This post about preparing for Common Core assessments offers new material developed by Sarah Tantillo, the author of Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action (Jossey-Bass, 2014) and The Literacy Cookbook (Jossey-Bass, 2012). Be sure to browse her links to other PARCC Prep articles at the end of this post. And check out her website, The Literacy Cookbook, and her TLC Blog.
by Sarah Tantillo
In the PARCC literary analysis task, students must closely analyze two literary texts—often focusing on their themes or points of view—and compare and contrast these texts.
In previous posts, I’ve proposed a lesson series to tackle this task and a tool for teaching students how to infer theme, which is a common requirement since Common Core Reading Anchor Standard #2 is “Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.”
This post deals with the challenge of how to organize a compare-and-contrast essay. Many students struggle with this task, I believe, for two reasons:
(1) Teachers often rely on Venn diagrams to teach the concept of “compare and contrast,” and Venn diagrams are not a useful way to organize writing. They were meant for discussions around set theory, not for essay writing. Seriously. Could you write an essay from notes inserted into this?
(2) Teachers tend to assume that students can transfer their “understandings” from Venn diagrams into full-blown essays, so they don’t spend enough time explaining how to outline and develop the evidence and explanation needed.
Use charts, not Venns
As I’ve noted previously (here and here), instead of trying to fill in Venn diagrams, students should annotate texts with charts that have either two or three columns, depending on the number of texts. For literary analysis, it’s two; for research writing, it’s two texts and a video. Students then put checkmarks next to items that the texts have in common. What remains unchecked should be dealt with in the “contrast” paragraphs.
But you can’t easily write an essay from those notes. You have to organize your ideas.
Here is a simple graphic organizer to help students turn those notes into an outline for writing (click on the image to download a student-friendly PDF version).
As always, students will need lots of modeling and practice to master this step.
Editor’s note: Sarah Tantillo has agreed to share her other PARCC Prep materials with our readers. Just click to access these various posts at her blog. Visit her TLC “PARCC Prep” page to stay up to date with her Common Core assessment materials.
PARCC Prep READING RESOURCES:
PARCC Prep WRITING RESOURCES:
Research Writing Tasks:
Narrative Writing Tasks:
Literary Analysis Writing Tasks:
Sarah Tantillo writes frequently for MiddleWeb about literacy and the Common Core. She is the author of Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action and The Literacy Cookbook: A Practical Guide to Effective Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening Instruction. Sarah consults with schools on literacy instruction, curriculum development, data-driven instruction, and school culture-building. Sarah has taught high school English and Humanities in both suburban and urban public schools, including the high-performing North Star Academy Charter School of Newark. Visit her website.
Compare and Contrast Essay Writing
A compare and contrast essay is a type of essay which is used to explore both the similarities and the differences between two subjects by comparing and contrasting them against each other.
A comparison seeks to present the similarities of two objects whereas a contrast aims at exposing the differences between two objects. Compare and contrast essays are popular in academic writing. The comparison and contrast may be a fraction of an essay or may constitute the entire essay. An essay may include only a comparison, contrast or both. A contrast and compare essay’s goal may be to assist the readers to make a decision on a particular topic of argument. Another aim of this type of essay may be to develop critical and analytical thinking capacities in the minds of the audience.
COMPARE AND CONTRAST ESSAY RUBRIC
Compare and Contrast Essay Outline
A compare and contrast essay outline consists of an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The introduction and conclusion are often standard paragraphs written at the beginning and end of an essay respectively. An introduction is an overview of the rest of the essay and should contain a strong thesis statement that comprehensively states the essay’s purpose.
There are two primary manners to outline or structure the body of a compare and contrast essay:
- The first way is using a block structure also called a subject to subject or a whole to the whole structure. In this fashion, an essay writer compares and contrasts all the information of a single subject or item first. The comparison and contrast of the second subject are listed after that and follows the same order as the first. A transition paragraph or sentence often divides the two paragraphs above.
- The second system is a point by point structure. In a point by point system, each point is discussed in a single paragraph. Both subjects are discussed under the same point in each paragraph. It is advised to start and end with the same subject for each point to maintain consistency. The type of structure used depends on the essay writer and the advantages of each structure. A point by point structure is clearer and more explicit whereas the block structure is easier to write.
60 SUCCESSFUL COMPARE AND CONTRAST ESSAY TOPICS
How to Start Compare and Contrast Essay
Once a teacher gives students the two subject to be compared and contrasted, the students first go out and seek information about both topics. The first step is to identify the differences and similarities in the information. Then a way to sort out and organize the above information is sought and utilized. The best and most common way of starting such an essay is to draw a Venn diagram. A Venn diagram is a very helpful organizational tool. It consists of two circles that overlap creating a single overlapping area and two non-overlapping areas.
The diagram is then used to filter the information. The similar properties of the two subjects are written in the overlapping area while contrasting features are written in their respective non-overlapping areas. One can also use a table to classify the information presented in a clear and manageable way. Tables are relatively straightforward and easy to use.
How to Conclude Compare and Contrast Essay
The conclusion of a compare and contrast essay should be able to summarize the major points presented in the body of the essay. It should, however, go beyond a simple analysis. The conclusion should be an evaluation of the points given above. It should present the overall aim of the essay’s discussion. Often, a paraphrased version of the thesis statement contained in the introduction is provided in the conclusion.
The concluding paragraph, in essence, should show the significance of why the essay writer compared and contrasted the two subjects that were in question. Moreover, the conclusion should contain a vivid presentation of the opinion of the essay writer on the topic of discussion.
Compare and Contrast Essay Writing Tips
A good topic should interest readers and hold their attention. It should also aid the writer to demonstrate his writing skills through the essay. The subjects to be discussed should also be easily comparable to make distinctions as clear as possible. Information on the two subjects should be wide reaching and easily acquirable to ensure the writer has plenty of material for the essay. Choosing the essay structure that suits the writer is an important part of writing a good compare and contrast essay. A proper outline gives the essay clarity and helps the organization of the work. The structure of the essay’s body determines the shape of the entire work.
The essay structure could highlight the writer weaknesses or strengths and should be decided with the utmost of care. Use of appropriate transitioning signals is crucial. These are words, phrases, and expressions that show the reader the relationship between subjects. Such words should be undoubtedly clear whether they indicate contrast or showcase similarities. Transition signals should also be placed at the correct point in a sentence or paragraph. Feel free to use this sample essay as a model for your own compare and contrast essay.
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