Differentiated Math Fact Practice

Making Ten

4th Grade Resources

Teaching the Skill of Comparing Numbers


In the primary grades math skills like rounding, estimating and comparing numbers can often get overlooked in lieu of learning to recognize, read and write numbers.  And while these are extremely important foundational skills, it is also important that we teach our students to work with numbers way in other ways too.  Comparing numbers is one of those ways!

Why is Comparing Numbers Important?

Comparing numbers is an important part of building a student's number sense.  Number sense is the ability for a student to recognize a number, it's value and it's relationship with other numbers.  It is this important last component that is built by comparing numbers.

Before working on comparing numbers, it is important that students have an understanding of the numbers and their value they will be working with.  This understanding can be basic, and can include the need to use manipulatives and other hands-on tools.  

Think of it like this - if you asked a student which is more, 3 or 4, the student needs to be able to know that your word "three" means the symbol 3 which also means * * * (or the ability to use counting skills to make that determination).  The same with the number 4.   But once a student has this basic understanding, they are able to start learning about comparing numbers.

Now please understand that this basic understanding of numbers is referring to the numbers you would use for comparing numbers.  An understanding of numbers to 10 does not mean that a student is ready to compare numbers in the hundreds or thousands.

What is Comparing Numbers?

Comparing numbers is the ability to determine more and fewer, greater than, less than and equal to, and putting a group of numbers in order.  Comparing numbers is a relational number skill where students work with numbers in relation to each other.

When you think about numbers in the real world, they are often relational, and that makes comparing numbers important.  You are having a party with 10 people and purchasing a dozen cupcakes.  Do you have enough cupcakes?  Comparing numbers.  You are going on vacation for 2 weeks and taking 5 shirts.  Do you have enough shirts?  Comparing numbers.  We might not walk around using the words "greater than" and "less than" in our day to day speech, but we are comparing numbers all the time in our daily lives.

Activities for Teaching and Practicing Comparing Numbers

Here are some of my favorite activities for teaching and practicing comparing numbers.

1.  Counting and Comparing Manipulatives

For young students, the absolute best way to start comparing numbers is using a hands-on approach.  Grab some number cards, an extra set of calendar numbers, playing cards (numbers only), or even write numbers on a 3x5 card.  Then grab some manipulatives like counting blocks, mini erasers, buttons or pom poms.  Have the students count out the manipulatives to make a set for each number.  It works really well to have them line up the items so they can clearly see which one has more.  


After lining up sets for each number, ask students these questions:
  • Which has more?
  • How do you know?
  • Can you make a sentence with these numbers using the word more?
  • Which has less?
  • How do you know?
  • Can you make a sentence with these numbers using the word less?

2. The Hungry Alligator

For younger students, the hungry alligator is a great way to introduce the symbols for greater than and less than.  These symbols are easily turned into an alligator face.  Introduce your students to the hungry alligator who wants to eat as much as he can.  When the alligator has a choice between two numbers, he always chooses the greater number. 

We all know that learning is more fun with a song, and this concept is no different.  This song and video is catchy and easy to sing, but also does a great job with the concepts and vocabulary.


After introducing the alligator, make sure to have number talks using the proper vocabulary.  Morning meeting is a great time to do this.  Put two numbers on the board and ask the students to be an alligator and "chomp" the greater number.  An alligator puppet is also a great way to get students actively involved lessons on comparing numbers.  They will love it and the story approach will really help the abstractness take root.

2. Create a Number Battle Center

Similar to the card game called "War" you can use playing cards or number cards to have a number battle. Students can play in groups of 2, 3, or 4.  Divide the cards equally amongst all the players with the numbers facing down.  At the same time, each student will turn over one card.  The player with the greatest number gets to keep all the cards from that round.



What is great about this game is that there is no limit to what numbers you can use.  You can use numbers cards for any numbers.  You can even let your students create the number the cards on 3 x 5 cards.  Give each student 5 cards and have them write a number that is equal to or less than 500 (or whatever you choose to be the highest number).  Then collect all the cards and use them to be your card deck for number battles.

3. Comparing Numbers in the Real World

Another great way to help students learn and practice the concept of comparing numbers is to help them connect it to real life.  There's no better time to compare numbers then when you are shopping.  



Use ads from the newspaper or pull up local stores and have students compare prices on similar items to determine which is the better buy.  The great thing is that you can find a wide range of prices in the ads from numbers 0-20 to numbers in the thousands (think electronics and cars).  You could even compare numbers in the hundreds of thousands and millions by comparing house prices and real estate.  

4.  Consistent Practice with Number of the Day

Number of the Day is a great daily math practice that gives students practice on a variety of key number sense skills including comparing numbers.  Students will have opportunities to practice comparing numbers using groups, symbols, numbers lines and more. Additionally, students will practice other number sense skills that will help them with math skills now and in the future.


When students have the opportunity to review skills consistently and repeatedly it helps them to master the skills.  The great thing about number of the day is that it can be used in just a few minutes each day.  It makes a perfect morning work or math warm-up activity.  


You can find Number of the Day sets for kindergarten, first grade, second grade or third grade.  The first, second and third grade sets include both a printable and digital version.  

Save these ideas!

Pin this to your favorite classroom Pinterest board and save these ideas for teaching comparing numbers so you can use them in your classroom.  



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