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Comparison Thinking

Comparison is one of five basic categories of thinking in the North Carolina 1992-93 booklet on thinking assessment and later retained in the 1994 revisions. Sections below cover: definition; specific content trigger questions for science, social science, and literature; key action words; and examples of general trigger questions and guidelines for responding to a comparison prompt.

 Source: Adapted from North Carolina End-of-Grade Testing Program pamphlet. (1992-93). Testing Section, Division of Accountability Services, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Comparison Thinking

Definition of Comparison. (in Bloom's taxonomy: Comprehension & Analysis)

This category relates to some of the skills in the Bloom level of comprehension and analysis and Marzano's organizing. These tasks require learners to recognize or explain both similarities and differences. Simple comparisons require attention to one or a few very obvious attributes or component processes, while complex comparisons require identification of and differentiation among many attributes or component actions. The separate comparison category emphasizes the distinct information processing required when students go beyond breaking the whole into parts in order to compare similarities and differences.

Certain language patterns appear when discussing similarities and differences. For example, when discussing similarities, the terms both, either or neither would commonly be used, as in "they both require an understanding of calculus" or "neither involve swimming while holding your breath."  With differences, expressions might be positive to negative, such as "a laptop computer can, but a desktop computer cannot." More common are terms such as less or more as well as the use the suffix of "er" as in one is faster, easier, or weaker, such as "an ink pen mark is darker and easier to read in contrast to the fainter markings of a pencil". For example, "team problem solving requires more coordination and greater calendar management". Note that discussion of differences through the lens of advantages and disadvantages, pros and cons or strengths and weaknesses only does half the job of comparison thinking, leaving out consideration of similarities and can lead to a writing style missing direct comparative language.


Examples of Comparison questions for Science, Social Science, Literature.


Comparison. Use these key action words in the work of comparing.

compare, differentiate, contrast, distinguish, relate


 Compare the themes of these two stories


General Examples of Comparison Trigger questions.

Guidelines for Writing an Essay Focused on Comparison

Responding to a prompt requiring comparison requires some practice. Use two headings to keep your thinking focused: similarities; and differences. Under the appropriate heading, make every sentence count by using the language of comparison in each sentence . Unless absolutely essential to the reader's understanding of some obscure vocabulary, avoid description and explanation. Keep your comparison balanced, giving as much writing to similarities as to differences. Do not get caught in the trap of thinking about which is better, which requires the writing format of evaluation, though comparison thinking is essential to discovering the criteria needed for evaluation.

When discussing similarities, each sentence should include language such as either, neither, both, or each. When discussing differences, each sentence should include language such as less, more, faster, slower, longer, shorter, can and cannot, etc. Note that the use of "er" at the end of an adjective generally denotes comparative language. Finally, don't just think this through in your head; practice this writing format.

Sample Comparison Essay


Prompt: Compare a keyboard to a mouse.


Both are input devices. Neither can be used to input such. Each is used by hands. Either can be rendered useless by spilling liquids on it.


A mouse is much faster in pointing to an area of the screen. A mouse cannot enter text but a keyboard can. A keyboard costs more. A mouse weighs less. Keyboards are bumpier and heavier.



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