How to Compare and Contrast with the Common Core in the Third Grade

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

One of the critical skills on Common Core-aligned end of year assessments is compare and contrast. In order for students to compare and contrast successfully within or between texts, students must be proficient at the close reading, comprehension, and interpretation stages. There are many ways to approach teaching comparing and contrasting, including between characters, texts, genres, themes, or media.

Below is a comparison of two books of the same genre and similar topic. I have created sample questions to teach towards and check mastery of each of the big three common core standards categories. These are by no means the only questions to ask in each category, but these provide an overview of the progression in question complexity and mastery of the texts.

By creating a range of compare and contrast questions across the standards, we are able to differentiate for students within a class, provide extension opportunities for ready learners, or move the whole class from literal- to higher-level thinking over the course of several lessons.


The Storyteller’s Candle (level: O)

Storyteller's Candle
Storyteller’s Candle

Richard Wright And The Library Card (level: N)

Richard Wright
Richard Wright And The Library Card

Why: I have chosen these two texts because they share the same genre (biography), deal with similar subject matter and time period, require a low-level of additional background schema needed to participate in reading the text, and offer a familiar subject matter (libraries) to children.

Key Ideas and Details:

  1. Literal Comprehension: What challenges did Belpré and Wright face? How were their challenges similar or different?
  2. Central Idea(s): What are the central ideas in each of these books? What evidence do you have to support the central ideas? How are these central ideas similar or different from each other?
  3. Character Traits: How did Pura Belpré and Richard Wright demonstrate persistence? How did they demonstrate persistence similarly or differently from each other? What actions does each author show of these figures that proves they were persistent in their goals? Do the authors want you to aspire to be like Belpré and/or Wright? What evidence from the texts proves the authors want you to admire or learn from the experiences of Belpré and/or Wright? Compare how each author describes and portrays the actions of the central figures.
  4. Character Motivations: What motivated Richard Wright to achieve access to the library? What motivated Pura Belpré to engage Puerto Ricans in the library system? What obstacles did Wright encounter? What obstacles did Belpré encounter? How did these obstacles impact their mindsets?

Craft and Structure:

  1. How does each author show the value of reading and libraries? How are these books similar and different in how they portray reading and libraries?
  2. Text Features: What is the purpose of the “Author’s Note” in each book? What does the additional information show about the authors’ perspectives toward Belpré and Wright?
  3. Author’s Perspective/Point of View: What is the narrative form of each book? Although both books are written in third person limited, why might the author of The Storyteller’s Candle choose to not let you know the thoughts of Pura Belpré? Why might the author of Richard Wright And The Library Card choose to let you know the thoughts of Richard Wright? What do these choices tell us about the authors’ points of view on the subjects? How does this choice about narrative form affect what you know about the figures and what the authors want you to feel towards the subject?
  4. Text Features: What features do these books have that make them biographies? How are they similar/different from other biographies? Why might the authors of these books tell Pura Belpré and Richard Wrights’ experiences as a narrative, rather than a list of dates and events? How does this style change how you absorb the information? Does this narrative style make the information more or less engaging and memorable for readers? How so?

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

  1. How did the author of The Storyteller’s Candle present the information about libraries in the 1920s and Pura Belpré, in contrast to how the author of Richard Wright And The Library Card did?
  2. Did the authors treat Belpré, Wright, and libraries similarly or differently? In what ways did the authors treat these subjects similarly or differently?
  3. Integrating information from different media formats: How are libraries different from each other in these two books? Based on these two texts, how did libraries treat people of color during the late 1920s? What about this time period or location of the libraries might influence how the libraries treated people of color in the 1920s? [This may involve additional research into the time period and geography, which opens this up for an examination of other multimodal sources]

What have you found successful in teaching how to compare and contrast? Share with us at!

Further reading on teaching literacy in Third Grade:

Further reading on the Compare and Contrast series: