Growing 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?