How to Teach Elementary Students to Compare and Contrast with Music

Students love music. Anytime a teacher can use music to trick her students into learning an important skill she should do so. One important skill for elementary aged students to understand is comparing and contrasting.

Comparing and contrasting, telling how things are alike and different, is a skill that some students have difficulty with. They may be able to read a passage and tell how things are the same, but telling differences takes a lot of practice. Once students have been taught key works such as like and similarly, among others, they are usually able to determine how things or events are similar.

I have used a music lesson several times to teach children how to compare and contrast. All you need is two or three songs to start with. If you are just teaching comparing and contrasting, then you should start with two songs. Pick a song that has been remade by more than one person. For example, the song “I will always love you” has been performed and made famous by Dolly Parton and Whitney Houston.

I have used one of the songs off of one of the Shrek movie soundtracks, “Holding out for a hero”. I picked that song because I figured my students had heard it before. The movie features a newer version of the song by Frou Frou, but Bonnie Tyler does an earlier version. Students are immediately intrigued when I play the Frou Frou song because they have heard it before.

Start off by giving the students a Venn diagram or another appropriate graphic organizer. Explain how comparing and contrasting work. The top of each side of the Venn diagram should be labeled with the title of the song and the artist’s name beneath it. On the outside of the circle students write the differences between the songs. The intersection of the circle is where students write the similarities.

Play both songs for students. Help students compare and contrast the differences. In the above example that I have used, students are able to determine that the songs were written in different time periods. Of course, teachers will probably hear some kids guessing that the older song is from the decade of the 40’s, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be specific on details such as that.

My students were able to determine that the similarities were that the lyrics were the same, both songs had women singers, the titles were the same, etc. They were also able to determine differences such as when the songs were made, the length, the speed of the music, and so on. I have noticed that different groups of students notice different aspects of the music.

To increase the difficulty level of this activity you can find three songs that have different artists but the same titles. I found another song with the same title, but had completely different lyrics. Students really enjoy the extra challenge. This activity takes only about ten to fifteen minutes but it really gets the point across to students. They’ll be comparing and contrasting like pros in no time with this activity.