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Writing a Comparative Analysis’ Essay: New English Study Design

My name is Dylan Mamo and I have been working as one of Juku Tutoring’s Prep – Year 12 tutors for the past three years. Throughout my years working in this position, I have managed to solve many of the problems encountered by English students. Just recently, the English Study Design has been altered by the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) in order to include a new writing task for students to learn. This new writing task is pervasively known amongst all the students that I tutor as the ‘Comparative Analysis’, which quite simply asks students to compare the similarities and differences of two books.

Considering this is the first year this writing task has been taught to students, I can understand why there is much confusion on the part of students as to writing this type of essay. One area which my students have found it difficult to comprehend is the structure of this essay considering they are required to be writing about two texts rather than one.

I discovered this particular issue in one of my students, who is currently in Year 10 and was just introduced to the ‘Comparative Analysis’ essay in class. When discussing this writing task with him, I could sense that he felt uncomfortable about how to structure this essay.

I had assisted my student by dedicating one lesson to going over how to structure this type of essay in the first place. I found that utilising the TEEL (Topic Sentence, Explanation, Evidence and Linking Sentence) structure was definitely the best way in writing this essay. Though, considering the task requires us to make a comparison between two books, it is important for any student to embed such comparisons within the ‘Explanation’ and ‘Evidence’ sections of this essay.

The following is an example of the structure I showed my Year 10 student in order to highlight to him how to go about writing the ‘Comparative Analysis’ essay. Thus, the essay required us to discuss the similarities and differences of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ written by Mark Haddon and ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ directed by Jonathan Dayton:

  • Topic Sentence (Both Texts): Both Christopher and Olive find varying difficulties interacting with other people as a result of perceiving themselves as ‘outsiders’.
  • SIMILARITY: Explanation/Evidence One (Curious Incident): In Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’, Christopher finds it difficult to have a strong bond with his family and other characters who he comes into contact with. For instance, Christopher finds great difficulty connecting with his own father to the point where he is unable to hug him. In particular, Christopher highlights that “instead of hugging, Christopher and his father spread their fingers out in a fan and make their fingers and thumbs touch each other” as a symbol of their love.
  • SIMILARITY: Explanation/Evidence Two (Little Miss Sunshine): In a similar fashion, Olive also finds it difficult to understand and relate to other human beings. For Olive, she has great difficulty accepting things the way they are and attempts to break such moulds. This can be seen when “Olive rejects the dress code set for the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Pageant and decides to dress in a pair of shorts, boots and a tank top”.
  • Bridging Sentence from Similarity to Difference (Both Texts): While both protagonists find it difficult to interact and relate with the people in their lives, the cause of this ‘difficulty’ is quite different.
  • DIFFERENCE: Explanation/Evidence One (Curious Incident): For Christopher, it is his disability which affects the way he interacts with the people in his life. This is mentioned by Christopher when he explains that he finds it difficult to truly connect with his mother and father due to his “behavioural problems”.
  • DIFFERENCE: Explanation/Evidence Two (Little Miss Sunshine): On the other hand, Olive finds it difficult to relate and connect to other human beings as a way of rebelling against her “father and his uncompromising views on winning in life”. In this sense, Olive decides to break the dress code at the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant as a way to proving to her father that ‘winning is not everything’.
  • Linking Sentence (Both Texts): Thus, both Haddon and Dayton use their child protagonists to show the great difficulty children have with connecting and relating to human beings.

By going through this with my student, I can definitively say that I see great progress in his ability to write a ‘Comparative Analysis’ essay now. Ultimately, I believe that by color-coding the similarities and differences for my student, he was able to visually understand the different directions the essay was taking. Realistically, I am also of the belief that teaching an easy-to-understand structure to a student really assists them in introducing a concept, elaborating on a point or even concluding a paragraph.

What makes my job as a tutor worth wild is seeing progress and development amongst my students. When I started tutoring this Year 10 student in April of 2016, I could sense that he was quite unconfident in his writing abilities and was unfortunately not earning the marks that he had wanted. Though, by introducing this student to the various easy-to-understand structures which can be utilised when writing an English essay, I can see his confidence rise dramatically to the point where his marks have skyrocketed.

In this sense, if there is one piece of advice that I can give to students it is to communicate with your English teacher or your private tutor in order to discuss possibly utilising an essay structure. This should make it easier for the student to write their essay overall.

I personally am of the belief that when students are not fully informed about how to write an essay, they lose confidence in their writing abilities and may feel overwhelmed about writing altogether. Thus, I think it is important for students to find a structure that works for them and continue to utilise it.

Yours Sincerely,

Dylan M.

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Author: Dylan Mamo

Dylan Mamo

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