Academic journal article Ohio Reading Teacher

Teaching Compare-Contrast Writing in the 21st Century

Academic journal article Ohio Reading Teacher

Teaching Compare-Contrast Writing in the 21st Century

Article excerpt

"Compare and contrast the Beatles and Mozart." "Compare and contrast the causes of the American Revolution and the French Revolution." "Compare and contrast the main characters of Moby Dick and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Sound challenging? Definitely! Compare-contrast writing tasks are challenging for students of all age groups from elementary years through graduate school.

The compare-contrast organization can be one of the most effective strategies in students' learning. Writing research has shown positive results when teachers provide explicit lessons in how to write compare-contrast papers. The lessons described here were recently used in a research study of compare-contrast writing instruction (Hammann, 2000). This study investigated instructional approaches to teaching compare-contrast writing: summarization skills to support learning information from texts, compare-contrast organization to support organization of that information, and a combination of both approaches. The results indicated that simply learning information from reading texts may not help students in writing compare-contrast assignments. They need to gain information for a specific purpose, such as comparing and contrasting, and not just to "know it." The results also suggested that students need to be taught the specific writing strategies for particular learning goals of the writing assignment, including how to use the knowledge they are acquiring from their reading.

The 21st century is a rapidly changing one, presenting individuals with a "deluge of data" (Halpern, 1998, p. 450). The compare-contrast format is a metacognitive strategy to support learners in a variety of contexts in reading and writing essential to learning in this century: finding relevant information, critical thinking, complex problem solving, and transfer. Comparing and contrasting encourages critical thinking in finding appropriate information (Bransford, Sherwood, Vye, & Rieser, 1986) and evaluating it (Allington, 2001), distinguishing between emotional and fact-based appeals (Allington, 2001; Wade, 1995); constructing arguments and counterarguments (Yeh, 2001); and generating and answering relevant questions (NRR 2000). These critical thinking processes are essential for solving complex problems in a variety of contexts, both academic and "real world" ones. Academic ones may include choosing between two courses of study, writing an essay, or constructing a lesson plan. Non-academic complex problems can include comparing and contrasting two available jobs or choosing a political candidate to vote for, including distinguishing between emotional appeals and fact-based ones from opposing positions.

Compare-Contrast Writing

Compare-contrast writing presents information on the "basis of similarities and differences" (Meyer, Young, & Bartlett, 1989, p. 6). Its "main idea is organized into parts that provide a comparison, contrast, or alternative perspective" (Meyer et al., 1989, p. 94). Research studies indicate that students have more difficulties with compare-contrast organization than with other types of expository writing (Englert & Hiebert, 1984). In the compare-contrast organization, students are not just recalling and listing information they have acquired from reading source texts about two topics. They are actively working with their knowledge of those two topics, constructing new knowledge. Compare-contrast writing is important when students write to learn. To be able to compare and contrast concepts or topics is an essential part of students' conceptual knowledge as well as their metacognitive knowledge (Sitko, 1998). Moreover, comparing and contrasting supports students making cognitive connections between topics and networks of topics (Dickson, Simmons, & Kameenui, 1995).

Compare-contrast writing usually answers several questions: what two things are being compared? on what points? how are they alike? how are they different? …

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