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ESL Compare & Contrast Essay Topics

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

In this lesson, teachers will discover ideas for compare and contrast essay topics for English as a Second Language (ESL) students. The lesson also provides tips for teaching essay writing in the ESL classroom.

How to Modify Writing Instruction for ESL Students

The compare and contrast essay is one of the most widely assigned essays in school. If you teach ESL students, you'll want to modify your typical teaching methods to help these students succeed. Following are some strategies for teaching the compare and contrast essay.

  • Consider chunking longer writing assignments so students don't have to complete a long essay all at once.
  • Have low-proficiency students write a paragraph (or a few sentences) rather than an essay.
  • Display a word bank with common words students might use to compare, such as similar, different, resemble and commonalities.
  • Provide students with compare and contrast sentence frames to help them map out their sentences. For example: _____ is different from _____ because _____.
  • Provide ample modeling of how to construct sentences and paragraphs, use transitions and give details.
  • Discuss and provide examples of effective introductions and conclusions.

Now let's look at sample compare and contrast essay topics for students of different ages.

Topics for Elementary School

In elementary school, try to keep compare and contrast essay topics simple and concrete for ESL students. It's also helpful if students can physically see the objects that are being compared. You can also use topics that reinforce what students are learning about at this grade level, such as the weather, seasons and nature.

Examples of specific topics you can use with elementary ESL students are to compare and contrast:

  • Apples and oranges
  • Pencils and pens
  • Crayons and markers
  • Glue and glue sticks
  • Toy trains and toy cars
  • Pizza and broccoli
  • Breakfast and lunch
  • School and home
  • A car and a school bus
  • A soccer ball and a tennis ball
  • Summer and winter (or spring and fall)
  • A flower and a tree
  • Indoor recess and outdoor recess
  • The sun and the moon
  • Chocolate and a jelly bean
  • Two animals
  • The country and the city
  • Sunny weather and rainy weather
  • A swing and a slide

Topics for Middle and High School

Middle and high school students tend to be passionate about pop culture, so it's always fun to add in some essay prompts relating to celebrities, movies, sports and music. At this age, it's best to engage students in writing by letting them write about their interests.

Because students at this age tend to be more aware than younger students, you can also give them the choice to write about the differences and similarities between their native country and the United States. These topics can elicit interesting discussions about cultural differences.

Some specific topics you can use with middle and high school ESL students are to compare and contrast:

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