How to Compare & Contrast Ideas in a Reading Selection

How to Compare & Contrast Ideas in a Reading Selection
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  • 0:01 What Are Compare & Contrast?
  • 1:13 Analyze Prompt
  • 2:44 Method
  • 4:39 Find the Details
  • 5:50 Evaluate
  • 6:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

The ability to compare and contrast the many ideas in one reading selection can be an overwhelming task. This video lesson gives a step-by-step method of how to successfully compare and contrast ideas in a reading selection.

What are Compare and Contrast?

On any given day, you compare and contrast a wide variety of things. Maybe you compare two health care plans to decide on which to apply for. Or, while shopping, you contrast two different shirts to decide which to purchase. One shirt costs less, but the second one is more flattering. If you really think about it, you are constantly comparing and contrasting to make many of the everyday decisions in life.

However, when discussing a reading selection, comparing and contrasting take on a more specific meaning. To compare means to identify the similarities and differences between two things, and to contrast means to identify only the differences between two things. This might seem like a small distinction, but it can be very important depending on the task you are assigned. For instance, if the prompt calls for only contrasting ideas, then you should only look for differences and ignore the similarities. Overall, regardless of the particulars of the prompt, when comparing and contrasting there are some simple steps you can take to do so successfully.

Analyze Prompt

The first step is to determine exactly what you should be evaluating. If you are responding to a specific prompt or question, then analyze the prompt. Analyze means to break ideas down into manageable parts to help with understanding. When you analyze a prompt or a question, you need to break it down to a simplified purpose.

For example, imagine you have just read an essay describing two scientists' opinions on the causes and effects of global warming. Then, a prompt asks you to compare the two scientists' views on the effects of pollution. The first step is to analyze this prompt and break it down into simple terms. You need to find what each scientist thinks about only pollution. Also, since the prompt asks you to compare, you should realize you must find both the similarities and differences between their opinions.

Whatever the reading selection, you need to analyze, or break down, what you are being asked to compare or contrast. Some reading selections might have you comparing two characters, which would lead you to look for each character's thoughts, actions, or words. Others might ask you to contrast two viewpoints, like the two scientists' views in the example on pollution. Whatever the task, remember to break it down into simple terms, which will guide you when looking for details in the reading selection.

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