In case we’ve forgotten how important a knowledge of place value is when comparing numbers, the Common Core State Standards are there to remind us:
“Compare two two-digit numbers based on meanings of the tens and ones digits, recording the results of comparisons with the symbols >, =, and <.” 1.NBT.3 (CCSSM 2010)
“Compare two three-digit numbers based on meanings of the hundreds, tens, and ones digits, using >, =, and < symbols to record the results of comparisons.” 2.NBT.4 (CCSSM 2010)
“Compare two multi-digit numbers based on meanings of the digits in each place, using >, =, and < symbols to record the results of comparisons.” 4.NBT.2 (CCSSM 2010)
Another important idea to notice about these standards is that kiddos as young as first grade are expected to understand and use the comparative symbols <, =, and >. Now might be a good time to jump over and read this post, Alligators are for Swamps…, for a better alternative to the alligator method. Seriously, stop and do it now, please. 🙂
Here is a little freebie for using concrete materials to practice comparison. There is an 11 x 17 version, if you’re fortunate enough to have a printer to accommodate ledger-sized paper. I also made a cut-and-paste 8 1/2 x 11 version that can be assembled to make the mat shown below. If you need some number cards like the ones shown, I have many themed versions in my TpT store. You’ll find links to all the different themes from here. I’ll even put them on sale for a few days so you can pick up your favorites!
This activity should grow with the kiddos. Start by building numbers and comparing them with words so students really understand how the tens and ones impact the comparison. Emphasize that if the top ten-frames are both filled, you only need to look at the “extras”. Use the comparative word cards (“is less than”) to describe the comparison. Gradually move to using the formal vocabulary of tens (to describe a filled ten-frame) and ones (to describe the “extras”). Introduce the symbols only after students are able to fluently compare numbers using tens and ones terminology.