Learn with Compare and Contrast

Learn with Compare and Contrast Charts

Teachers often ask students to compare and contrast two or more things or events. They do this most often on essay tests.

Actually, COMPARE means how they are the same. CONTRAST means how they are different. But, unless the teacher makes this clear, it best to ask what they really want, or do both.

A Compare and Contrast chart can help you think about the similarities and difference in an organized way. A very simple way to do this is with a Venn Diagram

Using a Venn Diagram as a compare and contrast chart


A Venn Diagram uses two overlapping circles to show how cats and dogs are the same and how they are diferent.

The best part about Venn Diagrams is that you can visualize the overlapping area as holding things cats and dogs have in common. This isn’t visually clear in the next kind of chart.

The problem with the Venn Diagram is that people often list everything they can think of about dogs, and then what they think of about cats. As a result, your two lists are often not parallel. Notice that I was careful to keep it parallel. My categories would have included
your relationships with the animal
what they catch
reaction to strangers
relationship with what wild animal
moving tail
response when upset
sounds they typically make.

I know this is a simplified chart. It would make sense to a two-year-old. But the real purpose of this chart is not to make a technical comparison of dogs and cats; it is merely to demonstrate the use of a Venn Diagram as a compare and contrast chart.

Using a compare and contrast chart with categories

In this chart, comparing a Rhinoceros and a Zebra, we begin with categories. Some people put the ways the two things are the same first like here, others put it in the center (as in the Venn diagram.) Still others put it above or below the chart.A diagram that compare a Rhinoceros and a Zebra.
We don’t describe what one animal eats and what the other one looks like.  With a chart like this,  it is also easier to write the things that are the same when they aren’t squeezed into the little overlapping area.

You don’t even need an actual chart. If you are working ona computer, it is often easier to skip the lines like in the chart below.

A Comparison of Algebra and Geometry

They are similar in that they are both areas of math, they are both taught in high schools, they both use numbers and both are used to solve problems.

Categories                              Algebra                                   Geometry
they deal with                         variables                                   shapes
thinking                                  abstract                                     concrete
intelligence/style                     logical/mathematical                visual/spatial
side of your brain                    left brain                                   right brain
numbers                                  exact numbers                           measured numbers (treated as exact)
solve problems with               equations                                   proofs

There is a good reason why some people love algebra and hate geometry and other people love geometry and hate algebra. People who have equal logical and spatial intelligences might enjoy both of them equally.

When will you find this useful?

None of your teachers are likely to ask you to compare two animals or two subjects.

For Literature, you might be asked to compare two characters, two books, the setting in two books, or the plot in two books. A good example might be to compare Romeo and Juliet with The West Side Story.

In History,  you might be asked to compare two events such as two wars, the soldiers on both side of a war, or the reasons why people fought on the two sides of a war. You could also compare two generals, two presidents, two battles, two viewpoint of an event, etc. A good example would be to compare the viewpoints of the Israelis and the Palestinians about what should happen in Israel.

In Geography, you might be asked to compare two countries, two regions of a country, the past and present geography or use of the land.

In Earth Science, you might compare two ways the mountains were formed, two kinds of volcanos, the thinking before and after the idea of Tectonic Plates.

In Biology, you might compare plant and animal cells, Mitosis and Meiosis, RNA and DNA, Brains of two animals, Two causes of illness.

In Physics, you might compare two physicists, two images of the atom, different forms of energy.

In Chemistry, you might compare two atoms, molecules, or reactions.

In Art, you could compare different media such as oil painting and water color, or compare different styles of painting.

In Music, you could compare different styles of music, different instruments, or different musicians.

Personal Uses of Compare and Contrast

You can compare two choices or possible decisions. This might be as simple as what food to eat, or which person you would like to be with at a party. If you need to decide whether you should go to a party or stay home and study, you will probably find good reasons on each side. You can also use this to decide how to divide up your study time.

If you of thinking about a career, what college to go to, or what to major in, you can compare these using a variety of relevant categories.  If you are trying to choose a topic for an essay or for a research paper you can compare and contrast them.

Other ways I use Compare and Contrast

When I read two books on study skills or on other important topics, I am always concerned how the books I use are similar (not exactly the same) and how they are different.

And, for fun, when we are birdwatching and want to identify a strange bird, we compare the bird with see with pictures and descriptions in a Bird Guide. Sometimes, when they are alike in most ways, we ask if the differences are because one is a male and the other a female, or if one is an adult and the other a juvenile. And, to make things more confusing, juvenile birds can look very different in different stages of growth. With some gulls, we need to check pictures of first year, second, third, and fourth year gulls.

And then, just to make things more confusing, some birds interbreed. Some ducks, especially, breed frequently with other kinds of ducks. And birds look different at different seasons because their feathers get worn out. With other birds, the color may depend on what they eat.

But I Need to compare MORE THAN TWO THINGS

If there are only three possibility, you can adapt this chart, listing things all three have in common and then listing the details in the categories. If, for example, you compared cats, dogs, and wolves, then under relationships with people you’d have   pet,  pet,  and wild animal.

You might want to compare 30 – 40 of your favorite colleges,  eight different characters in a book, or five differnent countries.  To compare more than two things, read the page        Matrix Charts

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