Compare and Contrast the News

Learning composition types doesn’t always have to be about writing essay after essay or filling out worksheets. Turning picture-based IKEA pictures into written instructions is a way to explore process writing, for example. When dealing with compare and contrast writing, thinking outside of the box can open the door to many possibilities that go beyond writing an essay.

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In this post, we’ll go over the components of compare and contrast writing, then we’ll look at different ways to organize a compare and contrast project. In this case, the project can be comparing news articles from different news agencies.

A comparison shows how two or more things are similar. Contrast shows how they are different. All kinds of subjects are regularly compared and contrasted: political candidates, raising versus lowering taxes, deciding which college to attend, weighing possibilities for the weekend, or trying to choose which car to buy.

In essay or presentation form, the compare and contrast can be structured Subject-by-Subject or Point-by-Point.

A Subject-by-Subject approach looks at the political candidates, the colleges, or the cars separately:

I. Introduction with thesis that introduces the subjects of “truck” and “SUV”

II. Truck

A. Uses

B. Price

C. Gas mileage

D. Tow capacity

E. Interior and exterior spaces


A. Uses

B. Price

C. Gas mileage

D. Tow capacity

E. Interior and exterior spaces

IV. Conclusion: restatement of thesis and review of key points

The Point-by-Point approach looks at the features, stances, qualities one-by-one:

I. Introduction with thesis that present the two political candidates being compared and contrasted.

II. Taxes

A. Candidate Y

B. Candidate Z

III. Capital punishment

A. Candidate Y

B. Candidate Z

IV. Drugs

A. Candidate Y

B. Candidate Z

V. Driving age

A. Candidate Y

B. Candidate Z

VI. Marriage

A. Candidate Y

B. Candidate Z

VII. Conclusion

When doing Compare-Contrast, there are some transitions that are specific to the type that help move things along coherently:

For Comparison

  • In comparison
  • In the same way
  • Just as…so
  • Like
  • Likewise
  • Similarly 

For Contrast

  • Although
  • But
  • Unlike 
  • Despite
  • Even though
  • However

One project I like to have students do is “Comparing and Contrasting the News.” Coverage in the news always has some biased. This could be for various reasons, and it is not always noticeable at first. News writers choose certain things to include first, headlines are written differently, certain photos are chosen, and some things are left out. The biased could be related to sports, politics, opinions about celebrities, or emotional attachments.

A project that looks at these differences will help students learn to organize their Compare and Contrast writing. However, it will also force them to consider the importance of paying attention to their word choice, sentence structure, and phrasing when writing an essay, talking to a friend, or presenting their case.

The first step is for the student to search online for “news bias chart.” Many charts like this one will come up:

Of course, even news bias charts could have bias! But the goal here is for the students just to pick one and not dwell on which one to pick–I always have to push students along here and keep focused on the purpose of the project.

Then, the student chooses a news agency from the right side of the chart and another from the left side. Whether they are choosing from the top, middle or bottom, they should choose two agencies that are at about the same latitude.

Next, from each news agency picked, the student chooses an article that covers the same topic. The topic could be about anything: a business closing, a football game outcome, a big storm, the marriage of a celebrity, the death of a famous singer, or a political candidates decision to drop out of a race. As long as the articles are specifically about the same thing, this will work!

After reading both articles, the student uses visualizations to clearly present the similarities and differences of the two articles. This can be done on a posterboard or by using a digital slideshow like PowerPoint or Keynote. The important thing is that the presentation is organized subject-by-subject or point-by-point.

Subject-by-Subject Example

I. Article Y

A. Headline information

B. Lead information

C. Who is quoted

D. What information is at the top of the article; what’s at the bottom

E. The picture(s) that was chosen

II. Article Z

A. Headline information

B. Lead information

C. Who is quoted

D. What information is at the top of the article; what’s at the bottom

E. The picture(s) that was chosen

Point-by-Point Example

I. Headline information

A. Article Y

B. Article Z

II. Lead information

A. Article Y

B. Article Z

III. Who is quoted

A. Article Y

B. Article Z

IV. What information is at the top of the article; what’s at the bottom

A. Article Y

B. Article Z

V. The picture(s) that was chosen

A. Article Y

B. Article Z

An ideal student presentation will begin with an introduction. The introduction should tell what the topic is, what the articles are, and what they agencies are. It should also make some sort of thesis statement. Finally, the student’s presentation should conclude in a way that answers, “What’s the point?” What’s the overall conclusion and takeaway here?

This presentation project can also be turned into an essay format. By considering different ways to approach writing style, we can make composition seem not-so-boring and connect it to everyday experiences.

Process Writing: IKEA Instructions

Process writing can be broken down into “Instruction” and “Process Explanation.” In this post, I explain process writing and how it is used. Then, I present an activity that involves writing out those picture-based IKEA instructions.

Instructions enable readers to perform a process. Instructions use the imperative form of verbs (also known as the command form); this form implies “you”: “(You) disconnect the system, and (you) check the electrical source.” This type of writing is found in the products you buy, showing you how to put something together or use it.

Process explanation helps the reader understand how something is carried out. Sometimes, you cannot even do the process that is explained in this type of writing.  For example, the explanation of ‘How a black hole is formed’ is not meant for the reader to follow–it’s not a set of instructions for making your own black hole! This type of writing is common in science when processes are explained.

IKEA instructions are an example of process writing–but there are no words! In order to easily carry their products in many countries, the company includes instructions in picture format.

For this activity, the student must first go to the IKEA site and find a product (a bed, for example). Then, the student gets the instructions for the assembly of the product. Those instructions the student will need are in the individual product details under “Assembly & documents.”

The task is to then put the picture instructions into words. This can be a step-by-step list of instructions that are numbered:

1. Take out all the materials from the box.

2. Open the plastic bag with screws 4578.

3. Connect part 3267 with part 1490 using the screws.

4. ………

5. ……….

Since there aren’t words in the IKEA instructions, it will be a challenge! To add a twist, the student should avoid saying what the product is. When the instructions are complete, they can be presented to a parent, teacher, or class; then, the audience will need to guess what the product is based on the instructions.

Having complete instruction writing, another layer could be added next. The students challenge is to take those instructions and turn them into process explanation. In this case, the first person (I, me, we, us) and the second person (you, your) will not be used. Rather the focus goes from the person doing the action to the action being done. Heres’ an example:

To begin, all material are removed from the box. Then, the plastic bag with screws 4578 is opened. Next, part 3267 is connected with part 1490 using the screws. Once that is completed…


It is important to use transition words and phrases when putting together the process explanation. Here are some examples: first, next, then, later, once that it is completed, finally.

For more ideas and guidance with writing projects, please contact Lux Writing Center. With Lux Writing Center, students receive daily personalized writing instruction online.

Teaching The Old Man and the Sea: Part Two

When teaching a work of literature in class or with your homeschooled child, it helps to have a work that is approachable in terms of length, plot, vocabulary, and sentence structure–a challenge is good, but it’s best not to scare away shy readers! As talked about in “Teaching The Old Man and the Sea: Part One,” Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea offers this sort of accessibility. But it also provides a clear approach to strong themes and meaningful symbols that illustrate those themes.


OldManandSeaReaders witness a harmony of the young and the old, a young boy who cares for an elderly man, and a mutual exchange of care and wisdom amongst the ages. The novel explores questions regarding wisdom versus knowledge, the role of humanity in nature, the risks associated with pride, and how to be a hero. The examples and glorification of perseverance teach young readers what it means to work hard for something noble. When Santiago faces extreme difficulty, he keeps pushing: “He rested sitting on the un-stepped mast and sail and tried not to think but only to endure.”

The novel pushes the reader to consider what it means to be “good”–a good person, a good neighbor, a good friend, a good teammate. Furthermore, the rich symbolism of the novel serves as clear support for themes that the young reader will be able to grasp.


The Old Man and the Sea exemplifies the use of symbols beyond a mere treasure hunt for literary devices. Symbols are used to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal sense. Symbols grab the attention of the readers. They help communicate, give understanding, and illustrate ideas.

Symbols can take different forms. Generally, it is an object, person, situation, or action representing another to give it a different meaning that is much deeper and more significant. Works of literature can be interpreted in various ways with various themes, and the rich symbolism of The Old Man and the Sea promote meaningful discussions of these interpretations. 

Be ‘good’ not ‘bad’

Hemingway said, “About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.” For Hemingway, the right thing is what makes you feel good afterwards. So, what is it that will make a person “feel good after”? To what does his novel point?

Santiago is a man whose actions and words are rich with Christian imagery. After all, his name is Santiago, or James in English. James, the Disciple, was a fisherman (like Santiago of the novel) called to be a follower of Christ: “He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.”

As the novel moves along, the reader see Santiago hold the fishing line in his fingers, The Old Man and the Sea Ernest Hemingwaymoving them like beads of a rosary as he kneels patiently in the boat. Santiago’s draped sack on his deeply cut back calls to mind the Passion of Christ: “They clothed him in purple and, weaving a crown of thorns, placed it on him. They began to salute him with, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” The suffering and enduring continue throughout the novel, and the Christian imagery remains.

The story aligns Santiago not with Christ, but as a follower of Christ. He is to be seen as a person who is “good.” What is that he does that is “good,” then? It’s not in church attendance or Bible reading that Santiago’s goodness is found. Instead, his goodness is found in his actions: he endures. He respects the fish, yet he fights hard against it. He knows that he must try his hardest against his “brother” fish.

backIn the face of difficulty, Santiago does what he believes is right, or “good.” The imagery and themes of The Old Man and the Sea align Santiago and his actions with the likes of Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch, Homer’s Odysseus, and William Faulkner’s Dilsey. Like them, Santiago pushes, strives, and holds firm to what he knows he must do.

Writing in nature

On a clear day last month, I took a group of young writers outside. With paper and pen in hand, we spread out to write—one went into a small wooded area, a few sat in the grass, another climbed up a large oak, and a couple of them sat at tables under trees. They were tasked to simply describe something they saw. Later, we reconvened to share descriptions of ants, trees, Spanish moss, and cold air. These descriptions later evolved into wonderful creative writings.

The activity proved to be fruitful, and I attribute this to the depth and beauty the natural world offers us. When we, our students, or our children are facing writer’s block, boredom with the usual prompts, or simallgau-63427_1280-1ply a tiredness of being at the desk, outside is a good place to be.

Connecting our lives to the natural world around us is not a new concept. It is for good reason that we plant trees in street medians, spend Saturday afternoons at parks, stare out at the vastness of the ocean, and can’t help but be overwhelmed when we look up at a clear starry night.

It’s an ancient connection that gets to our core of being. I see this connection in the readings I teach—creation stories, the Psalms, Indian animal fables, Jesus’ parables, and poetry from all over the world.

Thomas Merton, a writer and monk who lived in a hermitage in the woods of Kentucky, believed that creation must be experienced and observed. He began many of his journal entries by writing what he was observing in the forest around him. He wrote descriptions
like this one:

Mists of damp heat rise up out of the fields around the sleeping abbey.  The whole valley is flooded with moonlight and I count the southern hills, and almost number the trees of the forest to the north.  Now the huge chorus of living beings rise up out of the world beneath my feet: life singing in the watercourses, throbbing in the creeks and the fields and the trees, choirs of millions of jumping and flying and creeping things.  And far above me the cool sky opens upon the frozen distance of the stars.

He did this as if he had to—as if these things had such an influence on his contemplative life and writing that he had to acknowledge them first.

Nature is a good place for a writer—young or experienced—to begin.  To get you started on your outdoor writing adventure, here are some ideas:

  1. Keep a nature journal.
  2. Sit outside away from people and do nothing. Write anything that comes to mind.
  3. Describe the smallest thing you can see outside. Do it with great detail.pen-1342655_1920
  4. While on a hike, imagine a story that might take place in that setting.
  5. Personify an aspect of nature that you see.
  6. Spend 15 minutes outside observing the world around you. Write about what you notice most.
  7. Go out on a very cold or very hot day. You might be uncomfortable. Try to find the good in what you feel and experience.
  8. When you are outside, which of your senses are you most thankful to have?
  9. If you don’t like to be outside, write while you are outside and tell what you don’t like about it.
  10. Write about the element of nature that speaks to you most.
  11. Write a story or poem about a leaf falling.
  12. Describe what a bird might see.
  13. Read outside. Remember, the key to being good writer is to read.
  14. While inside, read about nature and look at pictures of nature. Let these images and readings inspire your writing. For example, browse through the bird images of Alexander Wilson, American Ornithologist. Tell what you see. Describe how the birds might feel if you touched them. Think of any movement the pictures might suggest.

The options are plentiful and nature is ready for you to experience it—so get outside and write!




Why Writing Is Important

Writing well is an important skill when your English essay is due. It’s also important if you wish to pursue a career in journalism, editing, or content writing. However, writing well has many benefits, and a list from Marquette University tells us what makes writing so important.

  • Writing is the primary basis upon which your work, your learning, and your intellect will be judged—in college, in the workplace, and in the community.
  • Writing expresses who you are as a person.
  • Writing is portable and permanent. It makes your thinking visible.
  • Writing helps you move easily among facts, inferences, and opinions without getting confused—and without confusing your reader.
  • Writing promotes your ability to pose worthwhile questions.
  • Writing fosters your ability to explain a complex position to readers, and to yourself.
  • Writing helps others give you feedback.
  • Writing helps you refine your ideas when you give others feedback.
  • Writing requires that you anticipate your readers’ needs. Your ability to do so demonstrates your intellectual flexibility and maturity.
  • Writing ideas down preserves them so that you can reflect upon them later.
  • Writing out your ideas permits you to evaluate the adequacy of your argument.
  • Writing stimulates you to extend a line of thought beyond your first impressions or gut responses.
  • Writing helps you understand how truth is established in a given discipline.
  • Writing equips you with the communication and thinking skills you need to participate effectively in democracy.
  • Writing is an essential job skill.


[This list was composed and posted by Marquette University]




Improve your English grammar by learning a foreign language

A couple of weeks ago, a high school History teacher told me, “I learned most of my
English grammar by studying Latin.” I can relate to and agree with this through my study of Spanish.latin

I started studying Spanish two decades ago. The first word I learned was from the mother of a friend from Mexico. She spoke no English. One afternoon I went to his house and he wasn’t home. His mother told me something in Spanish and it was clear from the look on my face that I had no idea what she had said. She then continued to repeat “Biblioteca, biblioteca” as she pointed up the hill toward the library. When I arrived at the library, I found my friend and I realized I had learned my first Spanish word.

From that day, I decided to make it a point to learn Spanish. I took Spanish through high school and college. I studied Spanish in Guatemala for three months, working one-on-one with a Guatemalan teacher, five days a week, eight hours a day.


After Guatemala, I volunteered at a maternity home where many of the clients were Spanish speakers. I tutored students in Spanish at a college. Over morning coffee, I spoke Spanish with a friend of Puerto Rican descent. Then, throughout my English graduate studies, I sat-in on as many Spanish college courses as I could.

I never planned to be a Spanish teacher or permanently live in a Spanish-speaking country. I wanted to learn a new language because I was aware of the well-known benefits of doing so: a greater ability to complete analytical tasks, an worldbooksresizeintroduction to a new culture, a competitive edge in the job market, and so on.

When I completed my MA in English, my family and I moved to Ecuador. There I took Spanish classes, but most of my time was dedicated to teaching English. As a new teacher in a classroom, I found that teaching the English language was not much different than learning the Spanish language. I discovered that all my years of studying Spanish helped me to better understand the English language.

Anne Merritt points out in “Why learn a foreign language? Benefits of bilingualism” that learning a foreign language draws our focus to the mechanics of language: grammar, conjugations, idioms, and sentence structure. Merritt says, “This makes you more aware of language, and the ways it can be structured and manipulated. These skills can make you a more effective communicator and a sharper editor and writer.”

If we want a better hold of English and we want to improve our reading and writing skills, we should remember the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.”


Tips From a Linguist: How to be a better writer

Writing well can be challenging, and the work is sometimes intimidating. In an effort to make the process easier for all of us, Eric Barker of Time reached out to Steven Pinker to talk about the rules and science behind good writing.

vintage-1170657_960_720Pinker offers tips for becoming a better writer. He is a cognitive scientist and linguist at Harvard, and he was recently ranked as one of the top 100 most eminent psychologists of the modern era.

His latest book is The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Below are six tips from the Harvard linguist to make you a better writer.

  1. Be visual—make your reader see

“We are primates, with a third of our brains dedicated to vision, and large swaths devoted to touch, hearing, motion, and space. For us to go from ‘I think I understand’ to ‘I understand ,’ we need to see the sights and feel the motions. Many experiments have shown that readers understand and remember material far better when it is expressed in concrete language that allows them to form visual images.”

  1. Don’t assume everyone knows what you know

“…another bit of cognitive science that is highly relevant is a phenomenon called ‘the curse of knowledge.’ Namely, the inability that we all have in imagining what it’s like not to know something that we do know. And that has been studied in various guises in the psychological literature. People assume that the words that they know are common knowledge. That the facts that they know are universally known… the writer doesn’t stop to think what the reader doesn’t know…Show a draft to some people who are similar to our intended audience and find out whether they can follow it. This sounds banal but is in fact profound. Social psychologists have found that we are overconfident, sometimes to the point of delusion, about our ability to infer what other people think, even the people who are closest to us.”

  1. Don’t bury the lead—tell the reader what your point is

“Readers always have to fill in the background, read between the lines, connect the dots. And that means that they’re applying their background knowledge to understanding the text in question. If they don’t know which background knowledge to apply, any passage of writing will be so sketchy and elliptical, that it’ll be incomprehensible. And that’s why journalists say, ‘Don’t bury the lead.’ Basically, a writer has to make it clear to the reader what the topic of the passage is and what the point of the passage is. That is, the writer has to have something to talk about and the writer has to have something to say… The exact place in which the point of a text is displayed is less important than the imperative to divulge it somewhere not too far from the beginning.”

  1. You don’t always have to play by the rules, but you should try

“That’s right: when it comes to correct English, there’s no one in charge; the lunatics are running the asylum. The editors of a dictionary read a lot, keeping their eyes open for new words and senses that are used by many writers in many contexts, and the editors add or change the definitions accordingly…There is no tribunal. There’s no rules committee when it comes to English. It’s not like the rules of Major League Baseball which are exactly what the rules committee stipulates them to be. That would just never work with language. There are hundreds of millions of English speakers and they are constantly adding new terms to the language. They’re constantly changing shades of meaning.”

  1. Read, and read a lot!

“I don’t think you could become a good writer unless you spend a lot of time immersed in text allowing you to soak up thousands of idioms and constructions and figures of speech and interesting words, to develop a sense of writing at its best. Becoming a writer requires savoring and reverse-engineering examples of good prose, giving you something to aspire to and allowing you to become sensitive to the hundreds of things that go into a good sentence that couldn’t possibly be spelled out one by one.”

  1. Revise

“Much advice on good writing is really advice on revising. Because very few people are smart enough to be able to lay down some semblance of an argument and to express it in clear prose at the same time. Most writers require two passes to accomplish that, and after they’ve got the ideas down, now it’s time to refine and polish. Because the order in which ideas occur to a writer is seldom the same as the order that are best digested by a reader. And often, good writing requires a revising and rearranging the order of what you introduce so that the reader can easily follow it.”

Writing Ideas

Writing2Finding a topic isn’t always easy. There are many strategies for coming up with ideas based on a particular subject—brainstorming, freewriting, and mapping are all great ways to think of ideas for an essay.

Brainstorming involves listing everything that comes to mind when you think about your topic: impressions, emotions, reactions, and facts. Freewriting is when you write nonstop for a specific period of time, letting your mind run free. Mapping (or clustering) is a more visual way to discover ideas and relationships.

But where do you start? Sure, a topic can be “anything.” The world of “anything” can be an overwhelming abyss, though.

To get you started, Michael Gonchar has put together some terrific prompts. Through the Learning Network, you can access “301 Prompts for Argumentative Writing” and “500 Prompts for Narrative or Personal Writing.”

Each prompt is a question. The question can be used as a starting point for brainstorming, freewriting, or mapping. You can use your answer to develop more specific ideas for writing.

So, when you are told to pick your own topic or you are just looking for some ideas for your writing, you can scan these thorough lists for some inspiration. Lux Writing Center can also help you come up with writing projects and provide individualized instruction.