What's the Difference?
There's a neat website called DifferenceBetween.com that has a number of articles explaining the distinctions between two similar things or ideas, such as objective vs. subjective, the words 'loan' vs. 'borrow', and couch vs. sofa. Browsing this website is a cool way to educate yourself, but now it's your students' turn to teach the rest of us some differences between similar things.
This project is probably best done in pairs or trios. They can do all the comparisons in one go, or spread them out over a few weeks.
Similar, but Not the Same
First, each group of students should pick ten comparisons they would like to make. They should be two or three things with a lot in common and just a few differences. Maybe they are things that some people get mixed up a lot. Or maybe they are synonyms with different connotations. But the point of this project is for students to practice their explanations, so if they're having difficulty coming up with comparisons, they can choose things that are a bit more obvious.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
soup & stew / 'effect' & 'affect' / jaguars & leopards / luggage & baggage / v & vs. / 'compare' & 'contrast' / frogs & toads / website & webpage / 'hear' & 'listen' / river & stream / electronic & digital / giggle & chuckle
If you like, you can allow the students to choose one silly comparison, like what's the difference between a a whale and a pigeon.
Once the students have chosen their comparisons, they should research the definitions and differences in case they don't know them well enough. Then they need to write one article for each comparison. These are the sections they should use:
What are these things? (plants? verbs? appliances?) When might we use them or talk about them? Why might people confuse the two?
Give a precise definition for each of the two (or three) things.
This is the only section for which students can borrow largely from a credible source (if so, site it); in the rest of the sections, students need to use their own words.
What Do They Have in Common?
Tell us all the similar traits, or at least the important ones that separate these two things from less similar things. (For example, if you're doing jaguar vs leopard, once you establish that they are big cats, you don't need to describe what big cats are; tell us finer things, like what might separate these two from tigers).
How Are They Different?
Give us specifics on what one thing does or is or has that is not true of the other thing. Tell us as many things as you can, but feature the main thing that we can use to tell one apart from the other.
Try to be subjective; don't suggest that one is overall better than the other.
Summarize the big points in a sentence or two. Then state the most important thing to remember about your comparison.
Students could make posters out of their comparisons, in which case they should print out some visuals to accompany their topics (pictures, if they are physical things; diagrams would be especially helpful to help point out some differences. A graph or table might also be nice). Alternately, students could tell the rest of their class two of the comparisons they made.