Are you ready to say see you later alligator when it comes to using the “mouth method” for teaching comparing numbers? Well you’ve come to the right place! If you need a great strategy to replace “the alligator always eats the bigger number”, I’ve got a powerful method that is a GAMECHANGER for your students. The understanding will be deeper and you will still be providing a compelling visual aid. So what’s the secret strategy? It’s the Dot Method!
Stick around until the end so you can implement this strategy ASAP and grab all kinds of fun activities to help your kiddos practice comparing numbers!
The Power Behind the Method
While the alligator method may seem like a classic and cute way to teach comparing numbers, if our goal is to support students in their mastery of this skill, we must go deeper. It is our job to set them up for success through later grades when these concepts are being expanded upon.
The Dot Method is a simple strategy that gives students more meaning to these abstract symbols. Instead of inserting hungry alligators into the equation, and ultimately confusing them when they get into higher grades, this way allows them to accurately identify the name of the sign.
You’ll also gain extra instructional time because we won’t have students trying to draw teeth in every sign. Bonus points for you!
Students need some background knowledge and skills before they can master comparing numbers. They need to understand place value and they need to understand symbols. Students must have ample CONCRETE practice building and comparing numbers before signs are ever even introduced. Discussions during this time should be filled with math vocabulary, including greater than and less than before we can expect them to remember which is which.
Place value encompasses so much. It includes understanding what a number actually is, how to compose, decompose and compare those numbers, to the more complex skills of learning how to manipulate those numbers through different operations. It’s so important at this stage to support students’ understanding because if not, they risk the potential to continue to struggle as each grade progresses. You can learn all about best practices for place value and ways to teach it here!
The Dot Method
I know you’re like okay, okay teach us the dot method already! Now that I’ve got you geared up with why this is so important and you’re excited to blow your student’s minds, here it is!
Using the dot method:
- Write the numbers you want students to compare
- Vertically, draw two dots next to the larger number
- Draw one dot next to the smaller number
- Connect the dots to form the correct symbol
- In the event the numbers are equal, each will have two dots and when you connect those, you will create the equal sign!
Click on the picture below to check it out in action!
Before we get into all the fun activities, I want to share with you another classroom hack to all our math mastery. It’s called the CRA model and it has transformed my teaching!
The CRA Model
All children come with a different set of tools, background knowledge, and skills they possess. Our challenge is meeting them where they are, bridging gaps in their learning, and supporting their growth through all stages.
The CRA model breaks down math into three components: Concrete, Representations, and Abstract. This is where the power lies. All students start with concrete practice. This means busting out ALL the unifix cubes, ones, tens, and hundreds, depending on where your students are at. Using their hands to manipulate objects to build number sense is what this component is all about. As we practice our concrete skills together, THEN we bring in our representations, or drawings. The dot method is the ultimate representation of how to physically see what is going on when comparing numbers. The last component is where our abstract learning takes place. It is here that symbolic concepts are introduced to help build our mental math so students can read the greater than and less than symbols accurately without even thinking about it.
Integrating all of these components into our math instruction gives students choices on how to interact with the skill, while simultaneously differentiating for their needs. The great thing about this model and these components is that it does not have to be a linear process. Students may work really well with their concrete practice and go right to abstract, while some may not even need concrete practice for a skill and instead start with representations. It is meant to be used as a tool to support learners and give them all the strategies they may need while learning all these place value skills. Learn more about how to use the CRA Model HERE!
Let’s look at an example of using the CRA model while learning about comparing numbers. Below are some different ways for students to understand how to compare numbers and understand what numbers mean and represent.
As you can see, these groups of students are working in three different places and need different types of support to help their understanding. They were taught various different strategies and were able to choose how they learn best. They all clearly understand the concept of comparing numbers, but are working with different groups of numbers and using different tools to support them. This is the power of the CRA Model. Students are taught multiple ways, using different supports, and it ensures there are no gaps in their learning because they deeply understand numbers and what they mean.
One thing I have learned throughout the years is that we too quickly move students away from manipulatives before they are ready. Providing students with ample practice and no restrictions on supportive tools helps them develop a strong sense of place value. This reduces the struggle when they get to more complex operations, such as division and algebra, because they truly understand what those operations mean as it relates to numbers and how to do it.
By using the CRA Model and math workshop, I am able to support students WHEREVER they are at to either help them catch up, teach them new concepts, or begin to enrich their learning with even more advanced skills. Check out my post on how to successfully implement math workshop HERE! Help build a deep understanding of place value and number sense while having fun with the place value scavenger hunt. You can snag it FREE below!
Grab this free resource now!
With both of these tools, I promise that ALL of your students will thrive no matter what their needs are. By implementing the CRA Model, I promise you will see a world of difference in the depth of understanding in your students. Stuck on a specific skill and want support with how to teach or differentiate? Email me and I can help!
Have Fun Connecting the Dots
Now let’s get to the good stuff. Hands-on activities are a sure fire way to make learning fun! Let’s get into some of students’ favorite engaging place value activities! *Please note that all of these activities have been created for students using the CRA Model to help support their needs.*
Comparing in a concrete way is like playing with legos! This activity is super simple, low prep, easy to differentiate and fun for everyone. You get number cards and symbol cards for students and they are free to use them however they best make sense for their comparing needs.
The next activity is another fan favorite for comparing. Students have a blast comparing numbers with these differentiated penguins! They get everything they need to compare numbers in multiple forms. Number cards include visual representations, numerals, and equations to give more of a challenge. Students can use these cards with any manipulatives they need to practice comparing while having fun!
This activity is a guaranteed way to have all of your students telling the entire school you’re the best teacher ever! Ever had a snowball fight in your classroom? This is the most fun game that can be implemented with pretty much any skill! Learn more about them HERE. This Place Value Snowball Fight is SUPER engaging and provides great practice for students working with numerals and visual representation, but you could tailor it for comparing numbers however you need!
These are just SOME of the fun and engaging activities found in the Place Value Pack! Check out some more hands-on fun in the pictures below.
I really hope you enjoyed learning about how to use the dot method when teaching comparing numbers and grabbed some fun ways to engage your students with place value while also meeting EVERYONE’S needs! Don’t forget to subscribe to my email list! Not only will you get the most up to date tips, tricks, and classroom projects… and of course more fun FREEBIES including the Place Value Scavenger Hunt FREEBIE! You will also have exclusive access to tons of digital how-to videos! If you would like to learn about this and other things happening in my classroom follow me @sweetnsauerfirsties on Instagram.
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