Two texts and graphic organizer with text "Using Graphic Organizers to Compare Two Texts"

I have a crazy obsession with graphic organizers. I can’t explain it. Maybe it’s my special education background, may they just relate to my own learning style. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, I feel like my kids really benefit from utilizing graphic organizers when they are reading.

Since I love them so much, it would only make sense that I think they are very useful when comparing two or more themes. But I don’t believe you should just throw them at your students and expect them to be ready for them. First, you need to do a few things.

Have a Clear Understanding of Story Elements & Theme

Comparing two texts in order to answer open-ended questions, multi-part questions, or a writing prompts is too complex for some readers. While you can’t avoid these complex skills all together, make sure that your students have an understanding of basic reading skills, such as setting, characters, problem and solution, and theme.

Paper with text "Setting, Characters, Problem, Theme"

Train them to Write Comparison Categories

When we first begin comparing two texts, I often have my students use a graphic organize where I have filled out the center column with different categories. However, I work to transition them away from ME doing it and more on THEM knowing what we are looking for as we read. After a lot of modeling, practice in small groups, and guided practice, they eventually get to the point where they know exactly what they are comparing. This also gives them a purpose for reading.

Comparing Literature organizer with text "Setting, Characters, Problem, Theme" Comparing Information organizer with text "Life Skills, Work Ethic, Responsible, Time Management"

Fiction and Nonfiction Categories

Comparing fiction and nonfiction passages can be very different. When comparing fictional passages, I teach my students that we will almost always be comparing the same things–the Characters, the Setting, the Problem(s), and the Theme. I have them write those four things on their graphic organizer every single time. 
For nonfiction, you *might* use some of the same categories, but often times, you’ll be using content specific categories, such as life skills, work ethic, responsibility, and time manage. These were all key ideas that were discussed in two passages about students doing chores every day. Train your students to begin thinking about what the big ideas are in each text. 

Comparing Information graphic organizer with text "Life Skills, Work Ethic, Responsible, Time Management"

Model What to Write

They’ll have absolutely no idea what to write down at first. Some students will want to write down literally every. single. little. thing. Other students won’t write down anything. They are too overwhelmed to know what is important. 
I like to train my students to write down bullet points. In some cases, you might have a LOT of information about the setting, but in other stories, there might be very little information. That’s ok. I once taught with a teacher who made her kids write down four things in every box on the graphic organizer. That’s excessive in some cases and not enough for other passages. Model what your thinking is as you read and what types of information is important. 

Model During & After Reading

I also think it is important to model recording information on our graphic organizer as we read and after we read. We can’t always share what the theme is until we’ve finished the passage, but we might be able to jot down things about the setting or something about the problem. 
I like to explicitly tell my students that we might write down things while we read, but we also MUST take time to add things to our graphic organizer after we are finished reading the text. 

Say NO to Using a Venn Diagram

I don’t mind using a Venn Diagram with younger students. Venn Diagrams are perfect for very simple information or students who will be overwhelmed by LOTS of information. They are perfect for younger students who are beginning to understand surface level comparing and contrasting. However, I don’t believe it’s fitting for comparing two or more texts on a deep, upper elementary level. 
To me, I think the purpose of a graphic organizer is to help them beyond just reading the text. Often times, they will have reading comprehension questions or writing prompts to help them dive deep into the similarities or differences of two passages. I don’t think this graphic organizer allows students to organize their similarities and differences.

Click here for your fourth and fifth grade paired passages on TpT!

I love using this topic to help my students practice comparing the information in two paired passages. By clicking the image above, you can find the printables in my TpT Store!