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Venn Diagrams

I have recently discovered that many English teachers here in Russia have never heard of a Venn diagram. I make reference to Venn diagrams, assuming that teachers already know about them, during my seminars about critical thinking and cooperative learning activities. It was my mistake to assume "everybody" knows about Venn diagrams.

Here is an image of a Venn diagram I got from Wikipedia. As you can see there are 2 circles: circle A and circle B. For a compare and contrast exercise, circle A can represent one item and circle B another. The overlapping section represents the similarities between A and B have in common. The separate sections represent the differences between A and B.

For reading and listening exercises, students can create a Venn diagram as their central task to compare and contrast items in the text. For example, if Russian students are listening to someone lecture about life in the United States, they can compare and contrast their Russian life to American life. For another example, if students are reading two advice columns for the same problem, they can compare and contrast the two bits of advice.

I believe that Venn diagrams are excellent for critical thinking because they can work on many levels of Bloom's Taxonomy. Here are some of my ideas:

  • Compare and contrast the sounds of one's native language to the sounds of English
  • Compare and contrast simple objects (shoe vs. glove) or animals (dog vs. cat)
  • Compare and contrast two items in a given text for reading
  • Compare and contrast two items from a speech for listening
  • Compare and contrast one's own experience with the experience of a character from a text
  • Compare and contrast what one did yesterday with what what is doing today
Analysis (think in terms of English for Specific Purposes)
  • Business: compare and contrast two companies
  • Law: compare and contrast two legal systems
  • History: compare and contrast two wars
  • Pros and cons of political issues
  • Compare and contrast two theories about global warming: what if global warming speeds up vs. what if global warming slows down
  • Compare and contrast the fact that the Allies won World War II against the idea if the Allies lost World War II to the Axis Powers
  • Compare and contrast one's English ability at the start of class to one's ability now
  • Compare and contrast ethics of a political or scientific idea
That's just "the tip of the iceberg" when it comes to Venn diagrams and critical thinking.

I also mentioned Venn diagrams for cooperative learning activities. Students can work in groups or pairs to create and fill in Venn diagrams. Not only can cooperative learning be combined with critical thinking, but it can be combined with other classroom activities.

Here are some more cooperative learning ideas for Venn diagrams:
  • Teambuilding - students in teams make Venn diagrams about themselves in order to learn more about each other
  • Classbuilding - the class as a whole can make a (very complex) Venn diagram
  • Feedback - circle A represents good opinions, circle B represents critical opinions, and the overlapping section represents facts about the class or activity being evaluated
  • A visual aid for a class or group project
For more information on Venn diagrams, visit Wikipedia. I'm going to put a link for Wikipedia on the left column on my blog right now. My next posting will be an introduction to Wikipedia for English teachers who have never used it.


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