How are Percy Jackson and Harry Potter the same? How are they different? How are an iPhone and a Droid the same? How are they different? How are elementary school and middle school the same? How are they different?
For essays like these, where one concept needs to be compared (to show similarities) and contrasted (to show differences), a simple chart or a Venn diagram is easy for children to create and does the job well.
For the chart organizer, draw two vertical lines on notebook paper, creating three columns. Use the first column to list ideas to be compared or contrasted and the other two columns for the ideas being contrasted (for example, WWI and WWII). Similarities can be written over the line separating the second two columns.
For the Venn diagram organizer, start with two huge circles that overlap by a third. On their own, students draw circles that are too small and that barely overlap. Instead, I have them trace a seven or eight inch bowl whose shape fills about two-thirds of a page of notebook paper. If two seven-inch circles are traced, overlapping in the middle, the result is enough room for the three kinds of information needed in the essay: how each concept differs (the outer parts of the circles) and how each concept is similar (the overlapped part).
For students comfortable with mind webs, I recommend using Venn diagrams. The circles of the Venn diagram look something like a mind web and bring continuity to the prewriting experience. If there is not enough room in the circles, we tape another paper to the bottom or side of the page and add more information there. But a chart works just as well for students who prefer that way of organizing.
When the chart or diagram is full, I ask students to use colored pencils to identify information that should go together in the same body paragraphs. Students might circle Harry Potter’s and Percy Jackson’s ages in red; where they live in red; where they go to school or camp in red and when the stories take place in red. They might circle their friends in blue. They might circle their tasks or actions in green. Then they number the colors to show what kinds of information they plan to use in the first, second and third body paragraphs.
Previous blogs have covered why prewriting organizers are important, and how to construct and use easy kinds of organizers for expository and persuasive essays (mind webs) and for narratives (modified time lines). Now the student is ready to begin the first draft. Next time we will talk about introductions.