Research - Identifying Similarities and Differences

Identifying similarities and differences helps students connect new learning to prior learning. It also helps them to build relationships which expand their understanding of new learning.

  • Students benefit by having similarities and differences pointed out by the teacher in an explicit manner. This involves both discussion and opportunity to make new connections. (Chen, Yanowitz & Daehler, 1996; Gholson, Smither, Buhrman, & Duncan, 1997; Newby, Ertmer, & Stepich, 1995; Solomon, 1995).
  • Cognitive research shows that educational programs should challenge students to link, connect, and integrate ideas (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999).

Identifying similarities and differences provides ELLs many opportunities for language development and vocabulary expansion.

  • Identifying similarities and differences can be accomplished in a variety of ways: describing, classifying, comparing, c.ontrasting creating analogies and metaphors. All of these are excellent vehicles for language development. (Marzano, et al. 2001)
  • As students begin to practice description and comparison (language functions) using familiar topics, they build on content and topic-specific vocabulary, always scaffolding from well-known to the more complex language. (Dutro, 2008)

Focusing on similarities and differences in familiar subjects provides scaffolding for ELLs' understanding of more complex information. It provides a concrete pathway for linking new knowledge with previously learned knowledge.

  • Representing similarities and differences in graphic or symbolic form enhances students' understanding of concepts because it helps them to categorize their learning and make connections. (Marzano, et al., 2001)
  • "When we ask ELLs to identify similarities and differences , we give them the opportunity to learn content at a deeper level. In order to complete this task, students are required to activate prior knowledge, make new connections, construct meaning, and talk about their reasoning." (Hill & Flynn, 2006)
  • Starting with familiar topics for identifying similarities and differences facilitates scaffolding to more complex, academically demanding tasks where the topic is more obscure, "cognitively undemanding and context embedded" moves to the "cognitively demanding and context reduced." (Cummins, 1984).