Identifying Similarities and Differences

The ability to break a concept into its similar and dissimilar characteristics allows students to understand (and often solve) complex problems by analyzing them in a more simple way. Teachers can either directly present similarities and differences, accompanied by deep discussion and inquiry, or simply ask students to identify similarities and differences on their own. While teacher-directed activities focus on identifying specific items, student-directed activities encourage variation and broaden understanding, research shows. Research also notes that graphic forms are a good way to represent similarities and differences.


  • Teach students to use comparing, classifying, metaphors, and analogies when they identify similarities and differences.

  • Give students a model of the steps for engaging in the process.

  • Use a familiar context to teach students these steps.

  • Have students use graphic organizers as a visual tool to represent the similarities and differences.

  • Guide students as they engage in this process. Gradually give less structure and less guidance


To compare is to examine the character or qualities of especially in order to discover resemblances or differences. Use of Venn diagrams or comparision matrices often provide appropriate visual aid when students are reviewing similarities and dissimilarities in two or more subjects.

An example Venn Diagram
An example Venn Diagram

Click below for a Comparison Matrix print out.


The definition of classify is to categorize. Within a classroom, students could classify books, objects, animals and even vocabulary words.

Questions the students should ask while classifying include:

  • What do I want to classify?

  • What things are alike that I can put in a group?

  • How are these things alike?

  • What other groups can I make? How are things alike in that group?

  • Does everything fit in a group? Do any of the groups need to be rearranged?

Creating Metaphors

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between two unlike things that actually have something in common. This is a great way to further expand the understanding of a certain subject.

Some examples of metaphors are:

  • A cell is a factory
    Metaphor: The eye is a camera
    Metaphor: The eye is a camera

  • The graph of the sine function is a rollercoaster

  • The United States is freedom and promise

To create a metaphor, students need to:

  • Ask: What is the important information or basic elements?

  • Say it in a more general way / summarize.

  • Find a new situation or scenario that also uses the general pattern.

Creating Analogies

Analogies are comparasions made to show things such as similarities, dissimilarities, changes, functions, and size.

Click this link to view some example analogies