How to Teach the Compare and Contrast Essay

Rewards and Resources to Help Students Write Excellent Essays

Contrast - one yellow locker along a line of blue ones
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The compare/contrast essay is easy and rewarding to teach for several reasons:

  • It's easy to 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.

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.

Selecting subjects that matter to students is critical for this step. For example, 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.

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

Step 3

  • 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.

Step 4

  • Teach students how to use compare/contrast charts.

You should plan to spend a few classes on this. Although it seems simple, students doing it for the first time perform better if they aren't 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.

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

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

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.

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

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 these suggestions for revising drafts from the University of North Carolina Writing Center.

Step 10

Step 11

  • Have students evaluate their peers' essays using a Compare/Contrast 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. Consider requiring students who have not finished to submit their essay for peer evaluation after writing "Not Finished" at the top of their papers. This helps peers recognize that 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. Consider 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 proofread one another's essays.

Tell students to read their essay aloud or to have someone else read it to them to catch any errors. Have students proofread several essays and sign their names at the top of the paper: "Proofread by ________."

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Your Citation
Kelly, Melissa. "How to Teach the Compare and Contrast Essay." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Kelly, Melissa. (2020, August 27). How to Teach the Compare and Contrast Essay. Retrieved from Kelly, Melissa. "How to Teach the Compare and Contrast Essay." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).

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