Go compare!

A while ago, I saw this picture posted by @Helen_L_Gabriel.  One of things I loved about twitter teachers is that we are often tackling similarly challenges with our students.  Helen’s students were struggling to find different ways to structure their essays.  Anyone else ever had to tackle that problem?  Yep, me too.


My Year 12s are currently writing their OCR comparative coursework on A Streetcar Named Desire and On Chesil Beach.  The coursework questions are on gender constructs, tragedy and setting.   During our internal moderation over the years, we have discussed the importance (and challenge) of students making effective comparisons for this task.  It is not enough to write a detailed exploration of Blanche from Streetcar and then say “in contrast Florence” followed by another detailed exploration of Chesil Beach.  You see, OCR ask for “excellent and consistently detailed effective comparison of relationships between texts”, our take on this is that the comparison itself cannot be “excellent” or “detailed” if it exists in the singular, or if it explores only one facet of an idea.

Usually when I attempt to explain this students, I ended up saying something like:

“So you need to go, this thing in Streetcar links to this thing in Chesil Beach, which links back to this other thing in Streetcar and that reminds me of another thing about Chesil Beach” And so.  Eyes have glazed over, even mine.

It’s no surprise then when I end up marking something like this:


Not horrific.  But no where near what is needed.  Helen’s idea, on the face of it, looked like it might help me bridge the gap.

So here is my take on it and the resulting comparisons made by my students.

  1. I created a number of different comparison exemplar essays, each tackling a different way in which essays can be structured.
    For example, comparison through historical context, comparison by idea, comparison by critical viewpoint etc. Blah, blah.
  2. In groups, students annotated their exemplar.compare 2
  3. Students were then given a variety of materials and in their groups created a visual representation of the structure of the essay (including AOs, different texts, number of quotes, amount of AO4).  Some of the materials I used were: paper, lolly sticks, pipe cleaners, Lego, wooden blocks.compare 3Despite all the previously wild and wacky things I have asked students to do, they were a bit confused and nervous at first.  But the sheer joy of cutting and sticking or building Lego won over and it wasn’t long before everyone was creating a visual essay.
  4. Once completed, we traversed the room, art gallery style, and each group explained their essay and its structure.  After this they explained what they had learnt about how they need to structure an essay paragraph.

What did students learn from this?

Well, resoundingly the feedback was “I need to compare throughout”, tempered with “I need to have lots of AO4” and “I need more quotes”.

Yes! That was my point.
But they follow their own advice?

Have a look:

compare 5

This is the first draft submitted by one student following our structure lesson.  Admittedly there are a number of drafting and style issues that need work.  However, the point of the exercise was to consider the structure of the essay paragraph.  Here, this student transitions between the two texts four times.

Exactly what I was looking for.  So thanks Helen and good work Year 12, good work.

Here are a few of the Year 12 visual essay masterpieces:

compare 4