Writing Across the Curriculum II - Preparing to Make Writing Assignments and Selecting Writing Topics - Secondary School Educators -4/11/98

The Compare/Contrast Essay

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The compare/contrast essay is easy and rewarding to teach because:

  • You can convince students there is a reason for learning it.
  • You can teach it effectively in a few steps.
  • You can see students' critical thinking skills improve as they learn to write the essay.
  • Once mastered, students feel proud of their ability to systematically compare and contrast two subjects.

In this feature you will find:

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Steps for Teaching
The Compare/Contrast Essay 

Below are the steps I have used fairly successfully to teach the compare/contrast essay to regular classes of high school sophomores whose reading levels range from fourth to twelfth grade. Beside each step I've made a few comments that may make things go more smoothly.





Discuss practical reasons for comparing and contrasting.

Discuss reasons for learning to write about similarities and differences.

Selecting subjects that matter to students is critical for this step. One might be to compare two models of cars and then write a letter to a benefactor who might buy them one. Another, would be a store manager writing to a buyer about two products.

Academic topics such as comparing two organisms, two wars, two approaches to solving a math problem may also be useful.


Show a model compare/contrast essay.

Explain that there are two ways to write the essay but don't go into any detail on that yet.


Explain compare/contrast cue words.

Explain that when comparing students should mention differences but focus on similarities.

Conversely, when contrasting they should mention similarities but focus on differences.


Teach students how to use my compare/contrast chart.

I spend two or three periods on this. Although it seems simple, students doing it for the first time perform better if not rushed through this step.

Working in teams, with a partner or in a group is helpful during this step.


List and model use of cue words used to show similarities and differences from the Writing Den.

I have found many tenth graders have difficulty thinking of these words if this step is skipped.

It is helpful to provide model sentences with these cue words which they can use until they become comfortable with them.


Explain my charts showing how to organize compare/contrast paragraphs and essays.

I usually have students write the block style first since it is easier. Students should be told that the block is better to show similarities and the feature by feature is better to show differences.


Provide a guided practice in writing the first draft.

Guide students through their first essay providing help with an introduction and transition sentences. It is helpful to allow students to use a chart they have completed as a class, or one that they have done independently and that you have checked. Don't assume they understand the chart until they have done one correctly.


Provide in-class writing time.

By giving in-class writing time, many more students will work on the assignment. Without it, students with little motivation usually won't write the essay.

I walk around the help asking who needs a little help and find I get more participation from reluctant learners this way.


Review the steps in the writing process.

Review editing suggestions and give time for revision.

Explain that after writing their essay, students should edit and revise. Tell students they should continue the cycle of editing and revising until they are satisfied with the quality of their essay. Explain the advantages of revising on the computer.

For editing tips, Check Suggestions for Revising Prose and Basic Prose Style and Mechanics by the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


Review my SWAPS Proofreading Guide and give students time to proofread their essays.

You may a photocopy and review my proofreading guide, SWAPS. A companion error analysis grid is available for students to record errors in order to identify problem areas.


Have students evaluate their peers' essays using my Compare/Contrast Rubric.

Students evaluate using the rubric, staple rubric to the essay and then place the essay on a desk in the front of the room for another student to pick up and evaluate.

Be sure to check off on a roster or seating chart the names of students who turn in an essay because essays could be stolen during the peer evaluation activity.

I require students who have not finished to submit their essay for peer evaluation after writing Not Finished at the top of their papers. This makes them feel like their peers will know that they knew the essay was incomplete. More important, taking their paper forces them to participate in the evaluation activity rather than trying to finish the essay in class. These students often benefit more than the others by reading the essays of better students.

I've had good results giving 25 points each for evaluating three essays and another 25 points for quiet participation.


Review the proofreading guide briefly and then devote half a period to proofreading one another's essays.

Tell students to read their essay aloud or to have someone else read it to them to catch errors.

Have students proofread several essays and sign their names at the top of the paper.. "Proofread by ________."