Using Old Stuff (3): Making comparisons

Completing this activity with your colleagues allows you to experience how comparing the old with the new is an engaging cross curricular experience that has many applications for classroom instruction.

This activity begins with a homework assignment designed to instill curiosity and set the stage for wondering and questioning.  Ask participants to take a photo (or search for online images) of the four sides of a modern gas pump. Don’t tell them why you’re assigning this task.

As soon as they enter your classroom and see these images, they’ll start to understand the “why” of the homework assignment.

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(photos taken at the Hackberry General Store, Nevada)

After participants have an opportunity to view the images, distribute 5 post it notes to each participant and write the word Compare on the board or chart paper. Ask participants to compare their images of a modern gas pump with the images of the old gas pump.

Participants create small groups to compare their notes. Remove any notes that are repeats.

Provide small groups with prompts for deeper comparisons that include:

  • comparing the components of the gas pumps
  • comparing the purpose of the components
  • comparing the information provided by the text on the gas pump
  • comparing the functionality of the design of the gas pumps
  • comparing the message and intent of the gas company logos

Throughout the process of comparing, encourage participants to make note of questions that arise. This process sends the important message that effective comparison isn’t possible without adequate information.

Categorize each question into a curriculum area (history, visual art, science, etc). Each group is assigned a question to research and report on.

Once comparisons are made and questions are answered, ask each group to present their comparisons from the perspective of the assigned curriculum area. For example, the science group reports on the why there were changes in lead content, the history group provides the reasons for the changing cost of gas, the visual arts group describes the meaning of the design elements, etc.)

As you share this experience with students, make note of the learning that conversations about “old stuff” provide. Listen for and record evidence of:

  • oral language development
  • research skills
  • topic or genre specific vocabulary development
  • focused, critical reading and viewing
  • genre specific writing
  • developing research questions
  • connecting background knowledge to new knowledge
  • linking research information to other areas of study

For more on instilling a sense of wonder and curiosity, check out our post Wondering Leads to Learning and What is This? Experiencing Curiosity, Questioning, and Searching for Information.

For more conversations about education, please visit:Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education or contact us at


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