they compose their first drafts has several benefits:

  • It eliminates frustration among those who may give up too easily on the task.
  • It shows good faith in students and a willingness to assist them and do what we teachers expect our students to do. 
  • It empowers students to play with the formula in ways that gives them ownership of their learning. 


Evaluating the Essay: Establishing Criteria

25 minutes

Use the attached rubric to evaluate the final student essay. It's specific to comparison/contrast but generic enough to work with any comparison/contrast essay on two texts. 


Review the rubric with students, taking care to explain each point thoroughly and allow time for questions. 

"Starting from the Bottom" Collaborative Writing

65 minutes



In this Vlogbrothers video, John Green compares and contrasts Benjamin Franklin's success to the rapper Drake's success. Green bridges historical narrative with pop culture to demonstrate that success has almost always depended on the assistance of others. Importantly, Green uses the techniques of comparison/contrast, and the transitions are especially effective. Teachers can support students developing writing and reinforce CCSS 6 (Speaking and Listening) through collaborative writing.


First, play the video and ask students to listen

Next, give students a sheet of unlined paper (or have them use their own). Tell them to "hotdog fold" the paper. This is a fold down the middle creating two vertical columns. 

Divide the class in half. I numbered 1, 2, 1, 2, etc. 

Instruct the 1s to take notes on the details they hear about Ben Franklin. Tell the 2s to take notes on the details they hear about Drake. 

Now play the video again. As the video plays, list transitions Green uses on the board. 

Group students, preferably with four students per group. Put two 1s and two 2s in each group. 

Assist students in identifying and composing a thesis. Through discussion, students will compose a thesis similar to this one: "Neither Benjamin Franklin nor the rapper Drake succeeded without assistance from others." 

Instruct students: 

  • Use your notes to write collaboratively.
  • Compare and contrast Ben Franklin and Drake using the details from Green's video.
  • Tell students to have an introduction, body, and conclusion (beginning, middle, end).
  • Tell students to use transitions from the list on the board. 
  • Tell students they must all compose the essay and have it in their writing notebooks. 
  • Tell students each group will share the group's essay.

Set the Timer and Write:

  • Set the timer for 30 minutes.
  • Walk among the groups as students write to assist those needing help. Students writing collaboratively
  • Once students are all on task, the teacher can also write the essay if comfortable doing so. If not comfortable writing while students write, the teacher can compose a short essay before class or use the one attached in the resource section.  
  • Pause to check on students one or two times. Students writing collaboratively (2)
  • The teacher continues writing as the students write. 

Share Group Essays:

  • Take turns having a student from each group share. 
  • After hearing each essay, tell the group something they did well: "I like ___________." or "Thank you for _______________." 
  • If comfortable, the teacher should also share. Compare and Contrast Drake and Franklin.docx

*Students need to see teachers as writers, too. It's risky to share one's writing with students, but they will value the trust and be more willing to write when they see the teacher writing, too. Also, as the expert in the room, the teacher has much to offer about his/her writing process, strengths, and struggles.