Writing compare and contrast

Strategies of compare and contrast writing

When students write comparisons or contrasts, they need to be able to determine the

  • criteria that are being used as points of comparison
  • similarities and/or differences between the two items being compared.

At the same time, students must make decisions about how to arrange these similarities and differences to communicate them clearly. Due to this interaction of content and organisational demands, it can be a challenging form of expository writing for students.

By using strategies that illustrate and model the language features and structure of compare-contrast writing, students can be supported to communicate their comparative analysis of two or more concepts, strategies or options related to an economic or business situation/problem/issue.

One way to support students to write compare and contrast expositions in Economics and Business is to use a jigsaw activity.

Jigsaw activity to complete a compare and contrast

When students do compare and contrast writing, they:

  • recall and list the information that they know about two or more concepts, strategies or options in economics or business
  • simultaneously use this information to make decisions about the viability of each concept, strategy option in relation to the other(s).

The jigsaw activity enables students to:

  • record information about each of the items being compared and contrasted
  • organise and communicate this information in a format that makes the similarities and differences between the items clear for readers.

By using collaborative learning [HITS strategy 5] in the following jigsaw activity, students can draw on one another's knowledge and understanding to compare and contrast concepts, strategies and options.

  1. To activate students' prior knowledge of what it means to compare and contrast, ask them what it means to 'compare' and what it means to 'contrast' two or more items.  Ask students to compare and contrast two everyday items to illustrate their meaning. For example:
    • compare and contrast lemons with apples. Both are fruit, but lemons are yellow when ripe and are a type of citrus with seeds located inside wedges in the fruit. Apples are pomes with the seeds located in the core of the fruit; they are usually red or green when ripe.
  2. Divide students into groups according to the number of concepts, strategies or options that you want them to compare and contrast. For example:

    • divide the class into three groups, group 1, 2 and 3, if comparing and contrasting three strategies
    • seat them with other students in their designated group
    • give each student a named numbered card that represents the group that they are in, e.g. group 1, group 2, group 3.

    For example, if comparing and contrasting ways to more equitably distribute income and wealth in Australia, you might have three groups:

    1. Government redistributes income
    2. Government policies to improve employment prospects for unemployed
    3. Using a progressive income tax system.
  3. Give each student a text (e.g. textbook extract, article, business report) specifically related to the concept, strategy or option for their group. For example:
  4. Also give them a copy of a criteria table to record a description of their allocated concept, strategy or option. A criteria table lists the various features of an item, which will help students compare and contrast.
    • Note: A completed example is below for students comparing and contrasting different strategies to distribute income and wealth more equitably in Australia.
  5. Instruct students that, at this point, they should just write descriptions about their allocated item in relation to the criteria listed in the table.
  6. Students work in pairs/small groups with peers who are also in their group to read the information and complete the criteria table. Each student must complete their own individual criteria table.
  7. Once students have completed the criteria table in their group, create new groups that comprise at least one person from each of the previous groups. For example:
    • one student from each of group 1, 2 and 3 form a new group.
  8. Instruct students to put their criteria tables next to each other. Students then ask each other questions to compare their tables. This could be led by the teacher if further scaffolding is needed. Questions students could ask each other include:
    • What two things are being compared?
    • What are the points of comparison?
    • How are they alike?
    • How are they different?
  9. As students respond to these questions, have them highlight similarities in one colour and differences in another. If there is more than one, students should also number the similarities and differences to make comparisons and contrasts easier. A completed example is below, which compares different strategies to distribute income and wealth more equitably in Australia. Similarities highlighted yellow and differences highlighted blue.

    Figure caption: In this jigsaw activity example, three different strategies are compared. The first is for the government to redistribute income. The second is for government policies to improve employment prospects for an unemployed individual to increase their income. The third group considered using a progressive income tax system.

    Curriculum links for this example are: VCEBR021, VCEBW016, VCEBE019, VCEBE028.

  10. Instruct students to use the criteria tables in their newly formed group to write a short paragraph (2-3 sentences) for each criterion to compare and contrast the concepts/strategies/options that they have described in the table.
    • Generally, paragraphs begin with a topic sentence followed by a series of elaborations that describe, define, or provide examples to support the topic sentence.
    • Strategies to support paragraph structure can be found in the English section of the Toolkit.
  11. Students can edit their paragraphs as they write by answering a series of questions, such as:
    • 'Is the description in this criterion similar to another one? If so, how?'
    • 'What conjunctions can you use here to show a difference?'
    • For example, students might use: but, however, on the other hand, instead, in contrast, even so.
    • 'What conjunctions can you use here to show a similarity?'
    • For example, students might use: similarly, like, as with.
    • 'How might you express this in a more objective, formal way?'
  12. Ask groups to share their responses in their groups. The teacher may write one or two exemplar paragraphs on the board, indicating:
    • conjunctions or phrases students have used to show similarity (highlighted yellow) and difference (highlighted blue) (begin yellow highlighting) All three methods (end yellow highlighting) have the aim to distribute income and wealth more equitably in Australia. If the Government redistributes income or uses policies to increase employment, government spending will increase. (begin blue highlighting) On the other hand (end blue highlighting), using a progressive income tax system will not increase government spending. (begin blue highlighting) However (end blue highlighting), this method does not redistribute wealth directly to low-income earners.