## Greater than / Less than signs – taking the alligator thing to a whole new level

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010Growing up, I remember learning to remember the difference between the greater than and less than signs by imagining a hungry alligator with an open mouth getting ready to “eat” the bigger number.

I recently got to work on this concept in an online tutoring session with a student of mine who’s a fifth grader.

First we had a regular < sign and we talked about the "alligator" idea.

He drew in some pointy alligator teeth:

Then he spontaneously drew a whole alligator:

As we worked on different inequality problems, he took it further. He drew a picture of a bird and explained that the bird’s closed little beak is shaped like an inequality sign. The bird would go for the smaller meal, while the alligator would go for the bigger meal.

And he topped it off – with sound effects.

The smaller number, which the bird would eat, has a “peck peck” sound. The larger number, which the alligator would eat, has a “chomp chomp” sound. Oh my gosh, I love it!

I’d never seen the alligator metaphor pushed this far before, and I wanted to share my student’s creative ideas!

What’s your favorite way to remember (or teach) the difference between the two signs?

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I want kids to be able to read across an inequality, which I find is hard if they learn the symbols the “alligator way.” So, I teach it the “alligator way” but then I also teach the students that < looks like a slanted L which stands for "less than." Then a student can read a + 5 does not look like a slanted L so it stands for “more than.”

Good point about wanting kids to be able to read across an inequality! Thanks for sharing your suggestion about the slanted L way!

What if the alligator was facing the other way? π

But seriously, you could just remember that the larger number goes at the “larger” end of the symbol. That works for both 3 3.

Oops — it looks like the blogging software ate my symbols! That last sentence above should read: That works for both 3 “less than” 5 and 5 “greater than” 3.

Hey, Nick! Welcome and thank you for stopping by. Do you know what, I’ve never thought about the larger end going towards the larger number before. thanks for sharing that!

I’m with Nick on this one. Smaller gap is for the smaller number, larger gap for larger number. Also, in an equal sign, both ends are equidistant.

Merry, it’s great to see you here! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!