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helping students be successful writing a compare and contrast essay in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade

Scaffolding a Compare and Contrast Essay With Frames and Templates

helping students be successful writing a compare and contrast essay in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade

Writing can be hard and frustrating for upper elementary students; writing a compare and contrast essay can be even harder and more frustrating.

Often, this skill gets pushed to the back burner.  It is a lot easier to practice comparing and contrasting with things that take less time - like by using a Venn Diagram.  

However, teaching 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students to compare and contrast topics within their writing is an important skill. Scaffolding student writing through sentence or paragraph frames and essay templates can minimize the frustration of students, save valuable time, and help your students become better writers.  Providing structure helps focus yoru students.

Below, find ideas for scaffolding so that your 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students can be successful with comparing and contrasting in their writing - and eventually writing a compare and contrast essay!

Start Small - With Compare and Contrast Sentence Starters or Frames

Students don't have to write an entire essay every time you want them to practice comparing and contrasting within their writing - they can practice this skill by simply writing a sentence that compares or contrasts two things.

Providing students with sentence starters is a great way to ease them into using compare and contrast language in their writing.  This is especially beneficial for your ELL and low language students, but ALL of your students will benefit from this strategy.

Example Sentence Starters

1. __________ and __________ are different because __________.

2. __________ and __________ are alike because __________.

3. The most important difference between __________ and __________ is __________.

4. An important similarity between __________ and __________ is __________.

5.  While __________ and __________ are alike because __________, they have different __________.

Using a Paragraph Template or Frame

After students have been successful at writing sentences that compare and contrast, expand to short paragraphs. Provide scaffolding similar to the sentence frames to help your 3rd grade, 4th grade, or 5th grade students be successful.

Using scaffolding like this will not only help them with comparing and contrasting language, but will improve their overall writing as well.

(You might find some of these other writing tips and ideas helpful.)

Example Paragraph Frames

1. __________ and __________ have many differences. The most important difference is _________________________. Another difference is _________________________. Finally, _________________________.

2. __________ and __________ are similar in many ways. For example, ____________________. Furthermore, they both ____________________. A final similarity is ____________________.

3.  __________ and __________ are similar in some ways, but different in others.  For example, they both ____________________.  Despite this similarity, they are different because ____________________.  This difference is important because ____________________.

comparing and contrasting scaffolded essay template / outline for upper elementary

Compare and Contrast Essay Template / Structure / Outline

Writing an essay can be overwhelming.  Teachers often try to support students by modeling good essay writing - which is an essential step.  But having students go straight from having a compare and contrast essay modeled for them to writing their own independently can be a huge jump for some.  They are going straight from "I do" to "You do."

A scaffolded essay outline makes a good "we do" for upper elementary students.  Provide students with a scaffolded template that clearly lays out the structure of a good compare and contrast essay.  This helps students stay on topic and reminds them what a good compare and contrast essay should look like.

Eventually, you will take this scaffolding away.  Or, you can use the scaffolding to differentiate.  Provide more scaffolding for students that needed, while students have a good grasp might only have topic students scaffolded for them - or maybe even no scaffolding at all.

no prep scaffolded compare and contrast essay to help your 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students be successful writers

If you know your students would benefit from this type of scaffolding, but don’t have the time to create it yourself, check out my Compare and Contrast Writing Resource.

It walks students through the writing process with scaffolding each step of the way. This resource also provides a model essay so that you can model expectations for your students. Plus, it can be used over and over again with different topics.

You might also like these other ideas for scaffolding your instruction, or these compare and contrast activities and ideas.  

Want a Compare and Contrast Freebie?

Free reading comprehension practice for third, fourth, and fifth graders - paired passages about Thomas Edison and Benjamin Franklin

Download these reading passages with a compare and contrast activity for free and use it to today!

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80 Intriguing Compare and Contrast Essay Topics for Kids and Teens

Android vs. iPhone? Capitalism vs. communism? Hot dog vs. taco?

First day of school vs. the last day of school.

In compare and contrast essays , writers show the similarities and differences between two things. They combine descriptive writing with analysis, making connections and showing dissimilarities. Remind students that in this type of writing, they’re not necessarily trying to sway the reader to one opinion or another—they’re just presenting and analyzing facts. These compare and contrast essay topics will give them plenty of practice.

  • School and Life Essay Topics
  • Entertainment Essay Topics
  • History and Politics Essay Topics
  • Just for Fun Essay Topics

School and Life Compare and Contrast Essay Topics

  • Public and private schools
  • Online school and in-person school
  • Any two schools or colleges
  • Going to college vs. starting work full-time

Going to college vs. starting work full-time

  • Working your way through college as you go or taking out student loans
  • Parents and grandparents
  • Elementary school and high school
  • Learning to read vs. learning to write
  • The importance of any two school subjects
  • Wearing glasses vs. having braces
  • You and your best friend
  • Friendship vs. romantic love

Friendship vs. romantic love

  • Group work and individual work
  • Only child vs. having siblings
  • Nature vs. nurture
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Old friends and new friends
  • Your teacher vs. your parent/guardian
  • Car ownership and public transportation

Car ownership and public transportation

  • Learning to ride a bike vs. learning to drive a car

Entertainment Compare and Contrast Essay Topics

  • iPhone vs. Android
  • Instagram vs. Twitter (or choose any other two social media platforms)
  • Xbox vs. PlayStation

Xbox vs. PlayStation

  • Any two sports, like American football vs. soccer
  • Cooking at home and dining out
  • A movie based on a book and the book it was based on
  • Reading and watching TV
  • Opera music and pop music (or any two music genres)
  • Vegetarian and vegan

Vegetarian and vegan

  • Giving and receiving gifts
  • Going to a play vs. going to a movie
  • Playing a video game and watching a movie
  • Horse racing vs. NASCAR
  • Laptop vs. tablet
  • Sprint vs. marathon
  • Poetry and rap music
  • Ping-Pong vs. tennis
  • DC vs. Marvel
  • Netflix and YouTube
  • Shopping online and shopping in person

Shopping online and shopping in person

History and Politics Compare and Contrast Essay Topics

  • Capitalism vs. communism
  • Socialism vs. communism
  • Monarchy/dictatorship and democracy
  • Two political candidates in a current race

Two political candidates in a current race

  • Spanish flu pandemic vs. COVID-19 pandemic
  • World War I and World War II
  • American pioneers vs. first space explorers
  • Gen X vs. Gen Z
  • Abraham Lincoln vs. Barack Obama (or any other two presidents)
  • Any two U.S. states

Any two U.S. states

  • Any two historic eras
  • Queen Elizabeth I vs. Queen Elizabeth II
  • Republicans and Democrats
  • Hitler and Stalin
  • The first airplane flight vs. the first manned spaceflight
  • American president vs. U.K. prime minister

American president vs. U.K. prime minister

  • Fox News vs. CNN
  • Legislative branch and executive branch and/or judicial branch
  • Equality and equity
  • Elected politicians vs. lobbyists

Just for Fun Compare and Contrast Essay Topics

  • Dogs vs. cats as pets

Dogs vs. cats as pets

  • Paper books or e-books
  • Hot dogs vs. tacos
  • Summer and winter
  • Fall and spring
  • Big Mac vs. Whopper
  • Coke vs. Pepsi
  • Chocolate shake vs. hot chocolate
  • Any two superheroes or villains
  • Mondays and Fridays
  • Mornings vs. evenings

Mornings vs. evenings

  • First day of school vs. last day of school
  • Christmas vs. birthdays
  • Hurricane vs. tornado
  • Birthday as a kid and birthday as an adult
  • Going barefoot vs. wearing shoes
  • Appetizers and desserts

Appetizers and desserts

  • Phone calls and texting
  • Pants vs. skirts
  • Electric cars vs. gas-powered cars

What are some of your favorite compare and contrast essay topics? Come share your prompts on the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook .

Plus, check out the big list of essay topics for high school (100+ ideas).

80 Intriguing Compare and Contrast Essay Topics for Kids and Teens

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Writing a Compare-and-Contrast Essay (Gr. 5)

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How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay

Compare and Contrast Essay Guide


Essentially, compare and contrast essays ask students to evaluate the similarities and differences between two things.

Usually, there will be some meaningful connection between the two things to be compared and contrasted.

These essays are not merely about stating the obvious; instead, they challenge the students to explore two or more topics and then express subtle similarities and understated differences that may not be immediately obvious to the casual reader.

For example, there is little point in asking students to  compare and contrast  a computer and a bicycle.

Both are material objects, but the extreme differences are obvious apart from that. More useful would be to ask students to compare and contrast two different models of computers or two different brands of bicycles to help them decide which to buy.

Compare and contrast essays encourage students to make distinctions and evaluate things that largely belong in the same category. This is an instrumental and practical skill to develop.

In this article, we will explore how to approach the writing of compare-and-contrast essays in a step-by-step manner. Following this method, students can soon write a well-structured compare-and-contrast essay on practically any topic.

Let’s get started.

Visual Writing Prompts


compare and contrast essay | compare and contrast unit 1 | How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay | literacyideas.com

Teach your students how to write amazing compare and contrast essays with this  COMPLETE UNIT  of work which guides students through the process of research, analysis and articulating their thoughts into a well-structured essay.



1. understand your task and purpose.

Compare, and contrast type questions ask students to do one of three things:

  • To compare two or more things.
  • To contrast two or more things.
  • To compare and contrast two or more things.

compare and contrast essay | analyse the question 1 | How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay | literacyideas.com

For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume the compare and contrast essay is focused on comparing and contrasting two things.

Now, let’s break down the two keywords to examine what they ask the students to do:

Compare asks the students to look at two things in relation to their similarities.

Let’s compare apples and oranges as a quick example.

Apples and oranges have many commonalities. Firstly, they are both fruits that are grown on trees. They are also both a popular and tasty food choice for many people.

Additionally, apples and oranges are nutritious and provide essential vitamins and minerals for our bodies.

Finally, apples and oranges can be used in various recipes, from baked goods to juices, and they are both easily accessible and affordable. So, even though apples and oranges are different in many ways, they both have some similarities that make them essential parts of a healthy and balanced diet.

Contrast asks the students to examine how the two things differ. Let’s now explore the differences in a quick written example.

Apples and oranges differ in many ways. Firstly, they have a different appearance – apples are round and come in different colors like red, green and yellow, while oranges are oval and have a bright orange appearance.

Secondly, they have a different texture – apples are crunchy, while oranges are juicy. They have different tastes – apples are sweet and tangy, while oranges are sweet and slightly sour.

They also contain different vitamins and minerals – apples are a good source of vitamin C, while oranges are a great source of vitamin C and fibre. So, even though they are both fruits, apples and oranges are different in terms of their appearance, taste, and nutritional value.

It is important that students do both when they are asked a compare-and-contrast question. It may seem obvious, but very often students do one and neglect to do the other.

These ‘things’ could be anything from historical figures to poems, philosophies to fictional characters, but the essential criteria will remain pretty much the same regardless.

2. Identify Similarities and Differences

compare and contrast essay | similarities and differences 1 | How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay | literacyideas.com

The starting point for planning this type of essay is to list the similarities and differences between the two things. This can be done simply in table form or, for the more visually orientated, in the form of a Venn diagram.

Venn diagrams are an especially useful form of graphic organizer that allows the student to see the information at a glance. This is extremely helpful while students are writing.

Brainstorming the similarities and differences can be done by focusing on one subject at a time or by dealing with common traits or features one by one. This will depend not just on the student’s preferences but on the nature of the subjects being examined.

Whether listing the similarities and differences in columns or on a Venn diagram, it’s helpful for students to keep their list of characteristics parallel. That is, the related features between each of the subjects should be displayed clearly together.

3. Choose a Suitable Organizational Structure

Once your students have listed their main points, they need to choose a suitable organizational structure to help present their ideas in essay form.

In most instances, one of two structures will best meet the needs of any compare-and-contrast type essay. These two possible organizational structures are:

  • The block structure
  • The point-by-point structure

In the block structure, each subject is dealt with in turn. That is, the characteristics of Subject 1 are written about first and, in the second half of the essay, the characteristics of Subject 2 are written about.

The block structure is generally easier to write as the student need only focus on one subject at a time.

However, the point-by-point structure more often provides a clearer vehicle for comparing and contrasting the various aspects of both subjects.

Using the point-by-point structure generally requires more skill from the student to weave the similarities and differences of each subject into the fabric of each paragraph. However, it is also the default setting for most compare and contrast essays, and students should be practised in it accordingly.

4. Gather Supporting Evidence

compare and contrast essay | supporting evidence 1 | How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay | literacyideas.com

Once students have analyzed the question and identified the similarities and differences between the two subjects, they’ll need to gather supporting evidence to back up any assertions they make in their essays.

Students can use many different types of evidence to support the statements in their essays.

Some of the most common types of evidence in compare and contrast essays include statistical, textual, testimonial, and anecdotal evidence.

Let’s take a closer look:

Statistical Evidence is perhaps the strongest type of evidence that can be used to support an argument. People like numbers! However, the most important aspect of using statistical evidence is that they come from a reliable source – those cynical of statistics echo the old adage, “ There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics ”.

Textual Evidence is often needed to support an argument, especially when writing about a book, a play, a speech, etc. When using textual evidence in an essay, it is important that students state clearly the source of the evidence they use. Textual evidence can come in many different forms, including:

●     Direct quotations from a text

●     Summaries of the content of a text

●     Paraphrasing of what an author has said on a topic.

Testimonial Evidence refers to the use of expert opinion to bolster an assertion. As with the use of statistical evidence, it is important to select the sources in question carefully. Selecting an unreliable or compromised ‘expert’ can call into question the merit of any argument made. When an expert has been chosen to provide testimonial type evidence, students should establish their credibility by stating who they are and why they are considered an expert before quoting them.

Anecdotal Evidence is often considered to be the weakest form of evidence due to its highly personal nature. Basically, anecdotal evidence takes the form of the retelling of a personal experience. Though it is often criticized as a weak form of evidence, it can be useful when used correctly in an essay. Anecdotes often work well as a ‘hook’ to grab the reader’s attention at the beginning of an essay. Not only do they grab the reader’s attention effectively, but anecdotes also work well in building a personal connection with readers from the outset.

5. Compare and Contrast Essay Transitional Language

Nothing makes a text staler for a reader than the overuse of favorite words and the endless repetition of pet phrases.

Variety is the spice of not only life but of essay writing too. As students weave comparisons and contrast into their essays, they’ll be required to employ transition signals to introduce their points.

Transition signals are words and phrases that are used to signal the relationship between ideas in a text to the reader. It is helpful to students to have a variety of these to hand and to know which can be used to introduce comparisons and which can be used to introduce contrasts.

Let’s take a look at some examples for each:

Comparison Transition Signals

  • Both…and…
  • Neither…nor…
  • Just as / Just like
  • In a similar manner
  • Analogous to

Contrasting Transition Signals

  • In contrast to / Contrastingly / In comparison / By comparison
  • On the contrary
  • On the other hand
  • Nevertheless

Tips for Writing a Great Compare and Contrast Essay

  • Start by choosing two logical subjects that you would like to compare and contrast.
  • Research both subjects thoroughly to gain a deeper understanding of their similarities and differences.
  • Create a clear and compelling thesis statement that defines the purpose of your essay.
  • Organize your essay into paragraphs that compare and contrast specific aspects of each subject.
  • Use relevant and appropriate examples to support your comparisons and contrasts.
  • Use transitional words and phrases to help guide the reader through your essay.
  • Avoid simply listing the similarities and differences of each subject. Instead, focus on making meaningful comparisons and contrasts.
  • Use a variety of sentence structures and vocabulary to make your writing engaging and interesting.
  • Revise and edit your essay for clarity, coherence, and grammatical correctness.
  • Proofread your essay one final time to catch any remaining errors and make sure that your essay is ready for submission.

Remember, writing a compare and contrast essay is an opportunity to show your creativity, critical thinking skills, and writing abilities. So, have fun with it and let your unique voice shine through!


compare and contrast essay | digital graphic organizers 1 | How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay | literacyideas.com

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compare and contrast essay | LITERACY IDEAS FRONT PAGE 1 | How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay | literacyideas.com

Teaching Resources

Use our resources and tools to improve your student’s writing skills through proven teaching strategies.


Compare and Contrast Activity #1

Students should get into the habit of closely examining the question they are writing the essay in response to, especially in high-pressure situations like exams.

Too often, students under pressure misread essay prompts and either miss out on a crucial aspect of the set question or, worst of all, answer an entirely different question to the one that was set.

To help students focus on the specifics of the question, encourage them to underline keywords and phrases with a highlighter or a colored pen.

Another great way to encourage students to focus attention on the specifics is to have students practice rewriting the question in their own words.

While this may not be practical in an exam situation, it is a great way for students to get accustomed to paying close attention to essay questions in less pressured scenarios such as homework and classwork.

Compare and Contrast Activity # 2

Set a compare and contrast question and then instruct your students to use a Venn diagram as a brainstorming tool to help organize their ideas.

Students should draw two circles slightly overlapping and write down things the subjects share in common in the intersection of the two circles. This will enable students to see areas of commonality and divergence between the two subjects at a glance.

Compare and Contrast Activity # 3

Students can use the information they produced in the previous two activities for this activity.

In this activity, students will draft three paragraphs for a compare-and-contrast essay using the point-by-point structure.

To do this, they will use the traditional five-paragraph essay structure as follows:

  • Paragraph 1: Introduction
  • Paragraphs 2, 3, & 4: Body Paragraphs
  • Paragraph 5: Conclusion

The focus of your students’ outlines will be on the body paragraphs. From the points listed in the previous exercises, students select 3 main points to focus on; one for each of the body paragraphs they’ll write.

Instruct students to make their point by focusing on Subject 1 first, and then on Subject 2. This will complete the first paragraph. They’ll then repeat this process for points 2 and 3 to produce paragraphs 2 and 3.

At the end of this, they will have the three body paragraphs of their compare and contrast essay. From there, they can then reverse engineer their introduction and then complete their conclusions.

This exercise is a useful way to provide students some practice in structuring body paragraphs. Not only that, but it’s also a legitimate way to write an essay itself. This method can often reveal to the writer the best way forward when it comes to writing the introduction and conclusion.

Compare and Contrast Activity #4

Using the points outlined in previous activities, challenge students to produce as many types of evidence in support of each assertion as possible. In groups, students can then present their evidence to each other and discuss which is the most convincing and why given the specific context.

Compare and Contrast Activity # 5

Whether making comparisons or contrasts, students must consider carefully which criteria they are using in regards to the two subjects they are dealing with.

For example, if students are contrasting two subjects, say, two people, they may write something like,

Alfred is intelligent and handsome, whereas Brian is short and strong.

While the use of the transition signal whereas in the above sentence effectively sets up a contrast between Alfred and Brian, what isn’t clear is which criteria are being contrasted.

When discussing Alfred’s attributes in the first part of the sentence, the criteria employed are intelligence and looks. In the second part of the sentence, two new criteria are introduced, namely height and physical strength.

This is one of the most common errors made by students in these types of essays. To help students gain practice in this area, write a few example sentences on the whiteboard using the model sentence above to help. Then, have students identify the four different criteria and write two separate contrast sentences that avoid the error illustrated.

For example, in response to the model sentence, students might write the following two corrections:

i. Alfred is intelligent and handsome, whereas Brian is stupid and ugly.

ii. Brian is short and strong, while Alfred is tall and weak.

You can encourage students to vary the contrast transition signals they use to gain practice in this area too.

Compare and Contrast Essay ExampleS (student Writing Samples)

Below are a collection of student writing samples of compare and contrast essay.  Click on the image to enlarge and explore them in greater detail.  Please take a moment to read both the compare and contrast essays in detail and the teacher and student guides highlighting some key elements to consider before writing.

Please understand these student writing samples are not intended to be perfect examples for each age or grade level but a piece of writing for students and teachers to explore together to critically analyze to improve student writing skills and deepen their understanding of compare and contrast writing.

We would recommend reading the example either a year above and below, as well as the grade you are currently working with, to gain a broader appreciation of this text type.

compare and contrast essay | compare and contrast essay year 6 1 1536x1536 1 | How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay | literacyideas.com

In Conclusion 

While there are many technical aspects for students to master on the road to producing well-written compare and contrast essays, the above provides a clear signpost to set them off in the right direction.

Most of the specific skills focused on in the practice activities above will not only improve your student’s abilities to write compare-and-contrast-type essays but will improve their writing in other areas too. Just be sure to offer ample opportunities to practice!


compare and contrast essay | WRITING CHECKLISTS | How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay | literacyideas.com


compare and contrast essay | COMPARE AND CONTRAST ESSAY TUTORIAL 1 | How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay | literacyideas.com

The content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh.  A former principal of an international school and English university lecturer with 15 years of teaching and administration experience. Shane’s latest Book, The Complete Guide to Nonfiction Writing , can be found here.  Editing and support for this article have been provided by the literacyideas team.

compare and contrast essay fifth grade

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Compare and contrast details

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In each grade 5 compare-contrast worksheet, students are given 2 short texts followed by questions regarding how details from the texts are similar or different. These worksheets provide basic comprehension practice.

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Teaching the Compare and Contrast Essay through Modeling

compare and contrast essay fifth grade

  • Resources & Preparation
  • Instructional Plan
  • Related Resources

Together, students and teacher use charts and Venn diagrams to brainstorm and organize similarities and differences between two objects. The teacher then models the beginning of the first draft, inviting students to help rephrase, clarify, and revise as the draft is written. Finally, students take what they have learned to complete the draft independently.

Featured Resources

Comparison and Contrast Guide : This student-centered online guide provides a thorough introduction to the compare and contrast essay format, including definitions, transitions, graphic organizers, checklists, and examples.

Venn Diagram : Use this online tool during prewriting to organize ideas for a compare and contrast essay.

From Theory to Practice

Rick VanDeWeghe writes of modeling: "teachers show how they go about the processes of reading and writing-drawing students' attention to the ways readers and writers think and the real decisions they make, especially when they themselves are challenged." In her book Conversations , Regie Routman explains why this modeling process is so successful: "It has always been our job to teach directly and explicitly in response to students' needs-carefully demonstrating, specifically showing how, clearly explaining. Whatever we want our students to do well, we first have to show them how. Of all the changes I have made in my teaching, adding explicit demonstration to everything I teach has been the single most important factor in increasing students' literacy" (24).

Further, writing out loud with students gives me an opportunity to show my enjoyment for the writing process. Students see that revision and editing are part of the fun, and that even teachers don't get it correct the first time. As an added bonus, students are frequently more eager to share personal writings with me for feedback once they see this process modeled.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.

Materials and Technology

  • LCD Projector hooked to a computer with a word processor, or an overhead projector
  • Word processor software
  • General classroom supplies (pencils, paper, etc.)
  • Compare and Contrast Chart Graphic Organizer (optional)
  • Comparison and Contrast Rubric (optional)


  • Set the projector up so that the teacher is facing the class and able to type the text (or write easily on the overhead) and the class is able to follow along.
  • Familiarize yourself with the basic commands of the word processor on the computer that you're using.
  • Test the Venn Diagram student interactive, Comparison and Contrast Guide , and Compare and Contrast Map on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
  • Prior to this lesson, students should have learned how to write introductions and conclusions. The ReadWriteThink lesson Leading to Great Places in the Elementary Classroom can be a useful resource for exploring introductory sentences.
  • (optional) For background information on the compare and contrast essay format, see Literacy Education Online's Comparison/Contrast Essays .

Student Objectives

Students will

  • define the characteristics of a comparison/contrast essay.
  • generate ideas for the group composition and their own essays as the process is modeled.
  • develop a final copy of a comparison/contrast paper.

Session One

  • Hold up or display two different objects for students to focus on as they explore the meaning of the terms compare and contrast. You might choose two different beverage options (juice versus milk), two candy bars (Milky Way versus Reese's Cups), or two different television programs ( SpongeBob SquarePants versus The Rugrats ). Be sure to choose items which students are familiar with so that the process of comparing the objects will be clearer to them.
  • Make two columns on the board or chart paper and invite students to brainstorm characteristics of first one of the objects (e.g., juice) and then the other object (e.g., milk). Invite students to add and revise information as they work, moving between the two columns.
  • If students need help building the lists of characteristics, ask leading questions such as "How do you decide which beverage you want to drink?" or "How do you decide which candy bar to buy?"
  • Ask students to identify characteristics that are included in both of the columns. Either mark these similarities using a different colored pen, or create a new chart with the column headings of "Comparison" and "Contrast."
  • Based on the information in the lists, lead a class discussion on the definitions of the words compare and contrast . Refer to examples on the charts to clarify the difference between the two terms.
  • As a class, brainstorm other ways students compare and contrast in their daily lives (sports teams, restaurants, toys, books, etc.). You can do this by pairing students in groups or 2-4 having them compose a list as a group and then as a coming together as a class to share ideas.
  • From there, you will brainstorm and generate a class definition of compare and contrast making sure they understand why comparing and contrasting is important by using examples as needed.

Sessions Two and Three

  • Use the Comparison and Contrast Guide to review information from the first class session as needed.
  • You can decide or allow the class to help you decide two things to compare and contrast for the class essay.
  • Use the "Graphic Organizer" tab on the Comparison and Contrast Guide to introduce the Venn Diagram. Alternately, you can use the Compare and Contrast Chart Graphic Organizer if you prefer.
  • Open the Venn Diagram Student Interactive . Alternately, you can draw a simple graphic organizer on the chalkboard of a Venn diagram (two overlapping circles).
  • Label the circles and brainstorm as a class what is different about your topics and drag the ideas to the appropriate circle and what is the same about your topic and drag those ideas to the overlapping part of the circles.
  • Print out the Venn Diagram, and make copies for students to use in later sessions.
  • Use the "Organizing a Paper" tab on the Comparison and Contrast Guide and the Compare and Contrast Map to introduce the Similarities-to-Differences structure.
  • Open a new word processor file, where you'll compose the first sections of the essay as a group.
  • Brainstorm an interesting lead with the class. Have several people give ideas and model for the class how to rearrange ideas and thoughts to come up with the best and most interesting beginning and continue writing as a class from there.
  • Demonstrate cut, copy, and paste commands for your word processor software.
  • As you write with your class, feel free to delete ideas and change them as better ones come up and reread what has been written before asking for the next idea to be sure that the thoughts flow nicely. Refer back to the Venn Diagram as necessary.
  • Use the "Transitions" tab on the Comparison and Contrast Guide to introduce the use of transitional words to increase coherence.
  • Save your class draft of the introduction and the section on similarities. If possible, share the file with students, so that they can continue writing the text in their own copy of the file. Alternately, print the file and makes copies for students.
  • Ask the students to continue the essay using the beginning that you've written together. They can add the section on differences and the conclusion in class or as homework.
  • Use the Comparison and Contrast Guide to review information as needed. Use the "Checklist" tab to explain the requirements for the finished essay. If desired, share the Comparison and Contrast Rubric with students as well.
  • Show students how to access the Comparison and Contrast Guide so that they can refer to the resource as they like while writing.
  • If students work in class, circulate among students, giving ideas and help.
  • Write another comparison and contrast essay, using the whole-to-whole or point-by-point organization explained in the "Organizing a Paper" tab on the Comparison and Contrast Guide .
History historical figures, maps of different time periods, states, time periods, books on the same historical subject Science scientists, weather patterns, plants in habitats Art paintings, artists' lives, different techniques Reading two different authors, two stories by the same author, books on the same topic by different authors, a book and the movie made from it

Student Assessment / Reflections

If possible, it is great to read the essay with the student individually and provide direct feedback. When this option is not available, constructive written comments are helpful. As you read the essays, keep notes on the aspects to review and share with the class later. For more structured feedback, use the Comparison and Contrast Rubric . After you have finished responding to the essays, review them with the class, adding advice as needed. You might go back and model an area where students needed more practice. Alternately, you can use the Compare and Contrast Guide to review the area.

This interactive tool allows students to create Venn diagrams that contain two or three overlapping circles, enabling them to organize their information logically.

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How You Can Teach the Compare and Contrast Essay With Examples

  • September 7, 2022
  • Informative writing , Scaffolds for writing , teaching writing

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?

Table of Contents

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.

The ideas are truly endless for topics for compare and contrast essays. You can make connections with all areas of the curriculum.

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.

Compare and contrast essay with a blank paper and a woman's hands.

  • 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.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Use compare and contrast writing to strengthen critical thinking skills across the curriculum. Here’s how.” quote=”Compare and contrast writing can be used to strengthen critical thinking skills across the curriculum. ” theme=”style3″]

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.

compare and contrast graphic organizers

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!


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