Adolescent Literacy Series: Compare and Contrast

By Peg Grafwallner, Instructional Coach and Reading Specialist

One might contend that the foundational skill of compare and contrast is a challenging skill for some children to master and, as a result, we should hold off teaching it until a certain age or a certain grade level. However, we know that when skills are introduced at an early level – even in the most basic formats – we are providing that background knowledge that becomes so necessary later in our students’ academic careers. 

We know that as children learn to understand language, being able to compare and contrast “can help improve vocabulary, describing skills, sentence structure, reading comprehension and more” (Dougherty, 2021). We must introduce all of the foundational skills to our young children as early as they are ready. Think of how often you have taught compare and contrast. When you have asked your students to share similarities or differences, you have taught this vital skill; possibly without even thinking about it or without explicitly saying to your students, today we are going to learn the literacy skill of compare and contrast. Therefore, explicitly teaching this essential skill and giving our students plenty of opportunities to go beyond the surface “stuff,” gives them a chance to understand the complexities that surround them and make sense from them.

During a typical school day, you have asked your students to tell you the similarities and differences between objects, pictures, theories, formulas and so on. You have encouraged them to pick out how things are the same and how they are different and why those similarities and differences matter. Compare and contrast helps to lay the foundation for our students to become meaningful and purposeful readers, writers, listeners, speakers, and thinkers. 

In addition, compare and contrast helps to prepare our middle school and high school students for higher-level analysis of texts by helping them read those texts more deeply. As students read to compare and contrast, they are drawing their attention to the important details, and noticing things in the text they might not have noticed before. Some of the critical thinking skills gained from learning to compare and contrast include: the ability to sort and classify, clear and accurate communication, ability to evaluate and much more. 

As an example, when preparing to cook a meal, one might sort and classify the ingredients to determine which ones are the healthiest to use in the recipe. When writing a resume, one wants to communicate clearly and accurately to land their dream job; and finally, when reading a warranty, one will need to evaluate the justification of purchasing that warranty to determine if the money is well spent. 

Even though we are constantly examining the similarities and differences in our daily life, it is still important to explicitly teach our students how to compare and contrast. Compare and contrast goes beyond just knowing what to compare and what to contrast; rather, compare and contrast is about knowing how and why those similarities and differences are necessary for the task at hand.

One way to support students in working with this literacy skill is to explicitly cue them to focus on how the text connects to them. While the impact of teaching this skill at the elementary level is significant, the act of being able to dig deeper into the text is something students at all grade levels need to practice repeatedly in order to recognize those subtle contrasts that may be initially difficult to find. 

How to Teach Compare and Contrast

Step 1. For this introductory lesson, put students in groups of three. If your students already know and understand compare and contrast, they can work individually.

Step 2. For our purposes, I’m using the informative article entitled, “The Best Sneakers of 2022” ( Your students can choose two types of sneakers to compare and contrast. For modeling, I am using #9 Air Jordan 1 “Lost & Found” sneakers and comparing and contrasting them to #17 Nike x Louis Vuitton monogram Air Force 1 sneakers

Step 3. After students have read the article, distribute the graphic organizer entitled “Compare and Contrast with Why” to help students locate the similarities and differences. You will notice the graphic organizer includes a scaffolding support of comparing sentence starters and contrasting sentence starters. These key words might help some students in determining how to compare and contrast. In addition, ask students to explain why those similarities or differences are important. I have provided a model for you with bolded sentence starters for students to use as an example.

Step 4. Give students a chance to discuss what they have learned. Students might have chosen different sneakers than the model to compare and contrast. Ask them to share their similarities and differences and why those are important with other groups or individuals.

Step 5: I recommend you go through the model first. As stated earlier, this is a pedestrian example meant for students who might be unfamiliar with compare and contrast, or those who need a review. When students are more comfortable with this foundational skill, you can omit the scaffolded sentence starters support and apply complex text to this graphic organizer.

Finally, you might want to add a debate component onto this foundational skill. Give students an opportunity to share what they have learned and debate why one object might be better than another; or consider letting students choose a topic they want to compare and contrast, and then give them time to debate their chosen topic 

The Benefits of Teaching Compare and Contrast

As stated earlier, teaching the foundational skill of compare and contrast is vital to the classroom and beyond. When our students are able to detect similarities and differences, they are able to better “comprehend the complexity of the ideas” (PBS Learning Media, n.d.). We are met with complex ideas all day, every day. Therefore, we need to explicitly teach this foundational skill and give our students plenty of opportunities to go beyond the surface; we must give them the time and space to deeply interact with text to understand the complexities that surround them and make sense from them.

In closing, we want to give our students opportunities to practice compare and contrast, and explain why those similarities and differences are important. Begin with something basic and give students the opportunity to make text-to-self connections. However, once students feel comfortable with this skill, give them a chance to own their learning by letting them choose their own topic to compare and contrast, demonstrating to you what they know, how they know it and why that knowledge is significant.


Davies, R. (n.d.). How to effectively teach students how to compare and contrast using a mentor text. Accessed at on January 3, 2023.

Dougherty, S. (2021, June 24). Comparing and contrasting skills. Accessed at,
on December 30, 2022.

GQ. (2022, December 21). The best sneakers of 2022. Accessed at, January 3, 2023.

PBS Learning Media. (n.d.). Comparing and contrasting information and forming an opinion – Santiago and Morris. Accessed at on January 3, 2023.

Clearing the Path for Developing Learners: Essential Literacy Skills to Support Achievement in Every Content Area (June 2023). Available for pre-order here.