Zookeepers

Compare the number of objects in different sets to feed an animal.

1+ Players
Moderate teacher engagement

Materials


  • Three or more sets of objects (for example, toy frogs, blocks): The number of objects in each set can be between two and five to start. Keep in mind that smaller sets (such as two to five) are easier to compare than larger sets (such as 15 to 18). 
  • One food card per object type: Create your own object cards by drawing pictures or using photos. Or, if suitable, use these food cards
  • Food dish” container

Setup — less than 5 minutes


  • Children play the zookeeper and must feed an animal who is hungry! Gather the “food” by making sets of three of more objects of your choice
  • Create the food cards or print the ones provided.
  • Put the sets of food, food cards, and a “food dish” container on a flat surface. Place the animal toy or picture by the container.

Instructions

 

  1. Shuffle the “food cards”, then draw two (for example, frogs and buttons).
  2. Compare the quantity of the two food piles by counting or matching the objects one-to-one to determine how many in each pile.
    1. If there is more in one pile, put one object from that pile in the food dish.
    2. If there is an equal number of food items in both piles, put one object from either pile (not both) in the food dish.
  3. Children take turns comparing piles and placing food in the food dish. The game ends when all the food piles are empty or there is only one food item left. The animal is full and happy. Good job, zookeeper!

Checks for Understanding

To deepen children’s learning about early math concepts, talk and ask questions while doing this activity together. Here are some examples to get you started:

Counting Objects and Cardinality
  • “How can you figure out how many blocks you have?”
  • “How many frogs are there?”
  • “How did you know to put in a frog toy and not a wooden block?”
  • “You said you have three frog toys and seven blocks. Is three greater than seven or less than seven?”
  • “Which food pile has more?”
  • “How many more orange linking cubes do you have than frog toys?”
  • “Since you started with five cubes, how many cubes will have left once you fed one to the bear?

Activity Modifications

Once you have tried the activity, here are some other things you can do. Try these modifications to keep the activity interesting and challenging for students all year.

Make It Harder
  • Sets with similar quantities are more challenging to compare than sets containing very different numbers of objects. Have students use sets with a similar number of objects in each set (a set of 13, a set of 12, and a set of 14). 
  • To break a tie when two sets have the same number of objects, have students compare the number of each object already in the container and put in one of the least common types of objects. If the number of objects in the two sets is still equal, the student can choose which one to add.
  • Play the game with a timer and have students try to fill their container before time runs out. 
  • During a tie, the student can choose one set and add the entire set to the container. That set is then eliminated from the game and that object type card is removed.
  • Have students sort objects into their sets before beginning the activity as opposed to having all the objects together in the same container or the teacher being the one to sort the objects. 
  • Give roles to the participating children. Put one child in charge of a set of objects, and whenever that set of objects is drawn, that child is responsible for counting (for example, if frog toys are being used, the child always puts out the set of frog toys and counts it). Put one child in charge of the container and of counting how many of each object is in the container.