Comparing Sets

Practice comparing the number of objects in different sets.

1+ Players
Moderate teacher engagement


  • 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 object card per object type: Create your own object cards by drawing pictures or using photos. Or, if suitable, use these object cards.
  • Empty container to hold the objects

Setup — less than 5 minutes

  • Gather the objects and make the sets. 
  • Create the object cards or print the ones provided.
  • Put the sets of objects, object cards, and a container on a flat surface.


  1. Introduce the game. This activity is suitable for students to play on their own or can involve as many as four students taking turns.
  2. After mixing up all the cards, the student draws two object cards (for example, frogs and buttons) to determine which two sets to compare.
  3. Then the student compares the quantities of the two sets. They can do this by either counting or matching the objects one-to-one to directly compare how many are in each set. 
    1. If there is more in one set than another, the student can put one object from the set with more in the container. 
    2. If there is an equal number of objects in both sets, the student can put one object from either set (not both) into the container.
  4. Students take turns shuffling and drawing object cards, comparing sets, and continuing to place objects in the container. The game ends when all the objects have been added to the container or when only one object is left. 

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 set of objects has more?”
  • “How many more orange linking cubes do you have than frog toys?”
  • “Since you started with five cubes, how many cubes will you have left once you put one into the container?”

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.

Give it a Theme
  • Zookeepers: The students are zookeepers who need to feed an animal, such as a bear (the container), a variety of foods (the objects). Find or create a picture of an animal or a monster to attach to the container. 
  • Sets with similar quantities are more challenging to compare than sets containing very different numbers of objects. To increase the challenge, have students use sets with a similar number of objects in each set (for example, have them compare 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.