Language, Middle School

Teaching Compare and Contrast Skills in Speech & Language Therapy

I work primarily with students in 5th and 6th grade. By this age, most of my students can compare and contrast when given items like dog/cat or house/apartment. However, most of them still demonstrate functional difficulty using these skills in the classroom.

Working with older students makes you realize that being able to do a skill (e.g., comparing a dog and cat from a picture card) is NOT adequate. My students were still lost in the classroom and demonstrated difficulty applying these skills to anything truly academic.

After I noticed this, I began digging deeper. Why couldn’t they apply these skills to text? Or perform the same skill in the classroom, even when given more basic items to compare/contrast? Below are the difficulties I noted:

  1. They were often unaware that they were supposed to comparing or contrasting. My students have difficulty noting what type of text they are reading. In the classroom, teachers don’t always give as much preteaching and as specific of directions. My students needed to work on identifying when to use a Venn diagram, when a writing prompt requires them to compare or contrast, and when a text they are reading is comparing or contrasting.
  2. They couldn’t identify specific keywords that can indicate a comparison or a contrast. When I asked if the word “both” told them whether the items had something in common or whether that word indicated a difference, many of my students struggled. They weren’t sure if the word “however” meant the items were the same or different either.
  3. Related to the previous challenge, my students needed significant supports to write complex sentences in general. It is difficult to expressively compare or contrast items without using complex or compound sentences. My students needed extra help writing sentences using words like “and”, “but”, or “however”.
  4. They had difficulty putting their ideas and thoughts into words in an organized way. My students didn’t have succinct sentence starters to pull from, even when they knew they were supposed to compare or contrast. They often resorted to describing each thing separately or naming random facts they could recall from what they had read.

After I identified these fairly consistent weaknesses, we got to work! I used the skill of comparing and contrasting to work on these higher level skills because it’s functional and is used all the time in a variety of academic classes (e.g., science, language arts, history).

Of note, most of the visuals and activities in this post come from my Compare and Contrast packet. It’s gotten incredible reviews from many SLPs so if you’re looking for something to make all of this easier to implement, click here to check it out. The entire packet is black & white and super easy to prep so you can use it tomorrow (or today if you’re anything like me!).

{DIRECT TEACHING}

First, I did A TON of direct teaching. I’m a huge fan of direct, explicit teaching of concepts. Too often, I find that professionals jump straight into practice activities without spending a significant amount of time teaching what the skill is, why it’s important, how it can help the student, how they can use it in the classroom, what graphic organizers they can use, etc… To streamline the direct teaching for compare/contrast, I made student workbooks. The workbooks increase in difficulty and teach the definition of comparing & contrasting, what a Venn diagram is, how to set up a Venn diagram, how to know text is comparing/contrasting, why it’s a useful reading comprehension strategy, and let’s them practice all of these skills in short exercises.

In short, before jumping in to teaching compare/contrast, go over the basics. Your students will better understand why they are practicing this skill and how it applies to them as a person. I love teaching my students that they compare and contrast every time they make a decision like picking out a breakfast cereal or buying a new pair of shoes.

Below is an example page from my workbook. In total, they are usually about 10 pages in length total so they can take a few weeks to get through!

PS: Using direct teaching workbooks like this allows you to practice note-taking strategies with your students while they learn! It’s eye opening how many of my students never thought to read the questions on the bottom of the page first so they knew what information to look for. I always provide highlighters, sticky notes, and colored pens for my students when we do worksheets like this!

Another helpful tip: always provide an example of what the worksheet will look like when it’s done. Many of my students relax so much when they see an example of exactly what is expected. They can see how I might bullet my answers, or write different parts in different colors, or highlight some important text, or circle certain words. To make it an extra challenge, for some of my higher level groups, I’ll have a time limit (e.g., 30 seconds) on how long they can look over my sheet as an example. We talk about not looking at exact words but looking at how I filled it out and making a plan for how to get started. While they’re working, I’ll walk around to assist as needed and throw around tons of compliments on the great strategies I’m seeing! For example, I might say something like, “Woah! Mike! Way to use the highlighter. I bet that’ll help you find information super fast for the questions on the bottom!” My students love it and in many of my groups, actually compete with each other to see how organized their papers can be! 🙂

{BASIC PRACTICE}

When introducing new concepts, I almost always start with incredibly basic activities at the beginning. My students can get super resistant to activities they perceive as difficult. Often, for compare and contrast, that starts with comparing and contrasting simple items by sorting provided facts. For example, if comparing and contrasting “ears” and “eyes”, I might draw a Venn diagram and say “On your head”. Then, my students can point or tell me where that information goes (in the center of the Venn diagram). This takes SO much pressure off of coming up with the facts themselves!

Below is an example of an activity I might do during this phase:

{INCREASE THE DIFFICULTY}

From there, I usually have them progress to filling out a Venn diagram on basic objects by themselves. Most of my students don’t take long to be able to do that, so at this point I usually start upping the difficulty level. Here, we might sort keywords that indicate comparing vs contrasting.

Often at the same time, I’m introducing lots of visuals and posters that I have up in my room for their use during the practice activities they’ll get during the next phase. I review the direct teaching we did at the beginning and make sure they really understand what they’re doing!

One really, really important thing I do during this phase is to work on sorting situations that they could use compare/contrast and situations that they couldn’t. For example, you can use compare/contrast as a strategy when voting for a class president, but it doesn’t work so well when you’re telling your friends how to make a pizza.

My students NEED to understand when to use this strategy because it’s often not as obvious in the classroom! Many questions on tests and quizzes are sneaky when they’re asking students to compare/contrast! This skill can be really difficult for my students so sometimes I’ll move on and come back to it a couple of different times while we’re practicing the skill with text.

The last thing I make sure to target during this phase is how to set up a Venn diagram. We often use the same scenarios we sorted above and practice setting up a Venn diagram for them! How do you draw it? What goes in each section?

{INDEPENDENT PRACTICE}

From here, my students do lots and lots of independent practice with text. Many of my students have trouble decoding so I often read the passages out loud for them. We work on them following along while I read so they can still highlight or circle parts they want to be able to find again.

During this phase, I often retype paragraphs from their curriculum into these worksheets. That way, they’re working on relevant content and don’t have to do double the work and learning of their peers!

We’re also working on writing complex sentences because, let’s face it, my entire caseload needs to work on this too!

{CARRYOVER}

Once my students are rocking independent practice with short text, I start emphasizing carryover. During this phase, I meet with teachers and provide visuals that we’ve been using in therapy. It might simply be a sticky note with visuals/sentence starters on them (see the picture above for an example) or it might be a mini version of a poster I have up in my room. I’ve even take pictures of anchor charts I’ve drawn and glued them into student’s notebooks.

Hope that helps give you some new, fresh ideas for teaching comparing and contrasting skills! My students have done really well with these activities and I hope yours do too! <3


In case you’re interested, click here to check out my Compare and Contrast Packet by clicking here. 


Also, I receive questions periodically about how I get my students to do worksheets. Honestly, very very few of my students have issues with worksheets. I find that when I use activities that look more like the academic work my students are used to in the classroom, carryover increases significantly. My students do the work because of the systems I have in place including behavior management systems and my relationship building emphasis. The vast majority of my students love speech because of the positive atmosphere, the fun, the encouragement, and the silliness. I think the atmosphere you create in your therapy and the relationships you build with your students have a lot more to do with how much they’ll work for you or how much they enjoy coming to speech than planning these super creative, expensive, time consuming activity ideas. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with planning big, new, creative ideas, remind yourself of this often! 🙂 My students love the consistency of speech, the clear cut directions, getting to do work that’s at their level, feeling successful, and getting to spend time with an adult who genuinely cares about them as humans. That’s just my soapbox on that. 😉 I have some future blog posts planned on this as well so stay tuned!


How do you teach compare and contrast? What strategies work well for you? I’d LOVE to hear! Let me know in the comment!

Thanks for reading!

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Shannon

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6 Comment

  1. Reply
    Andrea Manz
    January 27, 2018 at 10:05 AM

    I really agree with you about SLPs jumping into practicing/testing in order to gather data and not teaching the skills first! I love posts like this that offer teaching strategies so much and the packet looks great! As a brand new CF, I humbly ask if you would consider putting it up for sale during the SLP sale on the 7th? 😉

    1. Reply
      Shannon
      January 28, 2018 at 10:57 AM

      Thanks for your comment! It’s definitely a contender – stay tuned! 🙂

  2. Reply
    Sarah Worcester
    February 2, 2018 at 8:32 AM

    Awesome post! I think I will be sharing it with some of my teachers. You give a nice clear explanation of how and why to teach this skill, which would help my teachers understand how to support these kids in the classroom. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Reply
      Shannon
      February 2, 2018 at 10:12 AM

      Yay! That’s awesome to hear! Thanks for sharing it with your teachers!

  3. Reply
    Michelle
    February 2, 2018 at 10:11 AM

    You are amazing! Thank you for sharing.

    1. Reply
      Shannon
      February 2, 2018 at 10:11 AM

      So glad it was helpful for you!! Thanks so much for your comment! <3

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