Comparing numbers can be a hard skill to learn in first grade, as kids are still learning how numbers relate to each other and forming a sort of conceptual number line in their heads. It is also very confusing to learn to use the vocabulary and the symbols for “greater than, less than”. (For more details on why this is so and how you can help kids learn this concept, take a look at our math skills page on greater than less than.)
The fun activities below will give kids practice comparing numbers and using the symbols >, < and =.
Give kids two stick pretzels and a handful of Cheerios. Tell them to put Cheerios in two piles, separated a little distance away from each other. Count the Cheerios. Which is more? Use the pretzel sticks to make a <, >, or = and put the symbol in between the piles of Cheerios. Remind children that the hungry “big mouth” side faces towards the bigger pile of Cheerios.
Try this no-prep activity to practice comparing numbers at home or at school: “How many windows in this room? How many in that room? Which number is greater?” Compare numbers of chairs, books on desks, posters in two rooms, plates in the dishwasher vs. plates in the cabinet, toys on the floor vs. toys on the shelves, peas on my plate vs. peas on your plate, etc.
Many number sense activities give kids a chance to explore and compare numbers; here is a chance to let kids learn to do this mentally. Get a number line, but don’t show it to the child yet. Write down two numbers that can be found on the number line. Have the child “guess” which number is greater. Then let the child look it up on the number line to check. This is a fun way to begin working with larger numbers, as the “guessing” takes the expectation out of them having to know the answer, but gives them practice predicting which number is larger.
Try greater than/less than with words. Pick two words, such as two kids’ names. Write both names. Count the letters in each name and put the correct symbol (<, > or =) in the middle. The skills kids learn in this multi-level activity will make comparing numbers a breeze. Which back to school supplies will your child need in first grade. What words are odd? Which are even? How many letters are in your friends’ names? What about when your names are added together?)
Look together at a hundreds chart. Say the name of a number between 1 and 99 and say, “My number is 43. What is greater?” Have the child answer the question, then switch so he can pick the next number: “My number is 22. What is less?” This game can be made more fun by keeping score for each right answer, and by the adult occasionally getting an answer wrong! (For more advanced kids, you can ask, “What is 2 greater? What is 10 less?”)