The ability to compare and contrast is a necessary skill across the curriculum. In language arts it appears in RL.5 (Explain major differences between books that tell stories and books that give information, drawing on a wide reading of a range of text types), RL 9 (Compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in stories. RI 9 (Identify basic similarities in and differences between two texts on the same topic (e.g. , in illustrations, descriptions, or procedures). Since this skill has so many applications, I like to invest time in scaffolding it and making sure that my students are eventually able to apply it independently.
The lesson also helps students hone in on key details, which supports their understanding of RL 3.
To begin with, I teach a lesson using students and objects. This way, my students can be focused on the comparison and the academic vocabulary without, the obstacles that beginning readers can face in text. I use a commercial Venn Diagram chart, but drawing a Venn Diagram on chart paper works as well.
I start the lesson by telling the class that they are going to learn to compare and contrast, and define compare as finding what is the same in two or more objects; and contrast as finding differences between them. Then I show them a picture of several oranges and ask them to tell me the things that are the same in them. I do this to model the sentence frame: "They are similar in that they ....... " The next step is to compare two children in the class. This helps with engagement, since they all want to be selected and compared to others, but they know they have a better chance of being selected if they are actively participating in the activity.
Then we move on to contrasting, beginning again with the picture and following with two children. I introduce the frame: "They are different because ...".
Before moving on to guided practice I introduce Venn Diagrams, emphasizing that they will really need to learn how to work with them because we will use them in Science (they're hooked with that). In the resource section there is a blank template and a video of how I have my students create their own.
To make sure that they keep listening attentively, I tell them that we are going to compare and contrast two objects together using a Venn Diagram, and that then they are going to work by themselves on another comparison. This can be done with any two objects: two books, again two kids, two fruits, etc. This time I use a cell phone and the classroom's phone.
The students work at their desks by themselves. I give them each paper to draw a Venn Diagram and tell them to compare and contrast two objects. It's important to choose things that have similarities that they can easily see. Some possibilities are two dogs, two cats, a fish and a dolphin, two flowers, two books, or two backpacks. See my reflection for a cautionary tale. I circulate as they work, asking them to tell me about the similarities and differences they are finding. I do this to make sure they use the sentence frames I introduced and to see if they are really doing both differences and similarities.
For extra practice, I assign Venn Diagrams as an independent activity to be completed during small group instruction. Since I want my students to eventually use these as a tool for analysis, I teach them how to draw them by themselves instead of giving them a template each time we use them.
At the end of the lesson I posted the Venn Diagram we had made at the beginning, as a resource for future use by the students. I also like using commercial Venn Diagrams like the one shown in the resource section. These have the advantage of being durable and reusable across the curriculum. They are also easily turned into a center. You just put a picture of what you want them to compare and some phrases on sentence strip fragments. Students can place the strips on the corresponding section of the diagram.