Marzano: Identifying Similarities and Differences

This post is part of a series on integrating the McREL research on classroom instruction that works with videoconferencing.

Identifying Similarities and Differences: Generalizations

  1. Presenting students with explicit guidance in identifying similarities and differences enhances their understanding of and ability to use knowledge.
  2. Asking students to independently identify similarities and differences enhances their understanding of and ability to use knowledge.
  3. Representing similarities and differences in graphic or symbolic form enhances students’ understanding of and ability to use knowledge.
  4. Identification of similarities and differences can be accomplished in a variety of ways and is a highly robust activity.


Use these to improve your practice.

  1. Teach students to use comparing, classifying, metaphors, and analogies when they identify  similarities and differences.
  2. Give students a model of the steps for engaging in the process.
  3. Use a familiar context to teach students these steps.
  4. Have students use graphic organizers as a visual tool to represent the similarities and differences.
  5. Guide students as they engage in this process. Gradually give less structure and less guidance (Pitler, et al., 2007, p. 168).

Brainstorming for Videoconferencing

This instructional strategy has great potential too. But we must remember it’s similarities and differences about the important content the students are learning, not just the strategy. So while students may practice their similarities and differences skills comparing their communities; unless you’re learning about communities it isn’t really on task instructionally. The key is to identify the important characteristics.

So, how are students identifying similarities and differences already?

  • In today’s Down in the Deep videoconference, two first grade classes compared the features and adaptations or behaviors of animals in the ocean. i.e. what they eat, how they move, how they hide or protect themselves.
  • In Monster Match, students compare to find where they could have written their descriptions more effectively.

How can we improve our current practice?

  • Identify what to compare and make sure it ties to the important content to be learned.
  • In the Down in the Deep/Animal Exchange, students could have an empty venn diagram worksheet ready to fill in with the similarities and differences (either with words or drawings depending on the students’ level).
  • As students are more comfortable with comparing, they could wrestle with choosing the meaningful characteristics to use to compare. I’m thinking of the EcoConversations project. What if students could wrestle a little more with the differences between their communities and the respective problems and issues around carbon emissions?

Having students classify words, objects, books, etc. also is a structure/guide under this strategy. I had a vision in my head of students with big poster words hanging around their necks, moving around in the room for different types of classification. Would that work!? What if two classes took a set of vocabulary words (great academic vocabulary site by the way) and made posters. Then connected together to work on classifying if different ways, and then explaining to each other why they classified the words that way. (See the game cards/word lists on the left of the page.) Can you think of other ways to classify together during a videoconference?

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

Metaphors are another way to deepen understanding. Some examples are:

  • a cell is a factory
  • the graph of the sine function is a rollercoaster
  • the United States is freedom and promise
  • the eye is a camera (Marzano et al, 2001, p. 32-34)

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.

What if students simply shared their metaphors in a videoconference? They could show a visual to complement their metaphor. Groups of 4-5 students could create and illustrate a metaphor in a specific content area and then share them with the other class. Do you think it would work? Would teachers have enough supporting information to do this? If you search the Internet for examples, most of them are writing related, and not content related. Here’s an example with a video clip. What do you think?

Creating Analogies
Analogies als0 help us understand concepts. Analogies come in different types:

  • Similar concepts
    chat is to talk as email is to write
  • Dissimilar concepts
    pixelation is to smooth video as choppy audio is to clear audio (are you allowed to use two words in analogies?)
  • Class membership
    blogs are to Web 2.0 as static websites are to Web 1.0
  • Class Name or Class Member
    Outlook is to email program as Firefox is to web browser
  • Part to Whole
    microphone is to videoconference cart as mouse is to computer
  • Change
    I can’t think of a tech example for this one. Can you?
    caterpiller is to butterfly as tadpole is to frog
  • Function
    programmer is to software as MCU/bridge operator is to bridge
  • Quantity/Size
    VC project is to VC statewide meeting as one minute is to an hour
    (Well sometimes feels like it…)

Wouldn’t it be great for students to practice solving each other’s analogies? I’m thinking of the math riddles and animal riddles I’ve seen classes share in a VC. Why not analogies? If desired, the topic area for the analogies could be narrowed to match the curriculum/content area. Visuals would be critical to assist in solving/understanding them.

I’m starting to think that I want to set aside some time next year to try some of these formats with middle & high school students. How about you?

Take some time to explore the resources for this strategy here. What other ideas come to mind? Please comment!

Reference: Pitler, H., Hubbell, E. R., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using technology with classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Marzano, R. J., Norford, J. S., Paynter, D. E., Pickering, D. J., & Gaddy, B. B. (2001). A handbook for classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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