Comparing Numbers: The Alligator Trick

Comparing Numbers: The Alligator Trick

Kids learn to count in order, but understanding which number is the biggest or smallest in a pair often proves trickier. Throw in the confusing greater than (>) or less than (<) signs and their heads start to spin. To help kids understand how to compare numbers with the appropriate symbols, it helps to let them feed the alligators.

Wait, what?

Think about it. An alligator’s mouth, when open wide, closely resembles the greater than and less than symbols.

                        math crocodile

No, you’re not going to find an actual alligator and let your kids get close enough to feed it, but you can use the idea to help them understand how to properly compare numbers.

It’s Feeding Time

To start teaching kids how to compare numbers, give them a chance to feed an alligator. Find an alligator puppet or let your kids help make an alligator after a large piece of cardboard. Make sure the alligator’s mouth stays wide open. If you’re really crafty, you can use a metal hinge to design the mouth to open and close, allowing the alligator to reject the smaller numbers.

Once you have your alligator, write a bunch of numbers on index cards or small scraps of paper. Give your child two numbers at a time and explain the alligator only eats the bigger number in a pair. With those instructions, let your child start feeding the alligator, one pair of numbers at a time.

Put it on Paper

Once your child gets the hang of feeding an alligator the bigger number, it’s time to move the activity to paper. Print out a small picture of an alligator with its mouth open or draw an open-mouthed alligator on a small piece of paper. Using the same index cards from the first activity, have your child place the alligator on the table in between the two numbers so that his open mouth faces the bigger number.


Once your child starts to understand the concept, it’s time to break out the math worksheets and doctor them up a bit. Instead of having your child jump from the alligator to the greater than and less than signs, have them turn the signs into mini alligators of their own.


                                       3/4  1/2

                                   32.56  32.92

You can use this Comparing Numbers worksheet to get kids start or create your own by simply writing out pairs of numbers on a piece of paper leaving space for the alligator in between. As kids learn how to compare numbers using the alligator, they’ll gradually be able to remove the teeth and start using the greater than and less than symbols with ease.

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