Before my students write a compare and contrast essay, I have them do the following exercise in groups. It’s a lot of fun and gives them a template for writing about their own topics after the activity. This activity demystifies the process and structure for a compare/contrast essay. I usually get the best essay results of the quarter after using this
You will need:
1 white poster board and marker for each group, or just use the handout
1 handout for each group
2 similar food items for each group (I like to bring a different pair for each group, usually store brand vs. name brand chips, cookies, fruit snacks etc….). If you don’t want to use food, or the budget doesn’t permit, you can use stuffed animals, games, or any pair of similar items.
1. On the chalkboard or whiteboard, draw a simple two-circle Venn diagram. Use a pencil and your chalk or white board marker to show how a Venn diagram works: The circles are labeled with one item each. Unique qualities of the item are listed in the circles, and similarities in the overlapped portion. Have the students give ideas for how a pencil is unique from the marker and visa versa. Then have them give ideas for how they are the same.
Narrowing your Topic
Once you have a broad topic, the next step is to narrow it down to something you can write about effectively in an essay. Here are a few tips:
Be specific: It doesn’t make sense to write about a topic that is too broad, such as the differences between living in Hawaii and living in Alaska. Most people can easily imagine the differences, so your essay won’t be compelling to your audience. A better topic, for example, would be the difference in costs between living in Hawaii and living in Alaska. This is specific and not already obvious, so it’s more likely to be interesting.
Choose similar subjects: It also doesn’t make sense to choose two things that are too disparate, such as a career choice between becoming a computer engineer or becoming a lawyer. A more logical choice would be comparing going into network security versus software development, or deciding between family law and criminal law.
Circle the three most important differences for each topic, then circle the three most important similarities.
Decide whether your essay would be better primarily showing the similarities (compare essay) or primarily showing the differences (contrast essay).