Compare and contrast elements of texts (Inclusive Big Idea #9)

What are students learning?

Reading Literature

Grade 4: English Language Arts

Inclusive Big Idea #9: Compare and contrast elements of texts

Standard: Compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics (e.g., opposition of good and evil) and patterns of events (e.g., the quest) in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures. RL.4.9

How could I teach this?

Think about how instructional strategies and activities can give students multiple ways to engage with learning. One way won’t work for all, so how can you remove and reduce barriers for all students?

  • Anchor Text: Use anchor texts such as The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and excerpts from Greek and Roman myths. Compare the pattern of events across the texts. Learn more about accessing grade-level text in this TIP Sheet.
  • Topic Study: Using a T chart, compare two or more texts written about the same topic. Notice how the texts are similar and how the texts are different. Learn more about graphic organizers in this TIP Sheet.
  • Venn Diagram Sorting: Choose two texts written about the same topic and create category cards with the titles of both texts. Next, create cards that have some information about the texts that are the same and create some cards that have some information about the texts that are different (e.g., characters, setting, themes, events). Ask students to sort the cards onto the Venn Diagram, placing the cards with similar information in the middle of the diagram and placing cards with dissimilar information in either the right or left circle. Learn more about graphic organizers in this TIP Sheet.
  • Grand Conversations: Gather students to engage in a conversation about stories that address the same topic. Ask a series of questions to the group of students that requires them to explain how the stories are similar and how they are different. Questions may include:
    • How are these stories alike?
    • How are these stories different?
    • How does this author address the topic? How does this author address a similar topic?
    • How do the authors address the topic similarly? How do the authors address the topic differently?
  • Think Aloud: Read aloud a story to your students. As you read the story aloud, explain how multiple authors address a similar topic in similar/different ways.

Don’t stop here! Remember to reduce barriers for all students.

Make reducing barriers a process - take a few minutes to think about your process! Is there a barrier related to:

  • interest or engagement? Think about how to incorporate student’s lived experiences, culture, and interests… 
  • background knowledge? Think about how to highlight key ideas and define key vocabulary… 
  • showing what they know? Think about having options for how they use learning tools and technology to communicate…

For example, one possible barrier is if the lesson is not designed to be of interest or relevant.

Ideas to reduce this barrier could include:

  • let students choose texts based on interest
  • connect the content to existing communication boards and experience books
  • share a clear purpose for why the content or skill matters in the “real world”
  • ask students how the topic relates to them.

Use these Inclusive Strategies to help reduce barriers.

Tell me more about this Inclusive Big Idea (I need a refresher)

Brush up on the content of this Inclusive Big Idea. It will help you and your colleagues to understand and teach this content better.

  • Why is it Important to Build Background Knowledge?
    • Students can determine what is the same and what is different in the content of what they read or see.
    • Build background knowledge about how students can use information they already know in order to compare and contrast elements of a character’s experience. Background knowledge can be built directly and indirectly. Direct experiences (e.g., teacher modeling, think-aloud strategies, cross-curricular activities) and indirect experiences (e.g., field trips, video clips, class activities, simulations) may effectively build relevant background knowledge.
  • What are "Story Elements"?
    • Story elements are, essentially, the parts of a story. These elements develop the actions or events in the story in a logical way to enable readers to easily follow the text. Knowing this can help students to compare and contrast.
      • characters- the individuals in the story
      • setting- the location and time period where the story takes place
      • plot- what happens in the story; a clear beginning, middle, and end.
      • conflict- the problem in the story; the plot in a story should be centered on the conflict
      • resolution- the solution to the problem or conflict
  • What is Theme?
    • The central and underlying meaning of the story.
    • The big idea the author wants the reader to take away from the text-- the writer’s view of the world or a revelation about human nature.
  • What are Some Common Themes Found in Literature?
    • Acceptance: These books have characters who respect and accept others’ differences and beliefs.
    • Courage: These books have brave characters who have the strength to overcome a fear or accept a risk.
    • Perseverance: These books have characters who never give up, even when facing difficult times.
    • Cooperation: These books have characters who work together to solve a problem or achieve a goal.
    • Compassion: These books have characters who want to make those who are suffering feel better.
    • Honesty: These books have characters who find that it is best to always tell the truth.
    • Kindness: These books have friendly characters who are generous and considerate of others.
    • Loyalty: These books have characters who trust each other and never turn their backs on their friends.
  • How Can You Find the Theme?
    • It is common for stories to have multiple themes. Theme can be stated explicitly or implicitly. For example, fables explicitly state the theme at the end.
    • Unlike the main idea, the theme can often be found at the conclusion of the story.
    • Most often, readers have to infer the theme based on character traits, motivations, actions, emotions, and values. Learn more about inferencing with this TIP Sheet.
      • Some sample questions about theme:
        • What message did you take away from reading this text? Which clues helped you determine this theme?
        • Which passage in the text is most significant? Why?
        • How do the changes the main character undergoes help you determine the message of the book?
        • What affected your interpretation of the theme the most: the plot, the characters, the setting?


Looking for more suggestions?  Target student common misconceptions, build on interdisciplinary links, and implement strategies and supports across multiple lessons or units.

Go beyond the specific standard! These examples can spark ideas to generalize related skills from the content to real-world experiences for all students.

Common Student Misconceptions

  • Background Knowledge: Many teachers assume students already know about a topic based on their age or what they should have learned in a previous grade or class. When background knowledge is not built or activated, students will lack the schema to understand new material and may not effectively learn and understand the topic or concept.
  • Theme: Main idea and theme are often confused as being the same. Although both can be related, theme is a broad topic, whereas main idea is more specific. For example, nature may be the theme of a story, while the main idea is “littering is bad”.
  • Story Elements: Students often miss aspects of story elements when summarizing a text. In addition, some texts are considered inconsiderate texts and do not provide enough to allow students to fully understand all story elements and must fill in the gaps with prior experiences and personal preferences, leading to problems with comprehension.
  • Setting purpose: Students may be overwhelmed when asked to compare ideas if they don’t understand which information is important. Set clear expectations about what characteristics of the story you want them to compare.
  • Fact versus Opinion: When comparing aspects of stories, students should base their comparisons in facts about the stories, not in their opinions about the stories.
  • Concrete versus Abstract Characteristics: Some points of comparison will be details that are explicitly stated within the story about characters or events, while other details may be implied or created by descriptions, language, or situations, such as mood or tone.
  • Social Studies: Read a historical text and then watch a fictional reenactment of the same event. 

Explore other Inclusive Big Ideas to think about the content you are teaching. How can you connect what you are teaching now to what has been taught before or what will be taught in the future?

Other TIES resources:

Inclusive Big Ideas: Standards-based resources for inclusive classrooms | TIES Center

The Inclusive Big Ideas were adapted from resources created by the NCSC Project , a federal grant from the US Department of Education (PR/Award #: H373X100002), However, the contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the US Department of Education and no assumption of endorsement by the Federal government should be made.

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