Standard Lesson

Comparing and Contrasting: Picturing an Organizational Pattern

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Two 50-minute sessions
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Students investigate picture books organized in comparison/contrast structures to discover methods of organization (usually a combination of the point-by-point, whole-to-whole, or similarities-to-differences patterns) and the ways authors use transitions to guide readers. Students can then decide what organizational patterns and transitional words work best to accomplish their individual purposes in writing and apply those to their papers.

This lesson is designed to be used during a unit when students are writing a comparison/contrast paper. It will be most helpful prior to drafting, but it could also be useful during revision.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

In Strategic Writing, Dean makes an argument and provides strategies for using model texts to help students develop structures for writing. Research into reading-writing connections supports that argument and those strategies: "reading like a writer allows one to actually become a writer" (Langer and Flihan, 118). In fact, in the conclusion to Children Reading and Writing, Judith Langer maintains that "models of more complex forms need to permeate the children's environment" (139). Teaching students how to access models to acquire writing strategies is an important part of learning to read and write effectively. Such strategic instruction can stay with students well beyond a specific assignment. Although many prose texts use comparison/contrast structures in passages, picture books are often perceived as more accessible to students, and therefore function better as mentor texts, as Carr et al. note: "Often students who are struggling with the length and complexity of an assigned novel miss the subtleties of the author's craft" (148).

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Picture books that are organized in comparison/contrast patterns. Suggested titles which can be used as mentor texts for this lesson include the following:

    • The Yellow House: Vincent Van Gogh & Paul Gauguin Side by Side by Susan Goldman Rubin (Harry Abrams: 2001)

    • The Journey: Stories of Migration by Cynthia Rylant (Blue Sky Press (Scholastic Imprint): 2006)

    • George vs. George: The American Revolution as seen from Both Sides by Rosalyn Schanzer (Scholastic: 2004)

    • John, Paul, George, & Ben by Lane Smith. (Hyperion: 2006)

  • Board or chart paper and writing instruments



Student Objectives

Students will

  • recognize textual patterns in picture books.

  • organize similar and different information about two topics to make a point.

  • recognize and use transitional devices in writing.

Session One

  1. Since students should have already conducted the inquiry into their topics, begin the lesson by having students transfer what they know about their topics onto the Compare and Contrast Chart Graphic Organizer. Or choose to use the Venn Diagram, if that is more applicable. Completing this activity now will refresh the information in students’ minds and prepare them for choosing an organizational pattern for their drafting.

  2. Introduce the basics of comparison/contrast organization with the ReadWriteThink Comparison and Contrast Guide. If the examples seem too simple for students, supplement with more pertinent examples that apply to the specific assignment students are working on.

  3. When the Guide brings up the point of comparing for a purpose, stop and have students decide what point they want to make with their comparison—and ask them to write the point on the bottom of the graphic organizer. This step will emphasize that writers don’t compare and contrast simply as an exercise, i.e. this is how these two things are alike and here’s how they’re different. A conclusion must be drawn from the comparison, just as is done in life when we compare.

  4. Continue with the ReadWriteThink Comparison and Contrast Guide at the section titled “Organizing a Paper.” It introduces the basic options of organizing a comparison/contrast paper. The background is important for students to know before they read the mentor texts.

  5. Prepare students to understand, though, that published texts are often combinations of these basic patterns rather than strict adherents to them.

  6. Next, help students understand how to look for the organization in mentor texts by working through one with the class. The Lane Smith text, John, Paul, George, & Ben, is best for this portion as the text is short.

  7. Tell students that they should look for how the author organizes the ideas, especially noting when he is talking about how the topics are alike and how they are different—and making a map of that.

  8. After reading the text to the students, compare student comments about organization to the default patterns from the minilesson. This text uses a version of the whole-to-whole because it begins by introducing the individual men and their unique traits (in a humorous way). Then it tells how they each brought those unique traits to a common goal—the revolution—and explains how each man’s traits contributed to that common goal. What is compared (or similar) is the goal they had in common. What is different is the talent or trait each person brought to that common goal.

  9. After students have worked through this text with the teacher, they can consider if this pattern would work for their own ideas or not.

  10. Next, share with the students the section titled "Transitions" in the ReadWriteThink Comparison and Contrast Guide. Tell them that they are going to look at picture books in small groups to identify other organizational patterns and transition words authors use, so they need to keep a watch for these words and any others that do the same job.

  11. Put students into small groups. It works best if you have two versions of each picture book so that two different small groups can work on the same text.

  12. Ask students to read the text through once to get the idea of it and then to go through it carefully a second time to determine the organizational pattern. As they do this, a scribe should take notes on organization and another scribe should take notes on the transitional words that students note. Students should look for times the author is comparing (showing similarities) and times he/she is contrasting (showing differences)—how these are organized and how they alternate. Additionally, they should note what is the point of the comparison.

Session Two

  1. Students may need to continue and complete the small group work during the second session.

  2. After the small groups are finished, they should meet with the other groups who had the same book and prepare to share their findings with the class.

    • The Yellow House uses a story as the overriding frame for the comparison that is largely a point-by-point pattern. The author alternates general similarities (they shared supplies, they had favorite colors, they painted the same subjects) with more noticeable differences (they used supplies differently—and then this difference is explained with details or one liked red and the other yellow, etc.). The contrasts, though, are not evenly balanced. Sometimes they alternate Van Gogh/Gauguin/Van Gogh/Gauguin and sometimes they are Van Gogh/Gauguin/Gauguin/Van Gogh or Van Gogh/Gauguin/Van Gogh. Help students to notice this, since it is true of many comparison pieces, and students sometimes feel constrained by the idea that everything has to be equal and in the same pattern. Variety, in examples like this, can help them use flow more than the pattern as a guide for organizing their own papers.

    • The Journey uses one broad similarity as the frame for the book: all these animals migrate. Then, the key point of each section is the unique aspect of that particular migration: So, this book uses a whole-to-whole pattern. The introduction is a common point. After that, the individual sections show contrast: Locusts migrate in unusual circumstances of too many eggs being laid; the gray whale migrates farther than any other mammal; the Arctic tern migrates farther than any other creature. Then the conclusion brings up three points in common that have been made in the text of each section: “That they understand when to travel and where to go and how to get there is one of the planet’s marvels.” Even with the whole-to-whole pattern, there are comparisons within the sections, as students should notice when they look for transitions “As most migrating animals miraculously do. . . . ” “Migrating animals sometimes face many dangers as they travel, and this is especially true for the majestic antlered caribou.” These comparisons provide a nice cohesive device most students can understand and use instead of seeing each section of the paper as separate from the others, which often happens when they choose a whole-to-whole pattern.

    • George vs. George may be the most complex (Because of that, teachers might have students only use part of the book, skipping pages 36–51). It uses an overall similarities-to-differences pattern, but blended with a point-by-point pattern in places too. In the first section, Schanzer specifically brings out the similarities between the two Georges and their countries and peoples. Then, within the frame of the story of the revolution, the author uses a point-by-point contrast of the different perspectives on the events, playing into the overall similarity-to-differences pattern. The conclusion shows the two men again, after the revolution. Despite a few similarities, the conclusion suggests more important differences, again leading to the overall similarity-to-difference pattern for the book.
  3. When students have gone over what they found with their partner groups, they should briefly present what they found to the class.

  4. Make a list on the board or chart paper of the transitional devices they name and help students see how the transitional devices reflect the specific patterns as they guide readers in how to connect one idea to another. It might also be helpful to have students recognize that the patterns they saw in the Guide are much more subtle when applied effectively to real texts. They are not simply fill-in-the-blank forms. Despite this, some students will use the templates as default strategies while others will understand the subtleties of texts that use the natural flow of ideas within a general pattern rather than pattern as form.

  5. Have students consider which pattern (or combination of patterns) will best serve their purposes for their own comparison/contrast papers. Then have them use the pattern to group their ideas from the graphic organizer and also select possible transitions from the list on the board that they can use as they draft.

  6. Once they choose a organizational pattern, students can use the Compare and Contrast Map to organize their ideas further.

  7. Using this prewriting, have students begin drafting.


  • During revision, peer evaluators can try to identify which pattern or combination of patterns a writer uses in organizing his/her paper. If the peer evaluator can’t tell, the author should reconsider organization or the effective use of transitions to help the reader follow the pattern of organization more effectively.

  • Teachers can use the "Says-Does" strategy for questioning textual patterns in other books or sections of text. This strategy is explained in Dean’s book on pages 65–68.

Student Assessment / Reflections

Teachers will have their own rubrics for grading the essays students write, or they can use this rubric assessing comparison and contrast essays. Students should also reflect on how the mentor texts helped them organize their ideas for drafting as part of the overall reflection for the paper.

Reflection questions can include:

  • Which organizational pattern from the mentor texts did you use for writing your own paper? Why did you choose it?

  • How did reading and discussing the mentor texts help you find an effective organizational pattern and appropriate transition words for your own writing?

  • In future writing, when you need possibilities for organizing the ideas, how might you use the strategy of mentor texts to help you?

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