Today I’m sharing 5 different thinking routines that you can use to compare, contrast and make connections. I’m exploring how you can use these thinking routines to create engaging discussions with art, objects and ideas.

I’ll look first at what comparing & contrasting is and why it’s important. Then I’m sharing some ideas for things you might want to compare and contrast, before sharing different ways to look at similarities and differences.

Then I’m sharing 5 thinking routines help us to make thoughtful and purposeful comparisons.


At a basic level, both comparing and contrasting base their evaluation on two or more subjects that share a connection.
The subjects could have similar characteristics, features, or foundations.

So comparing and contrasting is looking at things to determine how they are alike and how they are different. You’re looking for similarities and differences

Comparing involves identifying similarities and/or differences, whilst contrasting involves comparing two or more things to look for their differences.


When you compare and contrast and look for connections, you may highlight subtle differences or similarities

This may lead to a deeper understanding of whatever it is you’re discussing. 

Juxtaposition is the act or an instance of placing two or more things side by side often to compare or contrast or to create an interesting effect.

Placing two objects or artworks side by side and comparing them, will help you to notice more details in both.

It also helps us to notice the choices that were made when the said artworks, objects were created. 


Here are some things you might want to compare and contrast:

  • Colour, shapes, lines, texture, light
  • Space , size
  • Composition
  • Mood, feeling, power
  • Movement, rhythm
  • Variety and repetition
  • Story or message
  • Technique, skill, mastery

Or consider:

  • Comparing two artworks or objects from different time periods
  • Comparing and contrasting art from the same art movement
  • Comparing genres – two portraits (of the same person but by different artists), two landscapes etc
  • Comparing and contrasting two objects that are the same but from different time periods – ie clocks or teapots
  • Juxtaposing two artworks showing the same subject and comparing/contrasting – e/g haystacks by different artists

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Once you get started you’ll be able to come up with lots more ideas too!

Let’s now look at some thinking routines that help us to compare contrast and/or make connections.


So let’s start with See Wonder Connect. See Wonder Connect was created by the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and inspired by See Think Wonder.

Like See-Think-Wonder, See-Wonder-Connect is an extremely versatile thinking routines. It works particularly well at the beginning of a guided tour or educational programme.

It works with a wide variety of images and objects- everyday objects, images in the media, book covers, works of art, historical objects, maps etc. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

It has 3 steps:


First of all, spend some time looking before then describing what you see.

Then for the second part, you can either ask what are you wondering about or you can ask your group to brainstorm a list of questions that they have about the artwork, much like the thinking routine Creative Questions.

Encourage your group to think of who, what, how and why questions. e.g. what is it made of, how it is made, who made it or why is it here, etc.

The final stage is where the connections come in. You invite participants to make connections with a work you choose or one they choose.

There are  many ways you can approach the connections part –

  • You can ask them to make connections with another artwork in the same gallery or next to this artwork.
  • You can ask participants to choose their own artwork that they would like to connect with the current artwork and then to provide reasons for the connections.
  • You can ask participants for ways in which they connect with the current artwork. As with all questions about personal connections, a safe and trusting atmosphere is especially important. You definitely want to establish this at the start of your session and you can also remind participants about it at this point in the discussion too. Encourage but do not require participation. You do not know what an artwork, object or discussion can bring up for people, so err on the side of caution. Make this a writing activity and ask participants to share if they want to. Or use small groups to discuss.
  • Finally you can also invite connections with subjects at school or their hobbies. There are so many ways that you can invite connections with SWC.


Our second thinking routine is See Think Me We which actually had a whole episode to itself way back in Episode 8 – do go back and listen to that one if you haven’t yet. I’ll put a link in the shownotes. 

This thinking routine was developed as part of the Arts as Civic Commons (ArtC) project at Project Zero.

This is a really accessible routine and works well with a wide variety of works and mediums

There are connections to See Think Wonder but the key differences are the ‘Me’ and ‘We’ parts that require fairly confident facilitation skills. So See Think Me We requires a little more experience on the part of the facilitator. 

See Think Me We Thinking Routine


You may want to set the tone and discuss guidelines for respectful discussion before you start as this routine asks participants to share personal connections.

The ‘Me’ and ‘We’ steps might be challenging for some participants, so consider working in small groups or pairs. 

You might also want to model the ‘Me’ and ‘We’ steps by sharing your response first with some groups. 

As with See Wonder Connect, establish a safe and trusting atmosphere and do not require participation.

See Think Me We can be used with a huge variety of artworks – especially those that highlight specific themes.

The discussion will bring up surprising and fascinating connections and lines of inquiry too as you move from making personal connections in question 3 to more global connections in question 4. This is a thinking routine that I’ve been using more and more in 2022 – definitely give it a go!


Finally I want to cover three routines that compare and contrast – same different, same different gain and same different connect engage. All are routines for thoughtful and purposeful comparisons. 

Same and Different asks you to choose a debate, incident, or object in which opposing views are clearly apparent, or images that look different but are grouped together. 

After a short period of time observing and describing, more on to the Notice step. 

Spend some time noticing and talking about the first impression you had about the images, artworks or objects. What was the first impression you had about this?

Then move on to perspective-taking. From what other points of voice could this be perceived? What would one say from these points of view?

And finally look at the similarities and the differences. What are the similarities? Differences? How is this case the same and different at the same time?

This routine helps learners go beyond the surface of similarities and differences. Complex matters are often presented and accepted as is. It’s not until they are questioned and explored more thoroughly and deeply and from different angles that they can be better understood and more thoughtful opinions and decisions made


This routine helps learners go beyond the surface of similarities and differences. Complex matters are often presented and accepted as is.

It’s not until they are questioned and explored more thoroughly and deeply and from different angles that they can be better understood and more thoughtful opinions and decisions made


Then moving on to Same Different Gain. I explored this thinking routine fully in a thinking routine class earlier this year. This thinking routine being piloted by Re-imagining Migration in partnership with Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

It asks you to identify the two items you would like to compare [e.g. stories, places, cases, situations, texts, objects and in our case, it was two artworks] and then look and examine each one closely. We came up with a list of observations for both artworks – resisting the temptation to start interpreting at this point. It’s all about ‘Say what you see, not what you think’. 

Then we moved on to comparing:

What do you see that is the same across the two? Name commonalities and patterns

And contrasting:

What do you see that is different? Name the differences you observe

And then the final question: What do we gain from comparing the two?

Essentially, this question is getting us to think about whether thinking about differences and similarities changes the way we see things. It’s a useful thinking routine and I’d like to try it out with more artworks or objects.

Same Different Gain


And finally, a new thinking routine for me and one I’ve just added to my Ultimate Thinking Routine List. You can download the list here (a new updated version will be available in early 2023!). I haven’t yet tried this one out but I’m really curious to give it a try. 

Same Different Connect Engage was developed as part of the ID Global, Reimagining Migration project at Project Zero.

It’s a routine to nurture empathetic perspective taking and bridge building

It has 4 parts Same, Different, Connect and Engage, it asks:


I can’t wait to explore this thinking routine in more detail in 2023. 

So that’s it, 5 thinking routines for comparing, contrasting and making connections. I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s episode. This is the last episode of 2022. I’ll be back with a new episode on 5th January. 

In the meantime, do take some time to listen to any of the episodes in our large back catalogue. There are so many episodes to choose from!

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