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Text Structures Comparison And Contrast Essays

Student Objectives

Session 1: Understanding Compare and Contrast

Session 2: Identifying Texts that Compare and Contrast Items

Session 3: Comparing and Contrasting Items Within a Text

Session 4: Creating a Venn Diagram


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • Build their understanding of the terms compare and contrast by participating in class discussions and by using Internet resources such as the Comparison and Contrast Guide

  • Work collaboratively to identify similarities and differences among subject matter

  • Examine curriculum-based text to compare and contrast ideas

  • Demonstrate understanding of the compare and contrast strategy by visually representing information in a Venn diagram

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Session 1: Understanding Compare and Contrast

1.Write the words house and nest on the board or chart paper. Make two columns and label the column on the left Compare (same) and the column on the right Contrast (different). If possible, have a picture of a house and a nest to support your English-language learning (ELL) students.

2.Have students express all of the similarities and differences between these two shelters and write them on the chart in the appropriate column. Your class chart may resemble the chart below:

Compare (same)

Contrast (different)

Both are shelters.Nests are usually smaller than houses; houses are bigger than nests.
Birds make their nests just like humans make their homes.A house has a roof.

Both use trees. Humans use lumber from trees; birds use twigs and branches.A nest is a place for the bird to lay an egg.

Both can shelter more than one inhabitant.Nests are simple; houses are more complex.
Both take up space.Houses usually have more than one room in them.
Both have to be taken care of. Birds might repair a hole; humans might repair a leak.A bird can live in a house as a pet; humans don’t live in nests as pets.
3.Discuss the terms compare and contrast. ReadWriteThink’s Comparison and Contrast Guide can be used to help explain these terms. View the online guide using an LCD projector or gather your students around the classroom computer. The first nine slides of the Comparison and Contrast Guide – encompassing the Overview, Definition, and Example tabs – are most appropriate for this discussion.

4.After sharing the Comparison and Contrast Guide, explain to students that they are going to compare and contrast items in cooperative groups. Divide the class into small groups and give each group a sheet of paper and one index card that you prepared in advance (see Preparation, Step 1). If possible have pictures or the actual objects named on the index cards available for students who need extra support. Instruct groups to draw two columns on the paper and write the words Compare (same) on top of the left-hand column and Contrast (different) on top of the right-hand column. Refer to the chart you just completed with the class as a model.

5.Explain to students that they will now list all of the characteristics that are the same about the items and all of the characteristics that are different.

6.Have students present their lists to the class. Allow students in other groups to suggest additions and changes to the lists.

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Session 2: Identifying Texts that Compare and Contrast Items

1.Review the meaning of the terms compare and contrast.

2.Give each student a Compare and Contrast Tool Kit. Read through the worksheet with students and explain how they can use clue words to find the ideas and facts that two items have in common as well as those ideas and facts that are unique to each item. Comparison clue words include similar, both, and alike; contrast clue words include different, but, and instead of. Have students brainstorm other words that are used to express things that are similar or different.

3.On an LCD projector, project the Nests and Houses PowerPoint presentation for students to view, or distribute copies of the slides (see Preparation, Step 3). Read the paragraph aloud to your class, stopping throughout to think aloud. Modeling your thinking will provide the support that your struggling readers need. For example, while reading the paragraph you might share thoughts like the following:
  • “The first sentence says that there are major differences between houses and nests. The way that the sentence is worded makes me think that this paragraph is going to contrast houses and nests.”

  • “Here, it says that you might be surprised that houses and nests have some things that are the same. The way the author uses “same” in that sentence makes me think that this next part will tell me some things that are the same about nests and houses.”
4.After reading the paragraph on Slide 2, go to Slide 3 and follow the directions. This involves locating keywords that signal that the paragraph is organized in a compare and contrast format. Ask students to use their Compare and Contrast Tool Kit to help remember what the clue words are. Students can check their work on Slide 4; the clue words are highlighted within the paragraph.

5.Now that your students have practiced working through a paragraph together, tell them that they are going to work in small groups to practice identifying compare and contrast paragraphs. Divide the class into small groups and distribute copies of the four Paragraph Practice sheets. Have students read the text independently, then work with their groups to answer the questions below each paragraph. Remind students to use their Compare and Contrast Tool Kit as a guide.

Note: Take time before this session to read these paragraphs with your struggling and ELL students. Discuss the content, show photographs of the different houses discussed in each paragraph, and try to build their background knowledge before they read in their small groups. Taking time to build background knowledge will allow your struggling and ELL students to focus on the compare and contrast structure when working with their small groups.

6.Circulate among the groups as they work, focus discussions as needed, and make notes of groups that are able to identify compare and contrast paragraphs and groups that are having difficulty doing this.

7.Once all the small groups have had time to read and discuss the paragraphs, lead a class discussion about the four paragraphs and students’ use of clue words to locate comparing and contrasting information. Also ask students if there are any new clue words that should be added to the Compare and Contrast Tool Kit.

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Session 3: Comparing and Contrasting Items Within a Text

1.Review the Compare and Contrast Tool Kit by reading through it and asking students to give examples of how the clue words were used in the paragraphs they read in the previous session.

2.Have students reconvene in their small groups to locate the compare and contrast information within a larger text selection. Distribute copies of the compare and contrast text that you would like them to read. This text can come from your own textbooks or from these suggested Internet Articles Written in the Compare and Contrast Format. Have students read the text independently and then work with their groups to create a list of the ideas and facts that are being compared and contrasted. Pair students who need extra support in reading with a student or adult or provide a recording of the text selection on tape.

3.Remind small groups to use their Compare and Contrast Tool Kit for reference. Circulate among the groups as they work, focus discussions as needed, and observe group interactions using the Group Skills Tracking Sheet.

4.After small groups have had time to read and generate their list of ideas and facts, gather the class together for a whole-group discussion. Ask groups to present their list to the class and explain what the author was comparing and contrasting. Challenge groups to prove their thinking by supporting their thoughts with evidence (such as clue words) from the text.

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Session 4: Creating a Venn Diagram

1.Review the similarities and differences from the texts students read during Session 3. Explain that there is another way to show comparing and contrasting ideas.

2.Draw two overlapping circles (a Venn diagram) on the board or chart paper. Ask if anyone knows what kind of diagram it is. Explain that Venn diagrams are useful when comparing and contrasting two subjects, two places, two things, or even two people.

3.Explain that the outer circles are intended for contrasting information; that is, the ideas and facts that are different about or unique to each item. The middle area where the circles overlap is reserved for comparisons; the ideas and facts that the two items have in common.

4.Recall your discussion during Session 1 about the similarities and differences between nests and houses. Label one outer circle of your Venn diagram nests, the other outer circle houses, and the overlapping circle both. Ask students to help you decide where various statements about the two shelters belong on the Venn diagram.

5.Ask students to reconvene in their small groups from the previous session and create a Venn diagram using ideas from the compare and contrast selection that they read. Students may use the online Venn Diagram, the Venn Diagram mobile app, or the Venn Diagram, 2 Circles. Share the Venn Diagram Rubric with students to set expectations for their work.

Note: If students have not used the Venn Diagram tool before, take time to model how it is used. In addition, if you would like all your groups to use the interactive Venn Diagram, you will need to either arrange a computer lab time or a rotating schedule for groups to use classroom computers.

6.When all Venn diagrams have been completed, have each group share their diagram with the class. Ask the other groups if they heard a comparison or contrast that they had not included on their own Venn diagram. Permit students to add any new comparisons or contrasts to their own Venn diagrams.

7.After everyone has finished sharing, discuss with the class how the Compare and Contrast Tool Kit and the Venn diagram can help them while they are reading their textbooks in other subjects. The Tool Kit is a resource they can use to help them figure out the author’s purpose and the Venn diagram is a tool they can use to help them organize the information.

8.Decide as a class how students want to remember the information they learned about comparing, contrasting, and Venn diagrams. They may choose to create an anchor chart to hang up in the classroom for reference or keep their Compare and Contrast Tool Kit and Venn diagram in a folder or notebook that they have regular access to. Encourage them to use these tools while reading nonfiction texts in other subject areas or even during independent reading time.

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  • Follow up this lesson with another ReadWriteThink lesson, “Teaching the Compare and Contrast Essay through Modeling.”

  • Have students use the Compare & Contrast Mapto plan an essay about the similarities and differences between different kinds of homes.

  • Have students use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast character traits from a story or article read in class.

  • Ask students to interview a friend or family member who has lived in the same neighborhood for a long period of time and write a paragraph expressing what has changed and what has stayed the same in the community. They can then create a Venn diagram entitled "My Neighborhood: Then and Now."

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  • Use the Venn Diagram Rubric to guide your instruction and as an indicator for which students have a strong grasp of the compare and contrast strategy and which students need further instruction. If possible, continue practicing this strategy with students who need more support until they are able to independently read a compare and contrast article and create a Venn diagram. The Internet Articles Written in the Compare and Contrast Format list provides compare and contrast articles for extra practice.

  • Observe students during class discussions. Closely monitor students who do not share during whole-class discussions. Find a time to conference with them one-on-one or to observe them while they are working independently and in groups to make sure that they understand the concepts discussed in class.

  • The Group Skills Tracking Sheet can help guide your observations while students are working with partners, in groups, or independently. Use your checklist to help form small groups for extra instruction or to identify students who need remediation or modification.

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Compare and contrast is a common form of academic writing, either as an essay type on its own, or as part of a larger essay which includes one or more paragraphs which compare or contrast. This page gives information on what a compare and contrast essay is, how to structure this type of essay, how to use compare and contrast structure words, and how to make sure you use appropriate criteria for comparison/contrast. There is also an example compare and contrast essay on the topic of communication technology, as well as some exercises to help you practice this area.

What are compare & contrast essays?

To compare is to examine how things are similar, while to contrast is to see how they differ. A compare and contrast essay therefore looks at the similarities of two or more objects, and the differences. This essay type is common at university, where lecturers frequently test your understanding by asking you to compare and contrast two theories, two methods, two historical periods, two characters in a novel, etc. Sometimes the whole essay will compare and contrast, though sometimes the comparison or contrast may be only part of the essay. It is also possible, especially for short exam essays, that only the similarities or the differences, not both, will be discussed. See the examples below.


There are two main ways to structure a compare and contrast essay, namely using a block or a point-by-point structure. For the block structure, all of the information about one of the objects being compared/contrasted is given first, and all of the information about the other object is listed afterwards. This type of structure is similar to the block structure used for cause and effect and problem-solution essays. For the point-by-point structure, each similarity (or difference) for one object is followed immediately by the similarity (or difference) for the other. Both types of structure have their merits. The former is easier to write, while the latter is generally clearer as it ensures that the similarities/differences are more explicit.

The two types of structure, block and point-by-point, are shown in the diagram below.



Object 1 - Point 1

Object 1 - Point 2

Object 1 - Point 3

Transition sentence/paragraph

Object 2 - Point 1

Object 2 - Point 2

Object 2 - Point 3




Point 1
Object 1 ➤ Object 2

Point 2
Object 1 ➤ Object 2

Point 3
Object 1 ➤ Object 2


Compare and Contrast Structure Words

Compare and contrast structure words are transition signals which show the similarities or differences. Below are some common examples.

Criteria for comparison/contrast

When making comparisons or contrasts, it is important to be clear what criteria you are using. Study the following example, which contrasts two people. Here the criteria are unclear.

Although this sentence has a contrast transition, the criteria for contrasting are not the same. The criteria used for Aaron are height (tall) and strength (strong). We would expect similar criteria to be used for Bruce (maybe he is short and weak), but instead we have new criteria, namely appearance (handsome) and intelligence (intelligent). This is a common mistake for students when writing this type of paragraph or essay. Compare the following, which has much clearer criteria (contrast structure words shown in bold).

Example essay

Below is a compare and contrast essay. This essay uses the point-by-point structure. Click on the different areas (in the shaded boxes to the right) to highlight the different structural aspects in this essay, i.e. similarities, differences, and structure words. This will highlight not simply the paragraphs, but also the thesis statement and summary, as these repeat the comparisons and contrasts contained in the main body.

Title: There have been many advances in technology over the past fifty years. These have revolutionised the way we communicate with people who are far away. Compare and contrast methods of communication used today with those which were used in the past.









Compare transitions


Contrast transitions

Before the advent of computers and modern technology, people communicating over long distances used traditional means such as letters and the telephone. Nowadays we have a vast array of communication tools which can complete this task, ranging from email to instant messaging and video calls. While the present and previous means of communication are similar in their general form, they differ in regard to their speed and the range of tools available.

One similarity between current and previous methods of communication relates to the form of communication. In the past, both written forms such as letters were frequently used, in addition to oral forms such as telephone calls. Similarly, people nowadays use both of these forms. Just as in the past, written forms of communication are prevalent, for example via email and text messaging. In addition, oral forms are still used, including the telephone, mobile phone, and voice messages via instant messaging services.

However, there are clearly many differences in the way we communicate over long distances, the most notable of which is speed. This is most evident in relation to written forms of communication. In the past, letters would take days to arrive at their destination. In contrast, an email arrives almost instantaneously and can be read seconds after it was sent. In the past, if it was necessary to send a short message, for example at work, a memo could be passed around the office, which would take some time to circulate. This is different from the current situation, in which a text message can be sent immediately.

Another significant difference is the range of communication methods. Fifty years ago, the tools available for communicating over long distances were primarily the telephone and the letter. By comparison, there are a vast array of communication methods available today. These include not only the telephone, letter, email and text messages already mentioned, but also video conferences via software such as Skype or mobile phone apps such as Wechat, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

In conclusion, methods of communication have greatly advanced over the past fifty years. While there are some similarities, such as the forms of communication, there are significant differences, chiefly in relation to the speed of communication and the range of communication tools available. There is no doubt that technology will continue to progress in future, and the advanced tools which we use today may one day also become outdated.









Compare transitions


Contrast transitions


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Below is a checklist for compare and contrast essays. Use it to check your own writing, or get a peer (another student) to help you.

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