Writing Across the Curriculum: Our Compare and Contrast Workshop & Guide using comparative thinking throughout the writing process in every content area
"I am so very glad I finally ordered a copy of your Comparison and Contrast Guide. Already I have been incorporating its tools and ideas in so many of my lessons, and I can't believe how much smarter my students sound when we have class discussions. You've really opened my eyes. Thank you." (G. Palmer, North Dakota teacher)
Order a guide from NNWP to support the WritingFix Website here.
On this page at WritingFix, we provide lessons, tools, prompts, and resources that were inspired by the Going Deep with Compare and Contrast Thinking Guide. We also provide access to other resources at the WritingFix website that require comparative thinking.
Working as a team of fourteen K-12 Nevada educators, we examined Robert Marzano's research on effectively using comparison and contrast thinking to increase student learning, and we ended up creating a new print guide for teachers and administrators: The Going Deep with Compare and Contrast Thinking Guide, which is now used at many of the NNWP's Writing Across the Curriculum inservice classes and on-site teacher workshops. Below is the foreword I wrote for the guide, which introduces my personal philosophy on why comparing and contrasting is a tool we should all further explore as educators:
"I sat in my small reading group listening to my students share their Venn Diagrams about two characters in the story. 'One is a boy and the other is a girl?' one student answered with a pensive look on his face. I wanted to be sarcastic and say, 'No kidding!,' but I didn’t. I did feel frustrated that the child was in 6th grade and could not see past gender when finding similarities and differences in character traits. That same afternoon I came to the conclusion my students just did not know how to think deeper when making comparisons, and I knew it was my job to guide their learning. I started looking for inspiration and found it in several different places.
"W.B. Yeats once wrote, 'Education is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of the fire.' In 1923, Yeats won the Nobel Prize in Literature for writing inspirational poetry in such an artistic form that it was said to inspire the spirit of the whole nation. I guess you could say his poetry set people on fire. I decided that’s what I wanted to do, light the fire for my students. I wanted them to be able to compare and contrast ideas across the curriculum and then write about those comparisons in a thoughtful manner. The Yeats quote inspired me to ask the question, 'How do we light the fire in our students’ thinking? What can we use for matches to ignite this fire?'
"So, I set off to find a few matches to get us started. I became deliberate in my approach to teaching writing. I was no longer just teaching a strategy here and there; I picked strategies based on how well the strategy could make my students think and write.
"A 'match book' used for this guide is Robert Marzano’s book titled Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement Marzano and his team gathered studies by other researchers and discovered there were common strategies being used by educators to increase the achievement of students. In his book he shares the research numbers and explains how these strategies can be used correctly to enhance the performance of students. While I consider each one of Marzano’s effective strategies a 'match,' for this guide I will focus on the strategy found in chapter 2, 'Identifying Similarities and Differences.' It exemplifies how an effective strategy can spread across grade levels, and I think that is precisely what makes a strategy effective; it works at any grade level. Working with teachers in the Northern Nevada Writing Project, it has become clear to me that writing is definitely a place where we need effective strategies that work at any grade level because writing is a developmental process.
"Marzano discusses the importance of how the teacher structures identifying similarities and differences. It is not enough to throw a Venn Diagram chart out and say, “Okay, how are these topics the same and different?” Marzano’s four generalizations from the research and theory in 'Identifying Similarities and Differences' include: a) present students with explicit guidance in the identification of similarities and differences, b) ask students to independently identify similarities and differences, c) use graphic forms to enhance understanding, and d) identifying similarities and differences can occur by asking students to compare, classify, and to use the forms of metaphors and analogies.
"The writing process is another set of 'matches' for our students. I have found comparing and contrasting to be highly effective in increasing students’ ability to formulate ideas during the pre-writing stage. Shirley Dickson’s article, 'Integrating Reading and Writing to Teach Compare-Contrast Text Structure: A Research Based Methodology,' reminded me how students need to be presented with text structures to fully understand how to write in the genre form we are asking of them. Having students compare one text structure with another and allowing them to use this as a launching pad for writing is a way to support all of our students in becoming better writers.
"Let’s try to think about lighting the flame, instead of filling the pail."
Twenty Free-to-Access Resources from the Going Deep with Compare & Contrast Thinking Guide for Teachers
On this page at WritingFix, we have made available about 20% of our print guide on comparison and contrast for any teacher to use. These materials can be found at right and just below. If you like the free materials, please consider purchasing a complete copy of the guide from the NNWP. All proceeds from these sales go to build additional resources here at WritingFix. Click here for information on ordering your own copy of the Going Deep with Compare and Contrast Thinking Guide.
In January of 2008, the NNWP published a new print resource on using comparative thinking in the classroom. Fifteen K-12 Nevada educators had spent the spring of 2007 strengthening their use of comparative thinking assignments, and the tools, lessons, and resources they created were assembled into this 144-page resource.
The purpose of this print guide: to inspire other teachers to strengthen their directing of students to think about similarities and differences before, during, or after a writing assignment.
From the Going Deep with Compare and Contrast Thinking Guide Eight Tools/Graphic Organizers for Comparative Thinking:
Seven Lessons Created by Nevada Teachers Inspired by our Going Deep with Compare & Contrast Thinking Guide:
In 2008, we began offering a new lesson-building workshop and in-service class in Northern Nevada. As part of this class, where participants receive a complimentary copy of our Going Deep with Compare and Contrast Thinking Guide, each teacher propose a new lesson, and the best of those lessons are posted here at WritingFix.
Below, you will find six compare and contrast lessons that were proposed by teachers. The teachers used this proposal form when writing up a lesson. We invite teachers from all over to not only use the lessons below, but also to consider proposing their own lesson that we might feature here. Teachers whose lessons are accepted and posted will receive a complimentary copy of the Going Deep with Compare and Contrast Thinking Guide.
Six Popular Mentor Text-inspired Lessons at WritingFix that Encourage Compare & Contrast Thinking:
Long before we published our Going Deep with Compare & Contrast Thinking Guide, Nevada teachers were already creating lessons for WritingFix that were inspired by having students compare and contrast. Below, we offer you our collection of lessons that require comparative thinking that have had a long history here at WritingFix.
Notes on this lesson's comparison and contrast features: Students brainstorm the pros and cons of different topics (modern day or historical), then plan a short comparative essay that explores these two opposites in an organized and well-paced draft.
Notes on this lesson's comparison and contrast features: Two uses of comparison and contrast here: 1) students compose two paragraphs about a setting description, each paragraph exploring a different aspect of the place; 2) students compare and contrast the voice used in the student samples that are provided.
Mentor Text:Lord of the Flies by William Golding (excerpt from chapter 3)
Notes on this lesson's comparison and contrast features: Two characters in Golding's classic story explore and experience the jungle setting with different eyes, showing the reader two distinctly opposite moods. Students imitate what Golding has done with a different setting.
Mentor Text:The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (excerpts from chapters 1-7)
Notes on this lesson's comparison and contrast features: Students create two arguing voices that might be heard inside one character's head, then create a descriptive scene that shows that character in action.
Mentor Text:A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (excerpt from chapter 1)
Notes on this lesson's comparison and contrast features: Students imitate Dickens' famous opposite-filled opening (...best of times, it was the worst of times...") with creative topics or with topics they're studying in school.
Four Prompts from the Original WritingFix Site for Comparison & Contrast Thinking:
WritingFix began in 2001 as a collection of twenty-one interactive writing prompts for students' journals or writer's notebooks. These twenty-one prompts were not complete lessons (like those posted above and throughout the WritingFix website), but they were good tools to start students' brains. The four below were in the original collection of twenty-one, and they completely require students to start thinking comparatively.
Enjoy these four prompts. They work nicely on a Smartboard or other interactive whiteboard.
Notes on this prompt's comparison and contrast features: The on-line, interactive word game helps students create a comparative simile about a real or imaginary person, then use the simile to inspire a descriptive paragraph.
Notes on this prompt's comparison and contrast features: The on-line, interactive word game helps students create an interesting sentence that compares something non-human to something human. Students then use their personification to inspire a descriptive paragraph.
Notes on this prompt's comparison and contrast features: Once your students have learned the basics of the haiku format, require them to write dueling haikus--two haikus on topics that can be compared or contrasted.
Notes on this prompt's comparison and contrast features: Once your students have learned the basics of the acrostic poem format, require them to write dueling acrostics--two acrostic poems on topics that can be compared or contrasted.
Share Original Compare & Contrast Ideas and Tools from your Classroom
In recent years, WritingFix has become an "exchange website" for teachers, which is really exciting. While we started the site with only Nevada teachers' ideas posted, we are quickly now featuring ideas and tools and write-ups from teachers all over the country...and world.
If you use compare and contrast thinking as a method of pushing your students to "think deeper" about topics during the writing process, we want to hear from you. Twice a school year, we will choose several of our favorite ideas that were submitted by teachers, and we will send those teachers free copies of the NNWP's Going Deep with Compare & Contrast Thinking Guide.
Below are three compare and contrast categories for which we are hoping to receive submissions from teachers everywhere!
Share a favorite Mentor Text
that you use to
Above on this page, you will see many thumbnail images of inspiring mentor texts that other teachers have included in lessons. Note the variety: picture books, chapter books, songs, etc. Don't see a favorite compare and contrast mentor text pictured? If not, you can write a review and explain how you use the text to inspire your students to think comparatively here.
Share an original Graphic Organizer
that you use to inspire comparative
Above on this page, you can find some of the original graphic organizers created by teachers who helped us build the Going Deep with Compare & Contrast Thinking Guide. If you have an original graphic organizer or thinking tool that pushes compare and contrast thinking during a writing assignment, share it here.
Share an original Complete Lesson
that you designed to inspire comparative
A complete lesson not only shares a mentor text and a graphic organizer, but it also provides step-by-step instructions on taking students through the writing process. We feature close to two dozen compare and contrast writing lessons on this page above. If our lessons motivate you to fill out our lesson template and post it, you can do that here.
Copyright 2014 - Corbett & Dena Harrison, Educational Consultants, LLC, and WritingFix- All Rights Reserved.
Please, share the resources you find on these pages freely with fellow educators, but please leave any page citations on handouts intact, and please give authorship credit to the cited teachers who created these wonderful lessons and resources. Thanks in advance for honoring other educators' intellectual property.