How to Create a Compare-and-Contrast Chart

by Shelley Frost

Comparing and contrasting activities use critical thinking skills to recognize similarities and differences in two ideas. A graphic organizer helps students sort out the details as they compare and contrast. A Venn diagram is a common option, but you can also organize the information into columns or sections.

When to Use Charts

Comparing and contrasting works in many learning situations. English and language arts class offers several opportunities to use a compare-and-contrast chart, such as when reading two related books. You might compare a fiction and nonfiction book on the same topic or two fiction books with similar themes. After reading a book in class, watch the movie. Use the chart to compare the two versions. Compare-and-contrast charts can also be used when writing an essay that explores similarities and differences between two ideas. Graphic organizers fit into other subjects. Compare and contrast vertebrates and invertebrates in science class. Explore two different wars in history class with a chart.

Choosing Chart Format

A Venn diagram is a simple graphic organizer using two circles. Draw two intersecting circles side-by-side. You'll end up with a shared section where the circles overlap in the middle. This is where the similarities for the two ideas go. Each circle also has a section that isn't shared. The characteristics that are different go in those areas. Read Write Think from the International Reading Association suggests a column-style comparison chart. Start by drawing two small boxes side-by-side at the top. Write the two ideas you are comparing and contrasting in the boxes. Draw arrows from both boxes to one large box below for traits that are the same. Draw two arrows going in different directions from the shared box. Each arrow leads to a separate box for the traits only true about the individual ideas.

Identifying Similarities

Compare and contrast charts have sections for the shared common traits, or similarities, of the two ideas. If you're using a Venn diagram, write the shared details in the area where the circles intersect. In the column-style diagram, write these details in the shared rectangle you drew near the top of the chart. When comparing reptiles and amphibians, include "cold-blooded" in this area, for example. If you compare the books "Stellaluna" by Janell Cannon and "Zipping, Zapping, Zooming Bats" by Ann Earle, include that they both feature bats. What you write in the similarities section depends on what you are comparing. Single words or short phrases often work well. Be specific with your descriptions. Instead of saying bears and raccoons are both animals, say they are both mammals.

Recording Differences

Most graphic organizers provide individual sections for each idea to record differences. On a Venn diagram, write the differences for each item in the sections of the circles that aren't shared. For the column-style chart, write the differences in the individual boxes that branch off below the similarities box. Include anything in this section that is only true about that particular idea. When comparing bears and raccoons, you might write that bears hibernate in the bear section for differences. Since raccoons do not hibernate, this is a fact true only of bears. Under the raccoon section, write that they are nocturnal, since this is a fact specific to the raccoon. Like the similarities section, use short descriptions or phrases instead of full sentences to record the differences.

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