Use Symbols to Compare

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SWBAT use symbols for is less than “<”, is greater than “>” and is equal to “=” to compare numbers.

Big Idea

Greedy Gator at work! This lesson has students comparing greater than, less than and equal to.

Activating Strategy

10 minutes

I like to start by playing this game to compare numbers:  MegaMath.  I play the game as a whole group, pulling random names or calling on random students to come to the board and answer the question.  To keep the class engaged during the game, I ask higher order questions about the problem (such as, "how would you solve this?" or "why was that the right answer") to students that are on the carpet. 

This lesson specifically addresses the standard 1.NBT.B.3, which requires the students to compare two digit numbers based on comparing the tens and ones place of a number.  

Teaching Strategies

15 minutes

After playing the game, I write the following on the board/chart paper:

49 < 51

I then ask the following questions:

  • What does the symbol mean?  (less than)
  • How do you know? (49 is first, and it is less than 51)
  • When do you use the is less than symbol to compare numbers? (when the number that is less comes first)


I then write the following on the board:


_____ < 36                            _____ = 36                            _____ > 36


I have three volunteers to come to the board and answer the questions.  I allow them to draw a quick picture to make the comparison true if needed.  I ask the volunteers:

  • How did you find a number that is less than 36?
  • How did you find a number that is equal to 36?
  • How did you find a number that is greater than 36?

This allows students a chance to explain their rationale for selecting the numbers they chose.


I then write the following on the board and have three more volunteers to come up to the board:

21        24

21 is _________  24

24       24

24 is  _________ 24

30       24

30 is  ________  24


I have them draw a picture to model how to determine how to make the sentence true, using < , >  or =.  Ask the volunteers to explain their rationale for how they determined which sign to use.


Independent Practice

30 minutes

For the independent practice portion of this lesson, I like to hand out Use Symbols to Compare_Worksheet.docx

For struggling students, I like to review the meaning of the < and > symbols.  I remind children that the symbols point to the number that is less, whit the open end toward the number that is greater.  I tell them, it’s like the greedy gator – the open end is toward the bigger number. 



5 minutes

To close out the lesson, I write the numbers 20-40 on index cards.  Each student gets an index card and a white board with a marker.  We then mix, pair, share – when students pair up they write their number and their partners number on their white board and use the correct symbol to compare.