Identifying Similarities and Differences

Learning to classify and discern differences and similarities prepares students for employing metaphor, analogy, and higher-order thinking skills. -Northwest Educational Technology Consortium

Focused students are like oysters. The oyster filters through a lot of water, straining out the tasty bits of nutrient. Every once in awhile  our erstwhile oyster encounters some problematic bit of grit. When this happens it closes up tight and rolls that sand grain round and round, until the oyster finally turns it into a pearl. Likewise, a focused student filters through a lot of information, straining out the tasty bits of knowledge. Every once in a while they encounter some gritty conundrum. When this happens they stop what they are doing and mull it over, rolling it round and round their brain, until they’ve turned it into a shining gem of understanding.

Identifying how whatever you are learning about is similar to and different from practically anything is one way of polishing some new pearls of wisdom. There are many ways to do this, and I’ll list several of my personal faves, but first, you’ll need a foil for your issue; an Abbott for you Costello conundrum; a Yin topic for your Yang topic.

Couple o’ choices here. First, you can pick something purty close to your topic. Learning the meaning of the word turgid? Compare and contrast it to turbid. Trying to get a handle on velocity? Compare it to speed. This method is great for finding fine distinctions within your field of study. Second, you can try something waaay different from your topic. Puzzling over the mysteries of avian anatomy? Compare and contrast it withmodern skyscrapers. Analyzing the intricacies of the Indian government? Contrast it with plate tectonics. This method will help you make grand leaps in understanding as it forces you to look at your topic through a new lens. Finally, you can go the random route. Looking for something to compare and contrast with the greenhouse effect? Randomly open a dictionary and slap your finger down on … costly. Maybe you don’t like costly. That’s okay; use it as your jumping off point. What can you think of that’s costly? Debt? Diamonds? A four-pack a day habit? Use any of those.

Whatever you choose to compare your topic with, do the comparison using any/all of the following techniques.

1) Make a Venn diagram. I’ve included an example for you, but you can see loads more here. By the by, don’t get too bogged down making it pretty. Scrawl a couple of overlapping circles on your note paper and quickly jot down your thoughts. Trying to make it nice and neat is a certified defocusing time-waster.greenhouse venn

2) Go through a series of questions. The exact questions aren’t as important as whether or not they get you thinking carefully. Here are some I might use. How are these alike? How are they different? What’s their biggest point of similarity? What would have to be done to make them more alike? How would an artist seem them as alike and different? How about a scientist or an engineer?

3) Make a T-Chart. A T-chart is another form of graphic organizer that basically consists of two-columns with one of your items/topics in column A and the other in column B. It’s much more quick and dirty than the Venn diagram and perfect for people who feel constricted by the Venn diagram.

4) Cogitate. That’s just a fancy word for sitting and mulling it over. This is what I often do myself. It doesn’t require so much as a pencil. It’s quick. It can be done while I’m exercising or working in the yard. On the other hand, it doesn’t force me to think thoroughly. When I’m filling out the Venn diagram, it’s pretty obvious if I haven’t put anything in one of the sections, but that’s not so when I’m going through the same process mentally.

No matter which method you use, comparing and contrasting topics is a research-proven way to kick the stuffing out of ignorance. It’s bonified mental focus hocus pocus.

© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.



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