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Compare or Contrast Essay
Sample Essay #1

This is a fairly good essay written by a student in a ENG 101 class for the Compare/Contrast essay assignment. Note the type of organization and the transitions to try to tie the parts of the essay together.


                             Learning or Not: Active and Passive Classes

Everyone who has gone to school knows that some classes are better, more interesting, livelier than others. We have all sat through classes where we learned little, except the facts and to be quiet. We also have been part of classes where we actively learned by being challenged by teachers and the subject to learn for ourselves. Although classes often seem outwardly alike in having a teacher, in having some students and in producing some results, the differences between passive and active classes are enormous.

The passive kind of class usually has a teacher who lectures, puts outlines and terms on the chalkboard, and dispenses information to the students. Like my sophomore biology teacher Mrs. Noguida, who rarely looked up from the orange notebook in which she had carefully typed all her lectures, a teacher in a passive classroom simply dictates information and answers. They tell the students how to think and what to think. They pour facts into the students like water into a sieve. The students are forced, usually by the teacher's authority, to sit, listen, take notes, and regurgitate only what the teacher has said. The only kinds of questions are about form: "What is the work in subpoint 3, a, (1)?" Or "How do you spell photosynthesis?" The results in such a class are measured by multiple-choice or true-false questions, or questions that require memorized answers: "What is Newton's First Law?" "What are the three causes or the American Civil War?" The results in such classes are also measured by the quickness with which students forget the facts they had poured into them.

The other kind of class, the active kind, usually has a teacher who stimulates students to learn for themselves by asking questions, by posing problems, and most of all by being a student, too. Such a teacher might plan the outline of a course, but doesn't force the class in only one direction. Instead, like Ms. Cerrillo, my junior history teacher, a teacher in an active class uses the discussion to lead to learning. Instead of lecturing on the causes of the Civil War, Ms. Cerrillo gave us a list of books and articles and said, "Find out what caused the Civil War." We had to search for ourselves, find some answers, then discuss what we found in class. From the discussions, we all learned more than just the facts; we learned the facts but we also learned how complex the causes were. Students in active classes like that become more involved in their learning; they ask questions about why and how. The results in the active class are usually measured by essay answers, individual projects, and a change in attitude on the students' part. Learning becomes fun; although students may forget the facts just as quickly, their attitudes toward learning and their excitement in developing answers for themselves don't end with the last class.

We all remember having to learn that "4 X 9 = 36" and having to memorize dates like 1914-1918, 1776, and 1492. And those kinds of classes are important for laying some groundwork, but not much true learning takes place there. There is a difference between knowing a fact and understanding it. Despite their outward similarities, the passive kind of class is clearly inferior to the active one for helping students understand the world around them.

Find the thesis of the paper--note the construction of the sentences allows for the "sides" of the contrast to be both similar and different. Note whether the sides are even--what is said about one is said about the other. Which type of organization was used?

In your own essays, remember that there are several decisions that you need to make during the writing--including what points are major, what type of organization to use, and whether the sides are developed fairly. Also, remember that you need to have a purpose for the comparison--ultimately, are you trying to persuade your audience to agree with something?