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An Idea for Workshops:

Compare & Contrast as an Idea Springboard

This writers workshop idea was authored by NNWP Teacher Consultant Patty Foncault.

The idea found on this page was inspired by Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad stories.

Click here to check out the The Frog and Toad Collection at Amazon.com

Where Can Ideas to Write About Come From?

Comparing and contrasting two distinct items is a great springboard for an effective and meaningful writing activity. The opportunity to do so can pop up at the most unexpected times, and if you can capture the moment it can lead you into an engaging experience for the whole class.

For example, one day my class and I had been studying one of the Frog and Toad stories by Arnold Lobel. I love the Frog and Toad series for their short stories that easily lend themselves to teaching about story structure. This is exactly what we were doing that day in my fifth grade classroom, studying how to build a story with one event following another, and leading to a climax. In the process, we found ourselves embroiled in a discussion about the difference between a frog and a toad. I felt like we were really onto something here as the conversation grew more animated, and voices all over the room were adding their particular knowledge about the unique qualities of each. We began to construct a Venn diagram as a way of organizing our information. From there, it just seemed natural to produce a piece of compare and contrast writing. Given the discussion we had all been involved in, followed by the Venn diagram, it just flowed naturally, and my students were able to produce a well-organized piece of writing. I’ve included a sample for you to see.

As I have often said, I am a firm believer in weaving writing across the curriculum. Another time that we used compare and contrast writing to good advantage was during the study of cells in our life science unit. Writing about the similarities and differences between plant and animal cells is a great way to wrap up the unit and assess their level of comprehension. It is also a convenient way to gather a writing grade based on their ability to effectively use transition words to organize their piece. I have included a sample of the writing done in my classroom for this assignment.

Think of your own classroom and all the possibilities there are to ask your students to compare and contrast. You can write about seasons, holidays, deciduous versus evergreen trees, the Senate and the House of Representatives, characters in a book, vertebrates versus invertebrates. Truly the possibilities are limitless no matter what grade level you teach. For many other great ideas using compare and contrast be sure to check out that web page at writingfix.com under “Writing across the curriculum.”


Student Sample #1:

Frogs and toads are alike in several ways. For example, they both eat live insects, have big eyes, and they both swim in ponds and different places that have water. Although they are alike in many ways because frogs and toads can have short or long tongues, one way they are different is that frogs are smooth, but toads are rough with bumps. Frogs can be very small and some of them are just small and fat, but toads are already big and fat. Although frogs and toads are alike in some ways and different in others the important thing to remember is that they both are small creatures that hop.


Student Sample #2:

There are many similarities between plant cells and animal cells. Both cells have a nucleus, which controls the cell’s activities. Also, they both have a cell membrane that holds the cell together. Another things they both have are mitochondria, which are organelles that release energy from food. Although they have many similarities they do have many differences. The animal cell has more vacuoles to store food while the other one has only one vacuole. The plant cell has a cell wall but the animal doesn’t. Last, but not least, while the animal cell doesn’t have chloroplasts the plant cell does.


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