Compare and Contrast Text Structure: Reading Comprehension Review Study Guide (page 3)
Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:
The next text structure we'll investigate is compare and contrast. First of all, what is it? Simply put, to compare things, you look for ways they are alike; to contrast things, you look for how they are different.
A writer may have several reasons for using a compare-and-contrast text structure. Sometimes it gives readers a new perspective on things. So you can read a passage and think to yourself, "Wow, I never thought to compare those two things!" Writers love to use the wow factor, but it's not the only reason to use this text structure. Suppose a writer wants to tell readers which fruits and vegetables are the healthiest choices. The writer might compare and contrast the vitamin and mineral content of various fruits and vegetables. Then, for example, readers will know which food to choose that contains more vitamin A.
We all compare and contrast out of habit, all the time. We check out two pairs of pants in a clothing store to decide which to buy (both are brown, but one has more pockets). In the grocery store, we carefully compare apples (both are red, but one is firmer than another and one has a bruise). We compare and contrast people (He looks like Brad Pitt!) and objects (The clouds look like giant cotton balls). As we observe the world around us and make everyday decisions, we constantly compare and contrast. (How do you think this chapter compares with the last one so far?)
FUEL FOR THOUGHT
EVER HEARD THE expression It's like apples and oranges? It's used to refer to two things that are very different. The basis for the expression is the contrast between apples and oranges.
PICK TWO OBJECTS and make a list of their similarities and differences.
Just so that we're clear on which means which, comparing highlights similarities while contrasting highlights differences.
- compare = similarities
- contrast = differences
PICK TWO ITEMS that you can see from where you are sitting. Make a list of all the ways they are alike. Make another list of all the ways they are different.
The main idea of a passage will most likely tell if things are being compared or contrasted. Read the following passage to determine what is being compared or contrasted.
Some might say that, in a lot of ways, going to school is similar to having a job. Like a job, attending school requires that you show up at a certain time, and if you are late, there are consequences. Also, in the same way that at work you find yourself having to get along with other people, at school you may have to work on a homework assignment with students who aren't necessarily your friends. At a job, there are frequently projects to complete by certain deadlines. Similarly, at school, teachers assign homework that is due on a specific day. In these ways, going to school is very much like having a job.
You probably noticed that two things were being compared in the passage. The first sentence, which is also the topic sentence, tells you that going to school is similar to having a job. The rest of the passage gives some examples of how the two are similar.
Writers use words and phrases to signal that they are comparing or contrasting. You probably noticed some in the passage you just read. Here is a list of words and phrases writers use to signal that two things are being compared or contrasted.
Within the compare-and-contrast test structure, there are two different substructures. A writer could compare and contrast using the point-by-point method, or by using a block style.
FUEL FOR THOUGHT
A VENN DIAGRAM is a graphic organizer that uses overlapping circles to visually illustrate similarities and differences.
The point-by-point method compares or contrasts two things, characteristic by characteristic. For example, the passage you read that compared going to school with having a job was written in the point-by-point structure. Let's look at that passage.
THINK OF THE point-by-point method as using two lists, one for each thing being compared or contrasted. Each thing on both lists is discussed, point by point, first from one list, then the other, and back and forth.
Some might say that, in a lot of ways, going to school is similar to having a job. Like a job, attending school requires that you show up at a certain time and if you are late, there are consequences. Also, in the same way that at work, you find yourself having to get along with other people, at school you may have to work on a homework assignment with students who aren't necessarily your friends. At a job, there are frequently projects to complete by certain deadlines. Similarly, at school teachers assign homework that is due on a specific day. In these ways, going to school is very much like having a job.
The first thing the author discusses is being on time. At a job, you have to be on time and at school you have to be on time, too. Then the author discusses getting along with others you have to work with at a job and also at school. Do you see the pattern? Each aspect of having a job is directly compared to that same aspect of going to school.
The block method is discusses one thing fully and then the other thing fully. Using this method, the comparison between school and work might look something like this:
Some might say that, in a lot of ways, going to school is similar to having a job. When you go to school, you are expected to be there at a certain time in the morning, and there are consequences for being late. Also, you have to be able to work well with other students and turn in your homework by a certain due date. Just like school, a job also requires that you arrive at a specific time and that you are able to work well with other people. In the same way that homework is due on a certain day, oftentimes a job will require that a project be completed by a given deadline. In these ways, going to school is very much like having a job.
In this version of the passage, notice that all the aspects related to going to school are discussed first and then all the aspects related to having a job are discussed. Instead of a direct, side-by-side comparison of each aspect, the block method tells the reader all about one subject and then all about the other.
So that you can see it more clearly, here's the passage again with everything having to do with going to school underlined and everything related to having a job in italics.
Some might say that, in a lot of ways, going to school is similar to having a job. [When you go to school, you are expected to be there at a certain time in the morning and there are consequences for being late.] [Also, you have to be able to work well with other students and turn in your homework by a certain due date.] (Just like school, a job also requires that you arrive at a specific time and that you are able to work well with other people.) (In the same way that homework is due on a certain day, often times a job will require that a project be completed by a given deadline.) In these ways, going to school is very much like having a job.
As you can see, everything related to going to school is discussed first and everything related to having a job is discussed second. The block method is like two blocks, one on top of the other.
AS YOU'RE READING, try using pens or highlighters of two different colors to highlight, underline, or circle the aspects discussed. Use one color for one subject and another color for the other. This will help you see at a glance which substructure is being used.
TRY MAKING A chart like this to organize your information.
IF YOU WERE to compare two things, which method would you use? Is there one that seems more natural or logical to you?
We naturally compare and contrast things every day. We do it so often that we probably don't even realize we're doing it. But we do, and so do authors. They will compare and contrast for two main reasons. One, they might want to highlight information by showing you how it stacks up against something else. Two, they might want to offer you a new perspective. Either way, it's something to look out for in the things you read.
When two or more things are being compared, their similarities are highlighted. When two or more things are being contrasted, their differences are highlighted. So how can you tell whether the author is comparing or contrasting? First, you want to look for the main idea of the passage, which, at this point, you should be getting good at finding. It should tell you whether the subject matter is being compared or contrasted. Just look for the telltale words and phrases.
Remember that there are two different ways an author might compare or contrast something: point-by-point or the block method. Point-by-point occurs when the author talks about each aspect with respect to how it relates to one thing and then how it relates to the other. It's a direct, side-by-side discussion. On the other hand, the block method occurs when the author discusses all aspects of one thing and then moves on to discuss all aspects of the second thing. You'll come across both structures as you read. It's important to be able to distinguish between them so you understand the similarities or differences the author is communicating to you.
Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:
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- First Grade Sight Words List
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- Signs Your Child Might Have Asperger's Syndrome
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- A Teacher's Guide to Differentiating Instruction
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- Social Cognitive Theory
- Curriculum Definition
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