Middle-school teachers often assign compare and contrast essays as part of their language arts curriculum. Students may be required to compare and contrast literary characters, animal habitats, periods in history or current social issues to learn how to identify important relationships. Students can better express these relationships when you help guide them through the structure and function of the components of compare and contrast essays.
Create a Strong Thesis
Help your students create a well-structured thesis to support their points of view, a key skill emphasized by the Common Core State Standards Initiative. For example, if a student wants to compare and contrast Mark Twain's character Huckleberry Finn with Thomas from James Dashner's "The Maze Runner," she must explain how the two relate.
Her thesis might say, "Huckleberry Finn and Thomas from 'The Maze Runner' are similar because they courageously face difficult obstacles to protect their friends, but they have different motivations behind their actions." A strong thesis helps middle-school students organize their ideas and find supporting evidence to back their viewpoints.
Develop a Detailed Outline
Instruct your students to develop outlines that include facts, quotes, anecdotes, statistics and descriptions that support their comparisons and contrasts, suggests the Ware County School System in Georgia. Students can either break their essays into categories and explain the similarities and differences in individual paragraphs, or they can stress similarities in one and differences in another.
For example, if a student is comparing a fox's den to a black bear's den, he might break the content into categories, such as size, purpose and location. He can devote one paragraph to each category, stressing similarities and differences between foxes and black bears in each paragraph. Or, he can discuss all the similarities between a fox's and a black bear's den -- across all categories -- in one paragraph and all the differences in another.
Incorporate Transitional Phrases
Encourage your students to incorporate transitional phrases, such as "similar to," "likewise," "similarly," "just as," "contrary to," "on the other hand," "in opposition to" and "conversely," into their papers. Middle-school students must learn that transitional phrases are critical to the development of compare and contrast essays.
For example, if a student is comparing and contrasting the leadership styles of former U.S. presidents John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, she might write, "Just as Kennedy promoted the importance of public service, Clinton did the same in his inaugural address." Transitional phrases help students link ideas so their papers flow smoothly from one point to the next.
Include a Concise Conclusion
Ask your middle-school students to restate the thesis and summarize the major similarities and differences in their conclusion, linking their summary to the purpose behind their essay. Stress important considerations, such as why the comparisons and contrasts help people better understand literature, science, politics or history. This encourages reflection about why the similarities and differences matter and how they influence human or animal behavior. The goal is for students to express these observations in a way that supports the main ideas of their essay.
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