Here in Victoria we’re in the early stages of teaching comparative text response writing at a senior level. What was clear from last year’s exam, is that we still have a long way to travel in our journey to teach students to write with sophistication in this text type. Perhaps the biggest defect in student writing was the superficiality of the links they made between texts. Here, rendered in terms of cats and dogs, is a typical set of sentences of an average student piece of writing:
Dogs are very loyal animals who regularly and enthusiastically show their owners deep affection. In contrast, cats can be very aloof and unfriendly. They do their own thing and will often ignore their owners.
In the average piece of student writing, there is often only one direct comparison between texts in a paragraph, coming in the form of a single transition word or phrase like ‘similarly’ or ‘in contrast’. Below (again, rendered in cats and dogs) is an example of a higher piece of writing:
Dogs are highly territorial, making their territory with urine to indicate their ownership and occupation of a space. Similarly, cats mark out and guard their environment with ferocity. Just as dogs use urine to signpost this ownership, so too do cats ‘spray’ landmarks in their territory with their urine.
Clearly, the second piece creates a stronger comparison between two things. And it does this by using a strategy we’ve come to call ‘Link and Link Again’ or ‘Link 1-2’. That is, when you use a comparative transition word, follow it up with at least another comparative transition word or phrase in the next sentence or so. How do we carry this out in practice? Get students to practice writing three sentences in a row:
|1. Sentence about one text||Dogs are highly territorial, making their territory with urine to indicate their ownership and occupation of a space.|
|2. Sentence beginning with a comparative transition word and discussing a similarity or difference in the other text||Similarly, cats mark out and guard their environment with ferocity.|
|3. Sentence including more transition words linking the texts and expanding on the similarity or difference between the text||Just as dogs use urine to signpost this ownership, so too do cats ‘spray’ landmarks in their territory with their urine.|
Here are some pairs of transition words students can use over successive sentences:
Similarly, Just as (thing 1)…so too (does thing 2)
Likewise, In the same way that (thing 1)… (thing 2) also
In contrast, While (thing 1)…, (thing 2)…
Unlike, In contrast to (thing 1’s)…, (thing 2)…