Are you afraid to dive into teaching the compare and contrast essay too soon in your school year? Don’t be. I’m going to show you how you can find topics for compare and contrast essays and how to simplify teaching this genre of informative writing during the first weeks of school. Ready?
In this blog post, you’ll discover some ideas for how to find topics for compare and contrast essays. You’ll find simple examples of how this type of informational writing might look in an elementary classroom, using graphic organizers. There is also a free template and graphic organizer for students to learn how to write a compare and contrast paper.
Before beginning this type of writing, it may be helpful to teach how to write a summary. When teaching how to write a summary, you’re going to be teaching about fact and opinion, complete sentences, good paragraphs, and more.
Topics for Compare and Contrast Essay
As I am writing this blog post, we’re heading into National Hispanic Heritage Month. This gives a wealth of opportunities for compare and contrast writing. You could have your students research Ellen Ochoa and Roberto Clemente for example. After they’ve written a short summary about the lives of both of these people, they can compare and contrast them both in a culminating writing assignment.
Or perhaps you’re studying animals. You could have them learn about polar bears and panda bears or two different tropical rainforest animals. After they write a summary of both, they’re prepared to write a compare and contrast essay.
You could even do this in music class or art class. Students could learn about, then compare and contrast two different composers, or genres of music. This would be the same with artists or periods in art history.
In science class, they could compare and contrast two different phases of the moon, or two different insect life cycles and activities, such as the migration of Monarch butterflies and how bees make honey. There’s also the classic compare and contrast a book and a movie, as well.
The ideas are truly endless. But my advice (to save you time prepping and grading) is that you choose the topics. I wrote about why this is a good idea in this blog post about narrative writing.
Steps in Writing a Compare and Contrast Essay
You might want to set aside five days for this process if you teach writing daily. I recommend starting a daily writing practice in your classroom to get the best results from your students. But for some class schedules, that might not be possible, in which case, you might need two weeks to introduce and teach the steps in writing a compare and contrast paper.
- Step 1. Introduce the two topics. Do an activity to find out the background knowledge of your students and to make connections to the first topic. This might be a K-W-L activity, watching a short video, reading a book or an article together and then having a class conversation about it.
- Step 2. Students will write a summary of one of the topics. Using the summary writing template, they will have a foundation of facts to draw upon for the compare and contrast writing.
- Step 3. Do the same thing again for the second topic.
- Step 4. Have students spend some time filling out a graphic organizer defining what are the shared characteristics and what is unique to each of the topics.
- Step 5. Use a writing template with as much or as little scaffolding as your students need when you are first teaching compare and contrast writing. Once students have developed experience in this writing genre, they’ll be able to do more with less scaffolding.
- Step 6. Students should edit their writing or a partner’s writing. They can do this in five minutes if you are using my CUPS editing system. If you’re unfamiliar with it, this video shows you how the editing process is done by the students themselves. They learn more by doing it themselves.
- Step 7. Finally, the students will revise anything that needs to be moved, clarified, or enhanced. They will write their final copy to turn in.
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Graphic Organizers and Scaffolds for Writing
If you’ve been following this blog, you might have already read that I prefer to use one or possibly two graphic organizers for each type of writing. This is because it takes brain power to figure out how to use a graphic organizer or how to take notes in a certain style.
You don’t want your students to waste time trying to learn how to use a new graphic organizer every time they write. You want them to free up that brain power to focus on the task at hand, which is writing clearly and concisely.
If you’d like to grab some graphic organizers for compare and contrast writing, you can find them in the Member Vault. These are organizers for lower grade students and upper grade students. There is a scaffolded writing page with simple sentence stems for beginning writers.
Simple Example of Compare and Contrast Writing
In the free downloadable packet with graphic organizers, you’ll also find a simple writing scaffold appropriate for elementary grades. It can be used the first one or two times your students write a compare and contrast essay.
In the elementary grades, a compare and contrast essay can be as short as three paragraphs. One, introducing the topics and what they have in common. Two, expounding on the differences. Three, a concluding paragraph or statement.
The writing scaffold in the packet begins with the statement, “Although ___ and ___ are different, they are alike in some ways.” It continues with a paragraph about the commonalities. “For example, ____ and _____ both _______.” The writing sheet gives room to elaborate on what the two things have in common. Then it has a paragraph about the differences. “Also, there are some differences between ___ and ___. For example. _____.” The page ends with a simple transition to a concluding statement. “As you can now see,_____.”
Beginning writers may struggle to fill in the blanks the first time. The next time, it will be faster and easier. Hopefully, soon after that, you’ll be able to remove this scaffold.
Connect the Writing Across the Curriculum
When I taught third grade, we started learning about compare and contrast writing with two animals popular at that grade level…polar bears and panda bears. I introduced the topic with a book by Sandra Markle, a science writer who really appeals to the younger students. ReadWorks.org had grade level articles for the students to read and learn about them. I gave them the graphic organizer and scaffolds they needed.
After they finished writing, we did a fun art project similar to this one from The Global Art Classroom. We hung their art and their writing together to make a beautiful bulletin board. The students were proud to share their work.
In music class, they sang songs about bears, and in P.E. they made teams of pandas and polar bears. All it takes is a bit of creativity to come up with ways to incorporate any theme across the curriculum.
I hope you find this helpful. If so, please consider taking a look at my course, Building Strong Writers With Simple Systems. Everything you learn in that course, and everything I talk about on this blog are designed to be simple and easy to implement in your classroom right away.
If I can help you to make teaching writing easier, then your students will learn that writing doesn’t have to be hard!