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Compare and contrast

Teaching strategies

Compare and contrast: Applications in the classroom as a literacy tool

Compare and contrast – considering the differences and similarities between 2 or more items (such as 2 poems or 2 authors).

Small classroom of five students and a support worker ready to begin a class activity.

The compare and contrast strategy is an old-school favourite of many teachers. It is used in early childhood to learn new sounds, in high school to consider 2 elements of a text, and even at the highest echelons of tertiary education (such as comparing 2 or more research papers). A common high school exam question is ‘compare and contrast…’ followed by 2 poems, authors, films or characters.

Comparing and contrasting requires students to consider one thing in light of another. Positioning 2 items side-by-side provides a unique perspective from which students can view, analyse, interpret and consider something.

Note that there is no real difference between ‘compare’ and ‘contrast’ and they are often used as a single phrase to simply mean ‘differences and similarities’. Technically contrasting means to only look at the differences whereas comparing means to look at both the differences and the similarities. For the busy practicing teacher however, these semantics are irrelevant; we are mostly concerned with why this strategy is effective and how to implement it successfully. For some reason (probably due to the clever sounding alliteration), the ‘compare and contrast’ phrase has stuck. It continues to be widely used today.

Hint: you may come across the term ‘juxtaposition’ or ‘juxtapose’ (which means to put 2 of something side-by-side in order to highlight a particular element). For example, an author might juxtapose a wealthy businessman eating at a fine restaurant with a poor person outside eating from a rubbish bin in order to emphasise income inequality. Without the juxtaposition, the reader will not compare the 2 characters and may simply visualise a person eating – nothing out of the ordinary or worth commenting on.

Comparing and contrasting requires students to consider one thing in light of another. Positioning 2 items side-by-side provides a unique perspective from which students can view, analyse, interpret and consider something. In a literary sense, 2 authors can have 2 different perspectives or points of view for the same event. By comparing and/or contrasting these 2 interpretations, students can develop critical literacy skills as well as a deeper understanding of both texts and the topic. They begin to see that authors have unique perspectives, biases and agendas which can be deconstructed (in other words, picked apart and analysed). They can see how authors use characters to articulate and describe their point of view, theme and messages (political, economic, social etc.). Students can also see how language, grammar, structure and linguistic devices are used differently. Comparing and contrasting is a key strategy used to support the development of critical literacy skills.

Hint: comparing and contrasting can also help students to retain information in long-term memory. It is therefore useful for introductory (linking), consolidation or review activities.

About the author

Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and an author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of Fast Track Training Australia, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to check his article for accuracy, information may be outdated, inaccurate or not relevant to you and your location/employer/contract. It is not intended as legal or professional advice. Users should seek expert advice such as by contacting the relevant education department, should make their own enquiries, and should not rely on any of the information provided.

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