How to Use a Venn Diagram

Student using a Venn Diagram on a dry erase board in class

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A Venn diagram is a visual tool used to compare and contrast two or more objects, events, people, or concepts. It is often used in language arts and math classes to organize differences and similarities. This simple graphic makes it easy for students to understand how two things are both different and alike at the same time. 

What Is a Venn Diagram?

A Venn diagram can become complicated, but in its simplest form, it is two circles that overlap in the middle.

  • Each circle represents one item that is being compared: Item 1 and item 2.
  • One circle contains the qualities that are unique to item 1. The other circle contains the qualities unique to item 2.
  • The area where the circles overlap contains qualities that both item 1 and item 2 have in common.

Simple Venn diagrams can be used to compare more than two things by adding more circles.

Venn Diagram Uses

Children will often learn to use Venn diagrams in language arts. They can be used to compare characteristics in two different books or two characters in the same book. A Venn diagram can also be used to:

  • Visualize information for a compare-and-contrast essay: For example, a student may need to compare the differences between a fish and a whale. They are alike because they both live in the water and that is written in the overlap. Only fish have scales so that would go in the fish-only circle. Only whales breathe air and that would go in the whale-only circle.
  • Brainstorm ideas when writing a story: For example, each circle may represent a character in the story and a student may write down personality traits or events that happen to each character separately, then use the overlap to figure out where the characters interact in the story.
  • Help make decisions: A Venn diagram can also be used like a list of pros and cons when making a decision. Maybe your child wants to get a pet and you have given permission, but they cannot decide whether they want a dog or cat. You can use a Venn diagram to help them decide (and get a teaching moment in at the same time).

Venn Diagram Examples

Here are a couple more Venn diagram examples to help illustrate the many ways students can use this tool.

Compare Jobs in the Government

A student may need to compare the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government for social studies. In one circle they would list the responsibilities and powers of the president and in the other circle the job details of the Congress.

In the center would be commonalities like the fact that they are both elected to office, have term limits, and so on.

Compare Books

A Venn diagram can be used to compare two books by the same author. Dr. Seuss is a popular topic for young children. When comparing The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, we can see that:

  • Both books: Rhyme; include hats and fish; have characters who are asked to leave, get upset, and think they don't like something.
  • The Cat in the Hat: There is a cat and six characters; the setting stays in the house; includes people.
  • Green Eggs and Ham: There is no cat and only two characters, the story moves to different locations and includes no people. It does have green eggs and ham!

Different Ways to Make a Venn Diagram

Venn diagrams use two or more circles and there are a few different ways to make them. They can be interactive and fun.

  • Draw the circles on a blank piece of paper and fill in the information. Use watercolor paints or crayons to color in the finished diagram (use two colors that combine to make a third color, such as blue and yellow to make green in the overlapping area.
  • Use a dry erase board and three different colors of marker.
  • Place two hula hoops on the floor and cut out strips of paper to write on and place in the correct circle. Pieces of string laid out in a circle can be used as well.
  • Instead of or in addition to text, include pictures to illustrate differences and similarities.