Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Compare and Contrast

When you're teaching a class that some students see as hoop-jumping, it's important to keep it relevant. The compare/contrast unit in my composition class is a good opportunity for the students to become engaged in the topic. The final assignment is an essay that compares and contrasts two career choices. For example, if they are going into criminal justice, they can compare and contrast being a prison guard as opposed to a parole officer. If they are going into medicine, they can choose becoming a surgeon vs. a family practitioner. If they are unsure, they can compare and contrast getting a job right out of school or continuing their education.

Half the fun, though, is getting ready to write the essay. I use Venn diagrams on the whiteboard with funny objects such action figures or strange stuffed animals, or even just my pencil and my whiteboard pen. Then I explain two formats, point-by-point and block format, and how to write an effective compare/contrast thesis. When they have a good grasp on these concepts, I pull out the secret weapon-snack foods.

I divide the class into groups of four or five, then play a game to determine the order they get to choose their snack foods. Each choice comes in a pair--Oreo cookies and the store-brand copy; Ruffles barbeque chips and Lays; almond M&Ms and peanut M&Ms...Each group gets a poster board and they get to work with a Venn diagram, a thesis statement and a determination of point-by-point or block format. After we're done, they share their results with the whole group.

It's amazing what they come up with. It's rare that I get a simplistic thesis based just on taste. The students get creative, looking at nutrition information, packaging and value. Once, a group even based their thesis on the fact that one type of chips were manufactured in Mexico, and one in the United States. Of course there are great debates as to which is superior in taste. Needless to say, the whole class is engaged on many levels.

The point of this exercise is that it provides a clear template for the actual essay. I have them start on their topics immediately, following the same steps. These are almost always the best essays of the year because they know exactly how to proceed and they are interested, after all, in their own future careers.

The whole lesson plan with the handouts, etc... is here:

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