Strategies for Using Similarities and Differences to Teach Critical Thinking Skills

Teaching students about similarities and differences paves the way for them to develop important comparative, analytical and critical thinking skills. Once these skills are mastered, students will have the metacognitive foundation for extracting and constructing meaning from information with automaticity. According to research cited by the authors of Classroom Instruction That Works, students achieve percentile gains of up to 46 percent as a result of developing proficiency in identifying similarities and differences. That’s powerful evidence in support of finding effective strategies for teaching students about similarities and differences.

Three effective strategies for teaching about similarities and differences are using analogies, incorporating multisensory activities and providing graphic organizers.


Proficiently identifying similarities and differences is to academic achievement as mastering high frequency words is to literacy. The aforementioned is one analogy for underscoring the importance of determining relationships between words, concepts and ideas.

Analogies are a fun, efficient and effective means of teaching about similarities and differences. Start by introducing the compare/contrast text structure. This can be a springboard for analyzing similarities and differences in a variety of contexts across the curriculum. Start using analogies to analyze and experiment with word relationships as part of a game or other enjoyable activity. Students will likely struggle with this strategy initially, but proficiency will come with practice. Once students get the hang of it, you should notice improvements in vocabulary development, reading comprehension and use of reading strategies.

Multisensory Activities

Multisensory activities provide you with an opportunity to appeal to learners with various learning styles, learning profiles, strengths, needs and preferences. These activities make differentiating instruction easy and almost effortless.

One effective multisensory activity for teaching about similarities and differences is having students work in teams to analyze, evaluate, compare and contrast a plain donut with a plain bagel to decide which food would be healthier to eat. Have students compare the two items on multiple levels (e.g., physical characteristics, ingredient composition, function and nutritional components.) Possible student products may include short reports, fliers, public service announcements and nutritional recommendations.

Provide Graphic Organizers

Provide a variety of graphic organizers to help students make comparisons. Supplement them with text and pictorial organizers to address the needs of students of varying levels of comfort, ability and proficiency. Give students opportunities to practice classifying, categorizing and comparing things and ideas. Increase the rigor by including activities that involve generating, analyzing and comparing metaphors, similes and analogies.