How to Compare and Contrast Elements of a Passage

Video Lesson on Author Purpose: Definition and Examples

In this lesson, you'll learn how to compare and contrast when analyzing pieces of literature. You will also learn different strategies to assist in identifying key similarities and differences when applying compare and contrast.

What Does It Mean to Compare & Contrast?

Comparing and contrasting is a skill often used in school for a variety of subjects, such as math, science and social studies. Teachers may ask you to compare and contrast numbers, results from a science experiment and early civilizations in history. You may even compare and contrast without even knowing it. Think about when you go out to eat ice cream. You probably don't go places thinking you will eat every flavor. You narrow down your choices by comparing and contrasting the different flavors. So, what does it mean to compare and contrast? How does it apply to language arts?

Language arts teachers often use this skill to assist students when analyzing a story or reading a passage. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the word analyze, it means to break something apart in order to be understood. A teacher may ask you to compare and contrast two or more settings, characters, events, effects and other story elements so that you can fully analyze what you are reading. Now let's find out just what these two words mean!

Compare

When you compare, you focus strictly on similarities between two story elements or things, depending on the question being asked. For example, when comparing 'The Turtle and the Hare' and 'The Lion and the Mouse,' we can see both are fables because they are short stories that use animals as characters to teach a lesson. We can also compare to see that 'Cinderella' and 'Hansel and Gretel' are both fairy tales because they are stories about magical characters that take place in imaginary places.

Contrast

When you contrast, you will focus on how two or more story elements or things are different. Going back to our examples, 'The Turtle and the Hare' and 'The Lion and the Mouse' can be contrasted to see they are different because they teach different morals and use different kinds of animals to do it. When contrasting 'Cinderella' and 'Hansel and Gretel,' we see they are different because they have different plots, characters and settings.

Strategies

How exactly do you document comparing and contrasting? There are several strategies that will assist you during the comparing and contrasting process. They will also serve as visual aids to help you see similarities and differences in whatever it is you are comparing and contrasting. Some of the best-known strategies are the Venn diagram and the T-chart.

The Venn diagram is a graphical representation that details all ways story elements or things can be compared and contrasted. You make these diagrams by drawing two circles that intersect each other. The differences are documented on the outside of where the circles intersect and similarities on the inside. This will help keep your information organized, so you can visually see both differences and similarities.

The T-chart serves as another graphical representation designed to assist people in the comparing and contrasting process. You create a T-chart by essentially drawing a capital T, where you have a vertical line that connects at the top to the center of a horizontal line. The two sides of the vertical line are known as the A and B contrasting sections. Here you will describe the differences from item A and item B. In the middle of the T-chart is where you'd document any similarities.

Comparing and Contrasting Practice

Let's use the Venn diagram and the T-chart to assist us in comparing and contrasting the examples we used earlier.

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We stated that the 'The Turtle and the Hare,' 'The Lion and the Mouse,' 'Cinderella,' and 'Hansel and Gretel' are similar due to the specific characteristics in their genres. This point would go into the center of both of your Venn diagram and T-chart because it serves as a comparison (similarities). We discovered that these same stories are different due to the types of characters and plots. These points would on the outside of your Venn diagram and T-chart because they serve as the contrast (differences).

Lesson Summary

Great job! Let's do a quick review of what we learned today. Comparing and contrasting are used to analyze something, which means to break something apart to be understood easily. When you compare, you focus on how two or more things are similar. When you contrast, you focus on how two or more things are different. Venn diagrams and T-charts serve as strategies when comparing and contrasting. They provide you with visual representations of the similarities and differences found in whatever you are comparing and contrasting.

Learning Outcomes

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Describe what teachers mean when they ask students to compare and contrast things
  • Interpret strategies such as Venn diagrams and T-charts to help visually organize ideas

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