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        6-8, 13+

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        Comparing and Contrasting - Explorers of Yesterday and Today

        Students write essays that compare and contrast two explorers of Yellowstone National Park, Tom Murphy, a modern day explorer and photographer and John Colter, an explorer who traveled across the same area almost 200 years ago. Students also use Venn diagrams to describe information and then use these diagrams for their essay.  Students will practice proofreading and editing skills.

        Lesson Summary


        Students will watch a video segment of Tom Murphy, a modern day explorer and photographer, as he ventures across Yellowstone National Park in the middle of the winter season.Students will then read the online biography of John Colter, an explorer who traveled across the same area almost 200 years ago. While following all the steps of the writing process, students write essays that compare and contrast the two explorers.

        Why is this an important concept?

        One of the ways a reader can demonstrate comprehension of a text is by comparing and contrasting information gathered from one source to information collected from another source.This action demonstrates a reader’s ability to isolate similarities and differences between two items,as well as the ability to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information and the ability to combine and condense information from one or more sources.

        Grade Level:


        Suggested Time

        (2)40-minute periods

        Media Resources


        The Lesson

        Part I: Learning Activity

        Day One

        Note: Prior to beginning this lesson you will need to go to Nature: Christmas in Yellowstone Who is John Colter? Either print this page and make copies for each student or if students have computer access, log on.

        1. Provide the purpose for this activity: to write an essay that compares and contrasts a modern day explorer to an explorer from 200 years ago.

        2. Begin by asking students what it means to compare and contrast. What elements are you looking for when you are asked to compare and contrast two things? Discuss their answers during a guided question and answer period.

        3. Tell the class that they will be watching a video about Tom Murphy, a modern day explorer who travels alone across Yellowstone National Park taking photographs. As they watch the video, ask them to note the similarities and differences Murphy mentions between himself and John Colter, an explorer who traveled the same area almost 200 years ago.

        4. After viewing the video segment, ask students to describe some of the items Murphy carries with him and how he protects himself from the elements. Ask them how these items may be different from those an explorer from 200 years ago would have had.

        5. Distribute Explorers Graphic Organizer handout. Tell students that as they watch the video a second time, to fill in the organizer with details from the video that describe the items Murphy carries in his pack and how he braves the cold temperatures.

        6. After viewing, discuss organizers with students. Ask them to share their details with the class during a teacher-guided question and answer session. Students add to their charts as needed.

        7. Distribute the Who Is John Colter? handout, or provide the information in the way that best suits your needs and resources. Tell students to find similarities and differences between Colter’s experiences and those of Tom Murphy.Tell them to look for similarities and differences in purpose of exploration, supplies, time period, and traveling companions.

        8. Distribute copies of the Explorers Venn Diagram handout. Tell students to fill in the Venn diagram with similarities and differences between Tom Murphy and John Colter. Once these are completed, discuss answers during a teacher-guided question and answer session.Students add to their charts as needed.

        Part II: Assessment

        Day Two

        1. Tell students that today they will be using their Venn diagrams and their organizers and notes from yesterday’s lesson to write essays that compare and contrast the two Yellowstone explorers. Students write rough drafts of their essays using the Explorers Graphic Organizer handout, the Explorers Essay Directions handout, and Explorer Essay rubric as a guide.

        2. Students complete the first draft in class. Students exchange drafts with fellow students to peer-edit and discuss needed revisions and/or additions.

        3. After making needed revisions, students complete final versions of essays for homework and hand in with the first drafts and rubrics for a grade at the beginning of the next class.

        For students who need additional guidance:

        • Meet with students between lessons to support their note-taking and writing skills.
        • Arrange for students to watch the video as many times as necessary.
        • Use listed websites to find additional details about John Colter, Tom Murphy and Yellowstone Park, as well as proofreading guidelines and rules for writing essays in the writing websites listed.


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