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Step-by-Step Instructions to Teach the Compare/Contrast Essay

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Below are the steps you can use to teach the compare/contrast essay. They have been used in regular high school classes where reading levels ranged from fourth to twelfth grade.

Step 1

  • Discuss practical reasons for comparing and contrasting.
  • Discuss reasons for learning to write about similarities and differences.
Comments: 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.

Step 2

  • Show a model compare/contrast essay.
Comments: Explain that there are two ways to write the essay but don't go into any detail on that yet.

Step 3

  • Explain compare/contrast cue words.
Comments: Explain that when comparing, students should mention differences but focus on similarities. Conversely, when contrasting they should mention similarities but focus on differences.

Step 4

Comments: Spend a few classes 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.

Step 5

  • List and model the Writing Den's cue words to show similarities and differences.
Comments: Many tenth graders have difficulty thinking of these words if this step is skipped. Provide model sentences with these words which they can use until they become comfortable with them.

Step 6

  • Explain charts showing how to organize compare/contrast paragraphs and essays.
Comments: 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.

Step 7

  • Provide guided practice in writing the first draft.
Comments: 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. Do not assume they understand the chart until they have done one correctly.

Step 8

  • Provide in-class writing time.
Comments: By giving in-class writing time, many more students will work on the assignment. Without it, students with little motivation may not write the essay. Walk around asking who needs a little help to get more participation from reluctant learners.

Step 9

  • Review the steps in the writing process.
  • Review editing suggestions and give time for revision.
Comments: Explain that after writing their essay, students should edit and revise. 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 Drafts from the University of North Carolina Writing Center.

Step 10

Comments: You may photocopy and review the proofreading guide. A companion error analysis grid is available for students to record errors in order to identify problem areas.

Step 11

Comments: Students evaluate using the rubric. Staple a rubric to each essay and have students evaluate them. Be sure to check off on a roster the names of students who turn in essays because they 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 Finishedat the top of their papers. This helps peers realize the essay is incomplete. More importantly, taking their paper forces them to participate in the evaluation activity rather than trying to finish the essay in class. These students will gain greater benefits by reading the better essays. I've had good results giving 25 points each for evaluating three essays and another 25 points for quiet participation.

Step 12

  • Review the proofreading guide briefly and then devote half a period to proofreading one another's essays.
Comments: 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 ________."

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