Teaching Newcomers: Greater Than and Less Than

Before Christmas I taught an introductory unit on measurement, just to the nearest inch.  That led to comparing items as shorter or longer, which eventually led to greater than and less than.  I have found with my newcomers that concrete visuals are best, and abstract concepts need to be left for a time when they have greater language skills.  Comparing numbers is concrete and something they do pretty well at!  They also loved tracing each other on butcher paper to see who was longer and who was shorter!  But that is a post for another time.

 First, we visited our good friends Annie and Moby to learn the basics about comparing numbers. My students say, "Moby, yes!" every time they see me log in to Brainpop.  I love that Brainpop has "chapters" that let you stop and explain, or pause and check for comprehension throughout.  It's hard to do that in youtube sometimes.

We practiced comparing one digit numbers on our individual whiteboards until we got the hang of it.  I do not teach greater than/less than using the alligator, I teach with the trick that < looks like an L.  So L = less than, and then we make a big > with our arms for greater than.   Using TPR previously in class helped them to be able to remember the hand symbols since they were familiar with using them for other vocabulary.  Here are some of the games we used to practice- I really like the games from Sheppard Software.

This one is my favorite because it just uses the symbol, so the students can do it completely on their own.  It also is SO very satisfying to shoot the fruit!

This one was great when we had to review the words Greater than (G) and Less than (L).  I practiced with them first using whiteboards, and just had them write G or L on the board instead of the symbol.  I'm also getting in some beginning sound practice here!

 This one is good too, but the directions at the top are a little small- my concrete thinkers want to do the same thing over and over again so they didn't always look up to see if the direction had changed.

I was pretty happy with their ability to compare numbers, but knew I needed one closing activity. I was browsing the TPT catalog for an assessment and came across this little gem.

As I was printing, I thought...wouldn't it be fun to make this a hallway hunt?  And then I thought...but it's going to snow tonight.  Wouldn't it be fun to have a snowball fight?  So I quickly put all the equations from the sort on paper and crumpled them up. 

Then I projected the cute Penguin True/False sorting mat onto my screen and taped a line down the middle of the room. 

I divided my class (of 4) into two teams and explained the game.  Now hold on, because remember I teach newcomers. So explaining requires a whole lot of sign language and I may or may not have had to show them the clip from Elf where Buddy throws the snowballs super fast.  But you probably won't have to do that!

They had 10 seconds to throw as many snowballs as they could at the other team.  

We had a do-over because it was too cute not to. 

Then each team had to open a snowball one by one and decide if the equation was true or false.  They had to stand in their spots (thank goodness for the blue squares on my floor!) and shoot to the Penguin.  Some of my smarties figured out aerodynamics and tried to twist the snowballs so they would fly better.  They were so elated to throw paper at the board, and they had no idea they were practicing comparing numbers!  We'll round out our comparing numbers unit with the cut and paste sorting from Primary Essential's unit.  


  1. The snowball game sounds like so much fun! That is such a great way to get your kids motivated. (and very festive!) I am sure they absolutely loved it! Can't wait for the giveaway!

    Eclectic Educating

  2. So many fun activities! We love to do snowball fights too. I am sure your kids love all you are having them do and learn!
    Conversations in Literacy


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