Teaching Writing: Analyze and Contrast



Are squares A and B the same colour?

This optical illusion is a good symbol for this English writing lesson. Sometimes, we have to learn to see what is not obvious through critical thinking.


This English writing exercise helps ESL students learn and practice multiple skills including comparisons, contrasts, analysis and abstractions.

Students will watch a short soft drink commercial which describes aspects of life in two generations and then complete a comparative analysis.

Specific cognitive challenges include identifying or creating categories of activity, arranging the text in a meaningful order, and describing in clear terms the nature of the comparisons or contrasts. Equally challenging, this analysis needs to be created inside a well written paragraph structure which includes meaningful topic sentences, support ideas and conclusions.

Writing Flow

  1. Introduce writing assignment by describing the activity, its purpose and the final product (one page, three to five paragraphs)
  2. Demonstrate two organizational styles to write a compare/contrast essay – point by point and block method by reading and reviewing model paragraph text
  3. Define analysis – a higher order thinking skill, the ability to look at one thing and divide it into smaller pieces in order to better understand the object. In this writing activity, the students will analyze a TV commercial and find categories of human behaviour which can be used to contrast life in the past and present. The challenge is nudge students towards a higher degree of abstraction, say from sandwich to food, for example, in order to improve the quality of the writing assignment, add a level of complexity and urge students to use advanced vocabulary.
  4. Complete a brief exercise to remind students how to formulate a hierarchy of categories of abstraction (see below)
  5. Watch the video three times.
  6. Students can brainstorm or individually use graphic organizers to start the process of creating categories of behavior for the analysis.
  7. Begin writing the first draft.



This writing lesson helps students move up the pyramid of thinking. The many levels on the pyramid show us there are many ways of thinking about the world. These thinking skills are generally called: knowledge, understanding and critical thinking.

Blooms Taxonomy


Analyze a TV Commercial

The video prompt for this ESL writing exercise.

Creating Categories

Here is a quick lesson which can help ESL students understand a vital part of this writing task: learning to create categories.

Look at the list of words. Which title best describes each group of things.

  1. tomato – orange – apple – pear
  2. sweet potato – lettuce – cabbage – radish
  3. rice – wheat – corn – barley

With a little help, your students might be able to create categories for each food group. Now, ask your students to create a meta-category for the names of each food group. On the whiteboard, a pyramid could graphically display how we create a hierarchy of categories.



The image in this post comes from Rob Lee and its use complies with the owner’s creative commons licensing terms.


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