This post about preparing for Common Core assessments offers new material developed by Sarah Tantillo, the author of Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action (Jossey-Bass, 2014) and The Literacy Cookbook (Jossey-Bass, 2012). Be sure to browse her links to other PARCC Prep articles at the end of this post. And check out her website, The Literacy Cookbook, and her TLC Blog.
by Sarah Tantillo
In the PARCC literary analysis task, students must closely analyze two literary texts—often focusing on their themes or points of view—and compare and contrast these texts.
In previous posts, I’ve proposed a lesson series to tackle this task and a tool for teaching students how to infer theme, which is a common requirement since Common Core Reading Anchor Standard #2 is “Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.”
This post deals with the challenge of how to organize a compare-and-contrast essay. Many students struggle with this task, I believe, for two reasons:
(1) Teachers often rely on Venn diagrams to teach the concept of “compare and contrast,” and Venn diagrams are not a useful way to organize writing. They were meant for discussions around set theory, not for essay writing. Seriously. Could you write an essay from notes inserted into this?
(2) Teachers tend to assume that students can transfer their “understandings” from Venn diagrams into full-blown essays, so they don’t spend enough time explaining how to outline and develop the evidence and explanation needed.
Use charts, not Venns
As I’ve noted previously (here and here), instead of trying to fill in Venn diagrams, students should annotate texts with charts that have either two or three columns, depending on the number of texts. For literary analysis, it’s two; for research writing, it’s two texts and a video. Students then put checkmarks next to items that the texts have in common. What remains unchecked should be dealt with in the “contrast” paragraphs.
But you can’t easily write an essay from those notes. You have to organize your ideas.
Here is a simple graphic organizer to help students turn those notes into an outline for writing (click on the image to download a student-friendly PDF version).
As always, students will need lots of modeling and practice to master this step.
Editor’s note: Sarah Tantillo has agreed to share her other PARCC Prep materials with our readers. Just click to access these various posts at her blog. Visit her TLC “PARCC Prep” page to stay up to date with her Common Core assessment materials.
PARCC Prep READING RESOURCES:
PARCC Prep WRITING RESOURCES:
Research Writing Tasks:
Narrative Writing Tasks:
Literary Analysis Writing Tasks:
Sarah Tantillo writes frequently for MiddleWeb about literacy and the Common Core. She is the author of Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action and The Literacy Cookbook: A Practical Guide to Effective Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening Instruction. Sarah consults with schools on literacy instruction, curriculum development, data-driven instruction, and school culture-building. Sarah has taught high school English and Humanities in both suburban and urban public schools, including the high-performing North Star Academy Charter School of Newark. Visit her website.
From Theory to Practice
Together, students and teacher use charts and Venn diagrams to brainstorm and organize similarities and differences between two objects. The teacher then models the beginning of the first draft, inviting students to help rephrase, clarify, and revise as the draft is written. Finally, students take what they have learned to complete the draft independently.
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Comparison and Contrast Guide: This student-centered online guide provides a thorough introduction to the compare and contrast essay format, including definitions, transitions, graphic organizers, checklists, and examples.
Venn Diagram: Use this online tool during prewriting to organize ideas for a compare and contrast essay.
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FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE
Rick VanDeWeghe writes of modeling: "teachers show how they go about the processes of reading and writing-drawing students' attention to the ways readers and writers think and the real decisions they make, especially when they themselves are challenged." In her book Conversations, Regie Routman explains why this modeling process is so successful: "It has always been our job to teach directly and explicitly in response to students' needs-carefully demonstrating, specifically showing how, clearly explaining. Whatever we want our students to do well, we first have to show them how. Of all the changes I have made in my teaching, adding explicit demonstration to everything I teach has been the single most important factor in increasing students' literacy" (24).
Further, writing out loud with students gives me an opportunity to show my enjoyment for the writing process. Students see that revision and editing are part of the fun, and that even teachers don't get it correct the first time. As an added bonus, students are frequently more eager to share personal writings with me for feedback once they see this process modeled.
VanDeWeghe, Rick. "Deep Modeling and Authentic Teaching: Challenging Students or Challenging Students?" English Journal 95.4 (March 2006): 84-88
Routman, Regie. 2000. Conversations: Strategies for Teaching, Learning, and Evaluating. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
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