Venn Diagrams are a tool commonly used in 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade classrooms to teach students how to compare and contrast. And while Venn Diagrams can be useful, they can also be used in a way that promotes lower level thinking instead of higher level thinking.
Usually, teachers give students completely blank Venn Diagrams. At first glance, a blank diagram seems like it would encourage higher level thinking because it is completely open ended. However, this often solicits very surface level answers. How many times have you asked a student to compare themselves with a main character from a book and they proudly announced, “I am a boy and the main character in the story was a girl!” Or, “We both have a brother.”
To utilize Venn Diagrams to their full potential, we need to draw out higher level thinking from our students.
Scaffold Higher Level Thinking in Venn Diagrams
Often, teachers teach students how to use Venn Diagrams using the “I Do, We Do, You Do” method. First, we model to students. Then, we have students complete a Venn Diagram with us. Finally, we give students a blank one to fill out on their own. And while this can be an effective method, students need a LOT more of the “We Do” if they are going to use higher level thinking.
Scaffold and provide more “We do” opportunities by providing students with completed statements and having students decide where on the Venn Diagram the statements belong. Giving students several opportunities to read and sort statements that had higher level thinking involved will help them see that they should be including thoughtful, deep answers when filling out Venn Diagrams rather than surface level answers.
This does take more preparation, but it is a great way to model high expectations to students. You can get a free compare and contrast reading passage with a “scaffolded” Venn Diagram (pictured above) here. This activity requires students to read two different reading passages about hurricanes, answer compare and contrast questions about the two passages, and then place statements in the correct spot on a Venn Diagram.
After students have had plenty of examples, they will still need additional scaffolding in order to provide answers that require higher level thinking. You can do this by requiring students to provide a similarity or difference about a certain topic. For example, require students to come up with a similarity or difference in the character traits of two of the characters. This requires students to think at a deeper level and keeps them from being able to provide a surface level answer. A list is provided below to help you as you direct your 3rd grade, 4th grade, or 5th grade students.
Fiction – Have students provide a similarity or difference about:
-how the characters changed/what the characters learned
-important events that occurred in the beginning/middle/end
-the problems the characters had
-how the characters solved problems
-how the characters behaved
Nonfiction – Have students provide a similarity or difference about:
-the author’s point of view
-something new students learned about the topic
-something students already knew about the topic
-most important difference/most important similarity
Giving students a little more direction as they fill in a blank graphic organizer will help them think more deeply.