For more about learning strategies for K-3, see Little Lemon: Activities for Developing Motivation and Memory Skills Learning Abilities Books, http://www.gate.net/~labooks. This training program may be reproduced for classroom use only. All other rights are reserved. The original program was published in 1966. The current version is copyrighted 2002 by Betsy B. Lee. Return to Lesson Plans or Catalog from Learning Abilities Books.

Reading Readiness and Basic Reading Skills
Similarities Differences Training program

The recognition of similarities and differences is an essential skill
for reading readiness and for further development of reading skills.
Children recognize differences much more easily than similarities.

For my master's thesis at North Carolina State University, I researched a training program for similarities - differences concept formation. Children in the experimental groups and control groups were in Project Head Start. Significant improvements in reading readiness were made by children who had the training program. These improvements were not seen in children who only had the Head Start Program. Reading readiness was measured by the Metropolitan Readiness Test and by other measures. The child who made the lowest pre-test scores was the same child who made the highest post-test scores after he completed the program. Read a funny anecdote about how the lights turned on for this child.

Similarities - differences concept formation provides a solid foundation for further learning by developing these abilities.

  1. Accurate and detailed observations
    1. Point out details: new blue car, blue Ford, red bird, wren, etc.
    2. Use coloring books with hidden pictures. Hidden Treasures: A Book of Hidden Picture Puzzles and Holiday Hidden Treasures: Hidden Picture Puzzles by Liz Ball.
  2. Correction of reversals
    1. Letters and Words: Instructions and Mind Your p's and q's worksheet
    2. Numbers: Six Doesn't Mix
  3. Word recognition
    1. Different Endings of Dolch Sight Words, Basic
    2. Different Endings of Dolch Sight Words, Advanced
    3. Books with Dolch Words
    4. Activities with Dolch Words
    5. Visual Discrimination
      Noting Differences in Frequently Misperceived Words:
      A Develomentally Presented Workbook for Beginning Readers and Students with Visual Discrimination Weaknesses
  4. Organizational skills
  5. Categorical thinking
  6. Remembering by making associations
    See
    Remembering How to Remember and Remember the Cat

Accuracy is the key. Letting children remain on simple levels of comparisons does not help them build a solid foundation. Don't just ask which one is different. Ask HOW is it different and HOW are all of them are alike.

Concept development is a gradual. Some children need extra help in building this foundation. Forms such as triangles can be perceived from 15 months to two years of age. Simple concepts of size have been noticed as early as the 14th month. Recognition of contradictory relations appear about the ages of three or four. Concepts of big and little are better established by this age along with the concept of middle size.

Categorical thinking is a higher level of thought which has been established in some children at ages three to four years. When children sort items according to size, color, type, etc., this is a very important "game."

Time concepts develop slowly. A four-year-old might know "morning." A five-year-old might know "day." Although some children can read a clock at early ages, the true concept of the time represented by the clock develops around grade three. Concepts such as decades and centuries are much later in developing. It is hard to perceive of a decade when you haven't lived a decade. On a perceptual level, don't we "know" smaller elements of time better than we know centuries and eons? A three-year-old can say, "I'm three years old," without any real concept of the time represented by a year.

Although many children lag behind their peers in similarities - differences concept development, specific training can make a big difference. My training program lasted 20 minutes each day for four weeks of the regular eight week Head Start Program. Children started with simple comparisons and contrasts. They made gradual progression toward more complex thinking.

The Training Program

These are a few of the daily details of the training program. This program can be duplicated with materials at home and ones which you can buy. I no longer have the worksheets. You can use old magazines, trees, bushes, rocks, coloring books, apples, oranges, bottles of apple juice and orange juice, toys, and numerous other items in the child's environment. Include pictures rather than only concrete objects. Also include discussions without any visual cues. Memory skills and verbal reasoning skills are enhanced by having some discussions without pictures or concrete objects. The main thing to keep in mind is the progression from simple, concrete levels to advanced, abstract levels.

  1. The concepts of alike, both, and different were taught with circles, blocks, and bows of the same size but different colors. Other terms were used: the same, similar, not alike, and not the same
  2. A brief review was made of alike, both, and different. Color and size were the main concepts taught this day. Objects included bows of various shades and colors; 5 pink blocks of different sizes; 3 x 5 cards with two ducks of different colors; pictures of circles of different colors, etc.
  3. Shape was the main concept taught this day. Color and size were included. Items included 3 triangles with varying angles and lengths of sides; 4 types of stars; 2 rhombi, a rectangle, and a square; an oval and a rectangle; etc.
  4. Shape and color were emphasized. Items included 2 red ovals and one red rectangle; 4 circles - 3 green with a yellow center and one yellow with a green center; blocks of different or same thicknesses, shapes, colors; worksheets for coloring all of the same shapes the same color and coloring all of the different shapes a different color; etc.
  5. Color and form were emphasized. Children used modeling clay of various colors to make similar shapes and very different shapes. They looked around the room to find objects that were round, square, etc. They used clay in molds for animal shapes as they talked about similarities and differences of animals.
  6. The shapes of letters and numbers were emphasized. They were not identified as specific letters, numbers, or words unless a child volunteered the information. We just talked about which were the same and which were different. We also talked about how they were different. These are examples of a few of the 3 x 5 cards.
    1. AT AT TO
    2. E F E
    3. S S 8 S S
    4. 372 372 872
  7. The appearances of abstract figures was taught. One card had spirals one of which was reversed. Another had a triangles with and without a circle inside, etc. Worksheets had sets of abstract figures. Children were to circle the different one in each set.
  8. Concrete objects were used to teach color, size, shape, function, materials, and form: cloth (wool, cotton, rayon), balls and saucers, different rocks, a playing card and a baseball star card, spoons, plastic plates and paper plates, a set of 3 different eating utensils. They mentioned differences and categorized by similarities, i. e. all round, all rocks, things to eat with with, all spoons, all cards, etc. Worksheets were also used.
  9. Pictures rather than concrete objects were used. Worksheets were also used.
  10. Pictures and worksheets were used again. We also used pictures in magazines.
  11. Pictures on 3 x 5 cards appealed to taste, texture, smell, etc.
  12. Pictures on 3 x 5 cards were used, e.g. a roast, a loaf of bread, and a high chair. (Tell how one is different and how the others are alike.) Other items to compare and contrast were an American flag and a NC flag; four types of fruit; ice cream and soup; etc.
  13. More training was done with concrete objects. We used real fruit and artificial fruit. We used coins and stamps. We talked about their function and materials (food or not food, copper, nickel, silver, paper). We had old and new coins, dimes and pennies (They are used to buy things. They are money.). Stamps from different countries were shown. (how they look and how they are used) Worksheets were used.
  14. We talked about similarities and differences of sounds. They were taught about rhyming words and asked to give an animal that rhymes with fat, etc. Practice cards had pictures of things that rhymed; things that began with the same sound, and things that ended with the same sound.
  15. Verbal similarities and differences were taught. No pictures were used. They talked about similarities of each pair of items. After completing the list of 14 items, they talked about differences of each pair. If they gave a similarity when asked for a difference, they were asked, "Yes, that is how they are alike but how are they different?" If they gave a difference when asked for a similarity, they were asked, "Yes, that is how one is different but how are all of them alike?" This helped avoid confusion of the concepts of alike and different. These are examples of some of the better answers. Sometimes these replies were produced with leading questions. The point was to get them thinking about these.
    1. a golf ball and a grapefruit (They are shaped alike. A golf ball is hard. A grapefruit is soft. A grapefruit is food and a golf ball is not food) Mention both items.
    2. a cat and a duck (Both of them walk. They can be pets. A duck eats corn and a cat eats fish. They eat different things. A cat doesn't fly and a duck does fly. They are animals, not plants.)
    3. a bicycle and a wagon (Both have wheels. You ride on them. A bicycle is for older children and a wagon is for any age. A bicycle has peddles, but a wagon doesn't.)
    Worksheets were also used.
  16. More verbal similarities and differences were taught by the same method. The list was presented orally and the children talked about the items. These were some of the better replies (with occasional help).
    1. an umbrella and a rain coat (Both are for rain. You wear a rain coat but you carry an umbrella.)
    2. heart and lungs (Both are parts of the body. You can't live without them. The heart pumps blood but lungs are for breathing.)
    Worksheets were used.
  17. More difficult verbal similarities and differences were discussed. We talked about similarities of each pair of items in the complete list then we discussed differences of each pair. These were some of the better replies (with occassional help).
    1. wool and cotton (Coats are made from them. Cotton grows in the field, but wool grows on sheep.) When we studied concrete objects we had talked about, "Bah Bah Black Sheep. Have you any wool?" Living in NC, all of them had seen cotton fields. We had talked about the uses of cotton.
    2. a bird and a plant (They need water. They live. A bird flies and a plant stays in one place.)
    3. sick and well (Both are how you feel. They are different because you feel bad when you are sick, and you feel good when you are well.)
    4. school and a book (You learn from both them. School is somewhere you go, and a book is not somewhere you go. You can pick up a book, but you can't pick up a school!) I asked, "Why can you pick up a book and not pick up a school?" They laughed and replied, "A school is too big and too heavy!" For the sake of contrast, I added, "And a book?" They replied, "It's little! It's not that heavy!"
  18. Pictures, discussion without pictures of objects, and worksheets were used for a review of various types of concepts used to teach similarities and differences, i.e. shape, size, color, use, sound, material, etc.
  19. Concrete objects were used for review.
  20. Verbal similarities and differences were reviewed without pictures or concrete objects. (Let's talk about them.) Most of the session was devoted to reviewing worksheets and being sure individual children had corrected any mistakes they had made during the entire training program. Each child's worksheets were made into a booklet. If a child had missed a day, he or she did a make-up sheet. It was corrected and put in the child's booklet. The booklets were checked again for accuracy.