Michelle Wittle On The Compare and Contrast Essay

Michelle Wittle On, Writing Tips

This blog will be short, sweet, and directly to the point. Basically, I am assuming you read the blog about the five-paragraph essay, so I am not going to go over that stuff again. But, a small refresher: Start with one way to write the compare and contrast essay and let the students really learn that way and then introduce another option. Call it options instead of a new way. They might be tricked into thinking this new way is the only way you will accept the essay. Maybe as you are introducing the new option, you can be specific, but once they master it, let them take ownership of their writing. Also, make sure you remind them that this is just another type of essay. They may get confused and think they are learning something brand new. They aren’t because they already know how to do the introduction and conclusion; you are just changing the “meat” of the sandwich.


So here is option one (and I am only talking about the “meat” of the sandwich): Pick like three of four ways the stories (or whatever you are choosing to compare and contrast) are the same and discuss them all in paragraph two. In paragraph three, you guessed it, three or four ways they are different.


Bam! Compare and contrast essay is done. Of course the introduction and conclusion are there so, there you have the four-paragraph compare and contrast essay. This is by far the easiest essay to teach and to write. It is highly structured and it will keep your little word wonderers in line.


Now, the five-paragraph compare and contrast essay is a bit more stylistic and much harder because you are asking the kids to do a much more in depth analyses of the pieces. However, that doesn’t mean you should shy away from using this format. You know your students and you know what they can do and what may be a bit over their heads. Use your teacher judgment.


Here is option two: Instead of the “meat” being all compare in one paragraph and contrast in another, you can have three paragraphs with both compare and contrast in each paragraph. What you want to do is have the students find three literary topics to analyze. Let’s just go with the easiest of them all: main character, setting, and theme. Now, have the students look at those three attributes and find ways that the authors are similar and how they are not. Keep in mind that if a student tries to pass off, “both stories had a plot” as a legitimate comparison, do not accept that. This compare and contrast format is designed to really get the students looking at the stories and deconstructing the stories.


Again, make sure the students don’t forget to have an introduction and a conclusion and then BAM! They have another essay written.


There is just one more thing that always annoyed me about essays. Everyone thinks it is the English teacher’s responsibility to teach this, but writing should be happening in all subjects. When a child goes to college, they will write essays in ALL of their classes, so why should middle and high school be any different?


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