Teaching Text Structure: Compare and Contrast

As English teachers, we all love reading fictional texts that are rich with characters we long to be friends with and themes that change even a small part of our lives. While fictional texts spark our imagination, nonfiction texts help us understand the world around us. Teaching text structure is a great way to help students navigate nonfiction texts.

If you’re looking for a few new ideas to teach the compare and contrast structure, look no further.

What does Compare and Contrast Mean?

It is always best practice to start by defining the structure you are going to be talking about at the beginning of the lesson. So, let’s define compare and contrast.

Compare and contrast is an organizational method used to show how two things that fall into a like category are similar and different.

Teaching Brainstorming

My next step when teaching text structure is to have students generate a list of like items we could easily compare and contrast. Often times students come up with a list that looks similar to the one below.

  • Apples vs. Oranges
  • iPhone vs. Android
  • E-books vs. Paper books
  • Jaguar vs. Panther (or their school mascot)
  • Middle School vs. High School

If you are reading a book and it lends itself to compare and contrast, now is a great time to bring that idea to the student’s attention. For example, when we read The Giver in class I always have students compare the community in the book to our community. There are often many differences, but when we search hard enough we find some similarities as well.

Charting Your Data

Part of teaching text structure is learning how to chart your ideas. There are several ways to keep track of this information. The “tried and true” method has always been a Venn Diagram.

Now I know I promised you some “new” ideas and I’ll give you some of those too but don’t count out this tried and true method. There are several ways you can use a Venn Diagram to help understand the compare and contrast text structure.

Hula Hoops

A great way to show how things are similar and different is through the use of hula hoops. You can buy two hula hoops at Dollar Tree and hang them on your wall with the middles overlapping. You may have to cut the hula hoop to achieve some stability in the middle but that’s perfectly fine, these hoops are reusable.

Once you hang the hoops up, you can have students put sticky notes up on the wall, with characteristics that are similar and different in the appropriate spots.

Electronic Charting

If you’re looking for something more research-based and “down to business” you may want to consider having students use a table. I make a two row, three column table and in the first row, label each column.

  • I label Column 1 “The Community”
  • Next, I label Column 2 “Similarities”
  • Finally, I label Column 3 “Our Community”

Then they can put the information they need in the table. This is a great method to use if you are having students compare and contrast a book to its corresponding movie.

Character T-Shirt Take Two

If you want students to compare and contrast people or characters, you can have them make two different character t-shirts that you can learn more about in a different ELA Buffet blog post.

By having students make two different character t-shirts, you are getting them to compare and contrast more than just the surface level parts of the character. The character t-shirts would help students see how the characters are different in terms of personality and might help spark some text-to-self connections at the same time. Bonus!

Teaching Writing with Text Structure

Once you have looked at different texts and shown the students how compare and contrast works as well as made some of your own data, you can put that data to use and write! Teaching what a text structure is and teaching how to write using a text structure are two different animals.

When you have students write, there are a few ways they can choose to organize their text with the compare and contrast text structure in mind.

To begin, you’ll want to make sure students know there are different ways to turn their data into an essay and each one has it’s good and bad qualities depending on your topic. As you teach the compare and contrast organizational methods you can use, explain the benefits and drawbacks of each.

When students begin writing they can employ any of the following organizational patterns while keeping compare and contrast in mind. I will use The Giver for example purposes.

Stick Together

When you stick the ideas together, your students are keeping like qualities together.  For example:

  • Paragraph one could include the history of the community in The Giver and the history of our community first and describe how they are similar and different.
  • The next paragraph would discuss how the two ideas are similar or different in terms of making choices.
  • The last paragraph would discuss which community seemed happier by comparing and contrasting the demeanor of the people in each community.

The gist of this pattern is this. You have three main ideas you are comparing and contrasting and you spend one paragraph talking about each topic individually. This can be difficult to master, but it’s an important skill.

One at a Time

Another way to teach compare and contrast writing is to have ideas be presented one at a time. This organizational pattern looks like this:

  • Paragraph one would discuss The Giver’s community in terms of history, choices, and overall joy/people’s demeanor.
  • The second paragraph would discuss our community in terms of history, choices, and overall joy/people’s demeanor.

A big benefit to this organizational method is it allows students to talk about one thing at a time.

Teaching text-structure is a great way to make your students better readers.  While teaching these concepts can seem really humdrum, you can mix it up with some fun new ideas!