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Lesson Plans
Comparing Whole Numbers
3rd–5th Grade

CCSS Math: Number & Operations in Base Ten
  • 4.NBT.A.2: Read and write multi-digit whole numbers using base ten numerals, number names and expanded form. Compare two multi-digit numbers based on meanings of the digits in each place, using >, =, and < symbols to record the results of comparisons.
Materials Needed

Make two sets of the number cards. (For durability, you may want to mount them onto sturdy construction paper or cardstock and laminate them.)


  1. Display the following symbols on an interactive whiteboard or chalkboard:
  2. >   <    =
  3. Invite students to discuss what each symbol means (greater than, less than and equal to).
  4. Remind students that these symbols are used when comparing two numbers to determine which is larger (greater than) or smaller (less than) or if they are equal.


  1. In addition to knowing these symbols, students will also need to look at place value to compare numbers.
  2. Tell students that putting numbers in a place value chart will help them compare the digits to determine which number is greater.
  3. To illustrate an example, display a chart such as this one:
  4. Thousands Hundreds Tens Ones
  5. Then write 4,568 and 4,821 on the chart to show students how to compare the numbers:
  6. Thousands Hundreds Tens Ones
    4, 5 6 8
    4, 8 2 1
  7. Explain to students that they will compare the digits in the highest place value first. (In this case, they will compare the digits in the thousands place.) Point to the digits in the thousands place and say, “We see that each number has a 4 in the thousands place. This means that each number begins with 4,000. Since both numbers have a 4 in the thousands place, we will need to look at the next-highest place value to compare the values of these numbers.”
  8. Point out that the first number has a 5 in the hundreds place and the second number has an 8 in the hundreds place. Ask, “Which number is greater—500 or 800?” Explain that since 800 is greater than 500, 4,821 is the greater number.
  9. Write 4,568 < 4,821 on the board.
  10. Repeat steps 4?7 using the following pairs of numbers so that students can observe several examples:
    • 5,672 and 4,988
    • 434 and 1,203
    • 9,523 and 9,545
    • 12,782 and 14,726

Guided Practice

  1. Shuffle the two sets of number cards, and tell students that they are going to use the cards to form two four-digit whole numbers.
  2. First, invite four student volunteers to come to the front of the room and select a card.
    (Note: Since there are two of each number, it is okay if two students have the same number.)
  3. Have these four students stand to your right, and arrange themselves in any order to create a four-digit number. (For example, if the students are displaying the numbers 4, 5, 2 and 8, point out that this group of students represents the four-digit number four thousand, five hundred twenty-eight, or 4,528.)
  4. Next, call four more volunteers to the front of the room and have each student select a card.
  5. These four students will stand to your left, and arrange themselves in any order to create a four-digit number.
  6. Ask the class to look at the two four-digit numbers and compare them. Ask, “Which is greater? Which is less? How do you know?” Encourage students to discuss how they used place value to compare the numbers.
  7. Repeat the activity several times so that all students have the chance to participate.
    (Note: For an additional challenge, have students repeat the activity with five- or six-digit numbers!)

Independent Practice

  1. Give each student a copy of the Place Value Chart that shows place value to the thousands place.
  2. Have students write two different 4-digit numbers on the top of their paper, and then invite them to trade papers with a partner.
  3. Challenge students to compare the numbers their partner wrote by writing the digits into the place value chart.
  4. Have students write the numbers below the chart and circle the correct symbol to complete the number sentence.
  5. Then have students exchange papers with their partner to check each other’s work.

Extension Activity

  • For an additional challenge, you can use the place value chart that shows place value to the hundred-thousands place.

View the 3rd–5th Grade lesson plan. (Includes all printable materials.)
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