How to Teach Kids the Difference Between More & Less

By Sara Ipatenco
Children who understand the concept of more and less can make math homework easier.
Children who understand the concept of more and less can make math homework easier.

The ability to look at numbers or groups of objects and identify which is more and which is less is a key math skill. It helps lay the foundation for understanding a variety of other math concepts, such as adding, subtracting, rounding up or down, and estimating. Typically introduced during the preschool years, it's a skill that is practiced and built on throughout elementary school. Teaching children to master greater than/less than abilities is more effective and enjoyable when it's done using hands-on activities.

Feed the Chomping Alligator

Children new to the more-or-less concept can get a visual picture with a chomping alligator graphic. This is a strategy often used when teaching this skill in kindergarten or early elementary classrooms. The premise is that a child will look at two numbers and have the alligator eat the larger number, according to Jodene Smith, author of "Cut and Paste Math." Start this activity by placing two piles of objects, such as coins or buttons, in front of the child. Count the items together and then give the child a picture of a chomping alligator, which you can draw or print from your computer. An alligator hand puppet also works well, Smith notes. Have the child pretend that the alligator is eating the larger pile. Once the child understands this concept, move on to showing him two numbers and ask him to "feed" the larger of the two to the alligator.

Number Games

Games are entertaining and they help keep a child's attention, which can boost understanding and recall of math concepts. Divide children into groups of two and give each pair a dice and a set of stacking cubes, suggests the Utah Education Network website. One child rolls and counts the total dots and makes a cube tower to represent that number. The student rolls again and adds those dots to the first roll, adding the correct number or cubes to his tower. The second child then takes his turn. The children work together to decide who rolled the larger number of dots by comparing the cube towers. This game is appropriate for kindergarten and early elementary age children.

Use Math Manipulatives

Math manipulatives are an effective way to introduce a variety of topics. Give children a pile of objects, such as beads, and have them sort by color. Then ask the children to tell you what color had the most and what color had the least. Repeat the activity with other attributes, such as size and shape. Provide children with building blocks and let them create whatever they want with them. Then have the children look at each other's creations and identify which students used more blocks and which students used fewer blocks.

Use A Number Line

When a child is trying to remember if a number is more than or less than another number, a number line can come in handy, according to Judith A. Muschla, author of "Teaching the Common Core Math Standards with Hands-On Activities, Grades 6-8." A number line is simply a long horizontal line with a series of shorter lines that run perpendicular, each of which represents a number in chronological order. For example, a child might wonder if the number 11 is more than or less than 15, so he would first find the number 11 on his number line and then locate the number 15. Since the 15 comes after the 11, the child would learn that 15 is more than 11. Number lines are available at teacher supply stores or can be printed from online sources.

About the Author

Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.