Connecting, Comparing and Contrasting in Paper 2

Teachers familiar with the IB Language and Literature course for last examinations in 2020 will know that the Paper 2 examination does not require students to compare and contrast their literary works. Potentially, comparing and contrasting may lead to better essays, but it is not compelled, and the marking criteria does not explicitly reward students for comparing and contrasting.

For the Paper 2 examination for first examinations in 2021 there is a significant change: Students need to compare and contrast the (two) literary works that they write about, and this is assessed in more than one criterion. This is probably a welcome change and, it may be argued, an improvement. Students cannot write any longer about literary works independently of one another but must instead identify similarities and differences. The act of comparing and contrasting is a useful ‘tool’ for thinking with. However, it is a challenging skill for students to master, both linguistically and structurally. It is true that creating cohesion (including comparing and contrasting) in academic writing (or speaking) is an experiential act of trial and error. However, it is also the role of the teacher to explicitly teach students how to connect their ideas and to coach them as they learn this skill.

This page gives students the opportunity to work to develop skills that link the parts of their writing together, including the skills of comparing and contrasting. This is looked at in three different ways (i) using transitional words and phrases; (ii) using pointing words; and (iii) using repetition of words and phrases.

Starter Activity

Work as a whole class. Write or project the following for students to consider:

  • George Orwell is an excellent writer. I disagree with his politics.
  • George Orwell is an excellent writer. He fought in the Spanish Civil War. He was shot.
  • Ask students to discuss the limitations of these disconnected sentences/ideas. What could improve the cohesion in both instances?

In discussion, hopefully, students will recognise the disconnected nature of these sentences and can suggest various ways to connect them together. It may be important to highlight that good writing, generally, is both backward and forward looking; it connects what is being said with what has been said and anticipates what will be said. It is useful to highlight that not all ‘cohesion’ works. For example, one could write George Orwell is an excellent writer, even though I disagree with his politics. However, it makes no sense to write George Orwell is an excellent writer, therefore I disagree with his politics. Here, quite obviously, the writer has selected the wrong cohesive device. Thus, good writing requires cohesion, but such cohesion needs to make sense linguistically and logically. Teachers will also recognise that students sometimes overuse transitions. That is, they use them where they are not required. Nevertheless, it is almost certainly the case that, broadly speaking, an absence rather than an overuse of transitions is a more widespread problem in student writing.

Introducing Transitions

Here, we introduce transitions (including transitional words and phrases that compare and contrast). Transitions are necessary, as we have said, to create coherence in writing. We can go further: Without transitions it is very difficult to argue anything at all. Transitional words such as nevertheless, however, and therefore are also words that function to argue. Using such words, it follows logically, commits the user to making a claim. We return to this point in the TOK section at the bottom of this page. For now, teachers should ask students, preferably working in pairs or small groups, to match the transitional words and phrases to the transitional functions (see the first handout). Teachers may decide to pre-teach the transitional functions. After all, it may not be entirely clear to all students what, say, concession means. Alternatively, teachers may prefer to leave students with a dictionary, and to learn through cooperation with peers in a process of inductive inference. We have completed the activity (see the second handout), and this may be a useful document for students to keep and refer to frequently.

Using pointing words

Another way of establishing cohesion in writing (and speaking) is to use pointing terms (sometimes referred to as deictic terms). These pointing terms include this, these, that, those, their, and such. Similarly, simple pronouns such as his, he, her, she, and it have a similar function. Most readers would probably agree that it is more seamless and ‘flowing’ to read George Orwell is an excellent writer, even though I disagree with his politics, rather than George Orwell is an excellent writer, even though I disagree with George Orwell’s politics.

Teachers, of course, will be aware that students sometimes get deixis wrong, and this creates ambiguity. For example, in the following passage, it is not obvious what referential this refers to: Alexis de Tocqueville was highly critical of democratic societies, which he saw as tending towards mob rule. At the same time, he accorded democratic societies grudging respect. This is seen in Tocqueville’s statement that…

Teachers may also be familiar with the student who employs a ‘strategy’ what we may refer to as ‘vacuous deixis’, a process which involves using this or that to refer back to nothing at all, thus giving the impression of having created an argument. We have no panacea for this student, alas, and simply suggest that teachers see this as an opportunity for a ‘teachable moment’.

In the final activity on this page – Orwell and Cohesion – we return to the idea of using pointing words.


It can be potentially dangerous to introduce the notion of repetition as something to aspire to in academic writing (and speaking). After all, teachers will be familiar with the essay that starts in first gear and never moves out of it. “Develop your [insert adjective] ideas” mutters the teacher. Nevertheless, it is the case that good academic writing does have the quality (sic) of (judicious) repetition. Think of it in this way: This writer would not willingly go rock climbing. He is terrified of heights, and he sees no value in ‘confronting’ this fear. However, in the unlikely event that he found himself on a rockface, he would secure his grip and position before continuing his ascent. So it is in (good) academic writing, although the extent to which you secure yourself will depend on how much time you have or what word limit you are working with. In Paper 2 there is less opportunity to secure yourself than in, for example, an Extended Essay. Nevertheless, some repetition will remain necessary.

Consider briefly the following short extract from Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’:

Dear Fellow Clergymen:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

King repeats several key words (highlighted). The repetition contributes to cohering his ideas together in a way that seems neither redundant nor, well, repetitive. Teachers can decide whether as a matter of style, students should use synonyms and synonymous expressions rather than ‘straightforward’ repetition in their writing. Whilst this writer has no particular view, it does seem reasonable to argue that what is good for Martin Luther King Jr. is good enough for the IB student of Language and Literature.

Repetition is, in other words, a key ‘move’ in academic writing. In fact, using expressions like in other words and to put it another way should be encouraged in academic writing, depending as we have said on how much time and space is available to the writer.

In the final activity on this page – Orwell and Cohesion – we return to the idea of using repetition.

Orwell and Cohesion

The final activity on this page gives students the opportunity to further consider the importance of using transitions, pointing words, and repetition in academic writing. These three qualities are important for students writing in all exams, including Paper 2. The skill of comparing and contrasting is of particular importance.

Begin by asking students to read the extract from George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier (below). Next, ask students to form pairs or small groups. Give each pair 3 different coloured highlighting pens (yellow, blue, pink, for example). Ask the students to read the highlight the transitional words and phrases in yellow, the pointing terms in blue, and the repeated key words in pink. Send an ‘envoy’ from one pair or group to another. In the newly established pairs/groups, compare and contrast responses. Finally, discuss as a whole class group. If no highlighters are available, simply ask students to ‘circle, box, and/or underline’.

Extension Activities

  • Ask students to find a piece of writing in which excellent cohesion is one of its hallmarks. Bring the extract to class and, briefly, present how the writer has established cohesion through using transitional words and phrases, pointing words, and repetition.
  • Here is an activity that links to International Mindeness: This can be organised in a wide variety of ways, but simple classroom discussion (planned so that all students have the opportunity to participate) can be effective: The page you are reading is about making connections in writing (and by extension in speaking). In E.M Forster’s Howard’s End, the epigraph to the novel is “only connect”. It is uttered in the course of the novel by Margaret Wilcox, a character who, like Forster himself, is obsessed with the idea of bringing people together over, for example, class, gender, social boundaries. A claim that is increasingly made about contemporary life is that people with different perspectives on politics, economics, and social life have very little opportunity to meet to discuss their differences and that social media promotes ‘echo chambers’ where we seldom encounter opinions that differ significantly from our own. In societies regarded as more equal (and apparently happier), such as the Nordic countries, it is sometimes claimed that part of the explanation for relative equality, happiness, and comparatively high levels of trust in others is the extent to which the populations are involved in clubs, societies, and other formal and informal groups. This means, so the argument goes, that people who may not otherwise meet (say lawyers, cleaners, teachers, retired and unemployed people) come together around points of common interest (e.g. a choir or a sports club). Since the IB in its mission statement aims (admirably) to build a better and more peaceful world, it is probably obvious that this is more readily achieved where people with differences can come together to discuss them, reach compromise, and find practical solutions to problems. Explore with students how this – bringing different kinds of people with different perspectives together to meet, talk, and resolve social issues –   can be achieved at both a local and global level. What are the challenges to doing this? For a further lesson on International Mindedness, follow this link.

Links to Theory of Knowledge (TOK)


  • This page has focused on structuring arguments that hang together. One may say that if students can use the techniques and strategies introduced on this page, they may develop arguments that are more logical. But, what is the relationship between language and logical argumentation? And, to what extent is it possible to create arguments that are entirely valid (i.e. the conclusion follows from the premises) but untrue (i.e. false)? 
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