Using Place Value to Compare Numbers - Math Coach's Corner

Using Place Value to Compare Numbers

Written by Donna Boucher

Donna has been a teacher, math instructional coach, interventionist, and curriculum coordinator. A frequent speaker at state and national conferences, she shares her love for math with a worldwide audience through her website, Math Coach’s Corner. Donna is also the co-author of Guided Math Workshop.

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.

Grab the 11 x 17 version here and the 8 1/2 x 11 cut-and-paste version here.  I’d love to read your comments on this activity and your experiences with comparing numbers in general!

 

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18 Comments

  1. Liz

    This is great! What grade levels can this be used?

    Thank you so much!

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      The freebie is geared toward 1st grade, since it deals with such small numbers.

      Reply
  2. Nora

    Hi,

    I used this with my firsties, and they loved it! But I was confused with the signs. It appears that the less than symbol doesn’t have the lines connected to the dots.Am I misunderstanding this? Thank you for your awesome awesome resources!

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      My teachers thought that the kiddos should practice “connecting the dots” to make the symbols. 🙂

      Reply
  3. TheElementary MathManiac

    I find the symbols are so abstract and difficult for young kids to use. I love the idea of focusing on using the words before introducing the symbols. Thanks for sharing this activity.

    Tara

    The Math Maniacc

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      My pleasure, Tara! I think the dots help make the abstract symbols a little more representational, thereby helping the kids to make meaning of them.

      Reply
  4. Tammy

    I’m looking forward to using this next week. Thank you for more wonderful tools!
    ❀ Tammy
    Forever in First

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Glad the post was so timely for you, Tammy! 🙂

      Reply
  5. MaMa

    Am I looking at the symbol cards incorrectly? The dots are there but the lines are not connected for one of the equal signs and greater than.

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Yes! I probably should have explained that. My 1st grade teachers wanted them to be part of the set. They are going to laminate the cards and let the kiddos connect the dots with a marker. So there is one set of the symbols with the lines drawn and another for the kiddos to write the lines in.

      Reply
  6. mike69361

    I appreciate how you share with us. We do not have math coaches, so I am always looking for ideas.

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      It’s my pleasure!

      Reply
  7. jlpigott

    I can’t wait to use this with my first graders. Great idea!

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Thanks so much!

      Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      My pleasure, Bethany! 🙂

      Reply
  8. Amy B

    Totally LOVE this!!! You R.O.C.K.!
    Amy

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Thanks, Amy! Always nice to see your comments. 🙂

      Reply

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