“jaws open and close like a pair of pliers” – Teach Students to Recognize Comparisons in Nonfiction

Authors of nonfiction frequently use comparisons to help readers understand content. When I teach students how to notice and name these comparisons, students light up with understanding. Below is a description of a lesson I gave with a group of intermediate grade students. There are three phases to the lesson and the lesson might take more than one period of time.

Phase One: Introduce, Read, Discuss

I introduced Spiders by Seymour Simon and read aloud several pages at different points in the book. (You don’t have to read the whole book.) I placed the book on the document camera so they could see the amazing photographs. After you read aloud a page or section, you might ask students to turn and talk with a partner about what they learned from the read aloud.

Phase Two: Close Read and Take Notes

  1. Introduce the concept of “nonfiction authors use comparisons to help readers understand” and the definition of “compare” or comparison. I thought I might teach “metaphor” and “simile” but found that, in this case, using “comparison” was the easiest way to help students access this concept. Below are photographs from a lesson I gave. You can see that the objective for the lesson included identifying comparisons author’s use. The second image is the definition I wrote of what it means to “compare.”                                                         
  2. Closely read and annotate excerpts of text from Spiders that include comparisons. There are LOT of comparisons in Simon’s books. (Here I’ve attached a doc with a list of examples from Spiders– Examples of Comparisons in Seymour Simon’s Spiders.) One example in Spiders is “In most spiders, the jaws open and close like a pair of pliers.” Read a few together and begin to identify and discuss the comparison. Important questions to ask students include:
    • What two things are being compared? (how a spider’s jaw opens and closes; how a pair of pliers open and close)
    • What is the characteristic of these two things being compared? (how they work or operate)
    • Why do you think the author made this comparison? Or what did you understand better because of this comparison? (This comparison in particular helps the reader visualize the way a spider opens and closes its jaws. This is good to know and understand because a few sentences later Simon contrasts “most spiders’ jaws” with that of the “tarantula” with that has “fangs like two daggers.”)
  3. Release responsibility to partners or individuals to locate the comparison and discuss the three questions; they might annotate or take notes on at least two different comparisons.

Phase Three: Plan, Rehearse, Write

  1. Ask the students to choose a few comparisons to write about in a response. They might jot   notes on a sticky note.
  2. Engage the students in orally rehearsing how they will describe these comparisons. They may need sentence stems like “The two things the author compares are…”    or “The author is comparing…”
  3. You may need to engage in shared writing about one comparison as well. Below is a photo of shared writing I did with the students using the document camera. 
  4. Ask the students to write about an additional comparison or two on their own.  The rehearsing and writing was tricky for the students. They did not have the language for talking or writing about comparisons they’d read in a text and needed a LOT of prompting!

Beyond the Lesson: Independent Practice

Provide opportunities for students to enjoy reading and hunting for more comparisons. Authors of nonfiction use a lot of comparisons to describe all sorts of topics – animals, simple machines, weather, etc. You might provide an opportunity for students to read other of Simon’s books or other authors like Nic Bishop and to keep an eye out for comparisons they can share with each other.

BTW – I’m playing around with these “three phases” and a lesson plan template. Hope to post soon.

Hope this helps.



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