Writing is hard for upper elementary students. Writing a compare and contrast essay is even harder. A lot of times this gets pushed to the back burner, and we practice the skill of comparing and contrasting with things that are less frustrating and take less time – like the overused Venn Diagram.
However, teaching students to compare and contrast topics within their writing is an important skill. Scaffolding student writing can minimize the frustration of students, save valuable time, and help your students become better writers.
Start Small – Compare and Contrast Sentences and Paragraphs
Sometimes teachers get stuck thinking that their students have to write a full blown compare and contrast essay (including all of the steps of the writing process) every time they write. Don’t get stuck thinking this way!
Students don’t have to write an entire essay every time you want them to practice comparing and contrasting within their writing – students can practice this skill just by writing a paragraph, or even a sentence!
As you begin incorporating this into your lessons, provide scaffolding through sentence starters or paragraph frames. 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 _______________.
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.
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 _________________________.
This scaffolding not only provides students with a model for how to compare and contrast in their writing, but it also improves their own writing.
A Scaffolded Compare and Contrast Essay
Usually we teach students to write a compare and contrast essay by modeling expectations, and then having students write their own independently. This leaves out a very important step – the scaffolded essay. All of my 3rd grade students – even my more advanced and gifted students – benefited from additional scaffolding when writing any essay, but especially a compare and contrast essay.
After students brainstorm similarities and differences for the topic they will be writing their essay over, provide students with a scaffolded rough draft using paragraph frames similar to the ones in the previous section. This helps students stay on topic and helps model what a good compare and contrast essay should look like.
Eventually, as students get more and more practice, you will take the scaffolding away. You can also use this to help differentiate – provide more scaffolding for the students that need it, while your advanced students may only have the topic sentences scaffolded for them – or maybe even no scaffolding at all.
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.
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