Headstart for Life

Comparative Thinking

Hi friends! I am back with another HeadStart blog related to numeracy skills for our budding mathematicians! Today I will be discussing about the need for comparative thinking skills in early numeracy curriculum. You may be curious to know what makes comparative thinking so special?

‘Thinking without comparison is unthinkable.’

Comparative thinking provides foundational cognitive skills that support early learning. When we are infants, one of the first differences we must identify is that between mother and other. Without the ability to make comparisons—to set one object or idea against another and take note of similarities and differences—much of what we call learning would quite literally be impossible.

How do Compare and Contrast strategies help students?

Recent researches have confirmed that asking students to identify similarities and differences through comparative analysis leads to some amazing gains in student achievement in the following areas:

  • Strengthens Students’ Memories – By focusing student thinking on analyzing pairs of ideas, the Compare & Contrast strategy strengthens students’ ability to remember key content.
  • Develop Higher-Order Thinking Skills – Compare & Contrast strategy contributes as a stepping stone to higher-order thinking.
  • Improves Student Comprehension – It improves comprehension by highlighting important details, making abstract ideas more concrete, and reducing the confusion between related concepts (For example, Big vs Small ; Heavy vs Light)
  • Develop Students’ Habits of Mind – Using this strategy helps kids to develop the habit of thinking flexibly; applying past knowledge to new situations; and thinking and communicating with clarity and precision.

When children are first exposed to the concept of making comparisons, they need to be introduced to the common comparison words such as  shorter than, longer than, bigger than, smaller than, more than, less than. Here, it is very important that children first learn to compare objects without using numbers.

Here are some activities that can be tried with your younger ones to tickle their little minds into comparing the world around them.

  1. Classifying, describing and arranging objects by size using language such as big or small; large or little ; huge or tiny, etc
  2. Comparing, classifying and describing objects by length using language such as shorter or longer than; short, shorter or shortest; long, longer or longest.
  3. Comparing groups of objects using numbers and language such as few or more than; less or more than; same or different; equal or not equal etc.
  4. Comparing and sorting objects by weight using language such as heavier or lighter than.
  5. Describing time and temperature with terms such as longer, shorter, hotter, colder, warm…

By Size:

Comparing by size is a skill which children and adults use daily to organize and understand our surroundings. We can use concrete objects in the first stage, followed by concept pictures, flashcards and finally to worksheets. The activity can be made thematic – e.g. based on animals, toys, clothes, furniture, etc.

Introducing the kids to the extreme opposites of sizes is very educational and can be fun. In fact, it lays the foundation for learning the opposites of other things, like hot or cold.

CT big-and-one-small-


By Length:

Kids should be provided with ample opportunities to compare and order objects according to length. They should also be guided to learning to conserve length, which implies that the length of an object is not altered by a change in its spatial position, even though it may appear to look longer or shorter than before.

Transitivity is the ability to infer, for example, that length A is longer than length C if direct comparison shows that A is longer than an intermediate length B and that B is longer than C.




By Number:

The vocabulary of more, fewer, and the same is an important  concept at the early stages of mathematical learning. Quantity discrimination is extremely important because it is a key component in estimation and number representation. Once children can recognize or count collections, we can provide them with opportunities to use numbers and counting to compare quantities. These comparison words for math vocabulary is going to impact how students express their mathematical thinking and future math success.

Kids will enjoy activities based on comparing concrete objects. To begin number comparisons, children can be asked to compare small collections of one to three objects visually. Next, children can be asked to  count or match larger collections of items one-to-one to determine which set has “more.” Once they can comfortably determine “more,” the word “fewer” can be introduced .

CT - more or less                 tac1469_less-is-more

So, we can rightly say that the sky is the limit to explore and locate opportunities in a pre-school kids environs to get them thinking and comparing!

Thanks for reading! Looking forward to seeing you back at HeadStart for Life’s blog!



Excerpts from Harvey F. Silver (June 2010) : Compare & Contrast: Teaching Comparative Thinking to Strengthen Student Learning




"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Kokila

Kokila has been working with children with learning difficulties for the last 2 years. She strongly believes that early intervention, teamwork, consistency and thinking "+1" from the current level are the most effective elements that translate into visible progress shown by children with learning difficulties.

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