This is the conclusion post in a series called Moving Beyond Requesting. Previous posts highlight how to teach increased feature, function, and category vocabulary, negation, using those concepts in greater complexity, and describing. If you didn’t read part 5, I hope you will check it out and the awesome free interactive describing visuals that were part of it!
This last post is about teaching a student to make comparisons and contrasts between common items. If I write a goal for this skill, the student has demonstrated mastery of all the other skills I highlighted in posts 1-5. Frankly, sometimes this takes numerous years. If I start instruction on the sequence of skills around first grade, I might not hit comparing/contrasting until at least 5th grade. This skill is often thought of as an academic goal (e.g. comparing a book to the movie version, comparing character perspectives), and it is! But, even more importantly, we make comparisons and contrasts every day in the course of our normal activities. I look at my closet and compare/contrast different outfits based on the weather, desired comfort for the day, important meetings, or whether other parts of the outfit are clean! We look in our refrigerators and compare/contrast the ingredients we have versus what we want to make for dinner or what we have time to make for dinner. At its core, comparing and contrasting is an important part of decision making. Lastly, I’ve found that students who learn to make comparisons and contrasts at a fundamental level (e.g. common objects), often show improvements in their ability to think about what others are thinking (a Theory of Mind skill) and engage in reasoning tasks.
All that being said, I have always found it difficult to teach this skill to students who do not use spoken language as their primary means of communication, including students who use AAC fairly proficiently. I had been *dreaming* of making a product for with adequate visual support/communication options for years- and here it is!
When I teach how to make a comparison, I always use the same sentence starter to capitalize on previously mastered feature, function, and category knowledge. I will show pictures of two items and said either, “They’re both…(category)”, “They’re both for…(function)”, or “They both have…”. Then, I used the free visuals I posted last month to provide 3 choices. If there were items that had multiple answers to that question (e.g. Cat and dog both have…), I would have the student answer the question once and then I would use the symbols to model additional correct answers. With all the pictures and symbols flying around, this method was cumbersome. I am excited to have created a set of task cards that targets comparing and contrasting as isolated skills AND has the visuals included to provide communication options and prompting.
I teach making contrasting in a similar way. I start by giving the student a complete comparison statement (e.g. The cow and chicken are both farm animals). Then, I follow up with additional sentence starters related to (you guessed it!) feature, function, and category vocabulary. For example, “But, the cow makes ……” and the chicken makes …….” Again, this teaching strategy was challenging with all the involved visuals. This new set of task cards teaches contrasting by itself and has all of the verbal and visual choices/prompting built in.
I have taught comparing and contrasting skills at the same time, and for some kids, that works! For others, I have found it beneficial to spend one quarter/semester on making comparisons, the next on contrasts, and the last on combining the skills to make both a comparison and a contrast for one pair of items.
I have really enjoyed writing this series and I hope a few of you found it useful! My goal for this series was two-fold:
- When teachers/clinicians sit down with a family to discuss goals, strengths, and weaknesses, they remember to use the word, “yet”. Student is not yet using language to comment or protest, They are not yet using a wide variety of vocabulary including adjectives and verbs. She is not yet able to comprehend or use negation. He is not yet able to describe or define words/items. Student is not yet able to make comparisons or contrasts.
- That that same teacher/clinician will have a clear instructional path forward AND the tools to implement it.
This product (and others in this series) is available on TpT!
Interactive Describing Visuals (Free!)