Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Compare and Contrast Skills

Our reading series teaches skills in three week bursts.  Our most recent unit covered comparing and contrasting texts. I have some mixed feelings on our reading series.  I think it does a good job of covering individual skills, but in a very isolated way.  The skills are presented in short paragraphs but doesn't offer complex texts to practice the skill in.  That's a problem because the series assessment is a very long and complex text.  It's such a jump from the practice pages.  Because of that, I feel the need to do a lot of supplementing!

One of my favorite resources has been a product from Miss Decarbo's TPT shop.  She has written reading passages that very simply describe two different items.  Each item has a paragraph written about it and the students can work individually or as partners to compare and contrast.  I liked that she used a lot of those clue words, like "however", "in contrast to", and "similarly".

 She even has suggestions for color coding it, but honestly, I just have the students use highlighters.  I used these both in small groups and as individual work.  After doing a couple of them, my students got the hang of the procedure and it really allowed them to focus on the skill.

One of the big issues I had with comparing and contrasting things at the beginning of the unit was the lack of detail in student work.  The students were making the most basic of comparisons and contrasts, and often only using one word to do so.  We had to have a talk about thinking deep vs. thinking shallow.  (I have to warn charts are not like the beautiful ones that you see all over the internet ha! :-)  I am more of a basic, in the moment chart maker!)

I used the analogy of going swimming.  You can have fun in the shallow end of the pool.  You're getting a little wet, you can kick water at someone, it's still a fun place to be.  But when you go to the deep end, you can swim around, splash, play games...there's just so much more you can do! I wanted them to look deeper than those surface comparisons and contrasts.  Yes, both apples and oranges are round.  But could they think of something not so easily seen?  I didn't want them relying so much on what they SEE when comparing and contrasting two things.  It's a strategy but not really one you can use when comparing two stories.  You have to dig deeper to find those connections in two different texts.  

After doing a lot of comparing and contrasting in texts, we wrote our own compare/contrast paragraphs.  As a class, we used a Venn diagram to compare/contrast winter and spring.  Then we wrote a two paragraph essay about what we came up with.  This was our first attempt at writing a comparison essay, so we did it together.  After we were done writing, the students went back and highlighted any compare/contrast clue words that were used. 

 Then, just to make it a little more fun, we did an art project to go with our essay! I made a landscape sheet and drew a line right down the middle and labeled the sides (winter/spring) before copying. Then I had the students color the page for bell work one morning. They were in seventh heaven...coloring for bell work??  YES!! :-)   

I decided to make some puffy paint for snow on the winter side.  I was a little nervous about making it because I had never done it and the directions I found were not too specific.  I ended up loosely following this tutorial.

We painted it on with q-tips. (I forgot my box of q-tips that morning and my team mate just happened to have a box of them in her room.  We say she is like having a store in our building...I swear she has literally everything stashed away in there! Love it! Do you have a teacher in your building like that??) The kids had never used puffy paint before so they were totally into it.

Later that week, we wrote another compare/contrast essay, but this time the students worked individually.  I gave them several choices of items they could compare. The choices were Elsa/Belle, Blaze/Crusher, Poppy/Branch (trolls---which was the popular choice!), and basketball/football.  

The students worked to compare and contrast these items on a Venn diagram and then write their essay.  It was still a struggle for some to get that DEEP thinking going.  Using the picture tended to allow them to fall back on comparing and contrasting what they SEE.  It was good practice for using the compare/contrast clue words and organizing their writing. Plus, the kids loved writing about these topics.  But I will probably revise this lesson next year to be stories about these items that the students will have to read and compare/contrast to encourage deeper thinking and allow practice for comparing texts. Always improving on what we do, right?? ;-) 

So there you have it---just a couple of things that we worked on during this unit.  My students really enjoyed the activities and we will keep working on using that DEEP thinking! :-)  What activities do you use for teaching compare and contrast skills?  Thanks for stopping by!

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