Hands-On Ways to Teach Fractions
Making Fractions Easier and Fun
Understanding fractions is a critical foundation of math learning. But despite their daily frequency in our lives, fractions can be difficult to grasp. Not surprisingly, research shows that to master fractions, students need multiple opportunities to practice with many varied representations of fractions. So a one time activity of cutting up a Hershey bar into smaller squares, although great fun, may not be enough to truly cement the understanding of how fractions work. By all means, cut up chocolate bars, pizzas, and pies. And add even more activities such as the ones featured here.
Our introduction to fractions was baking cookies. I had my daughter "Sprite" in the kitchen with me helping when I realized that she didn't even know how to read "1/2 cup" much less understand what 1/2 cup meant. She kept saying 112 cups of sugar. Right then and there I decided that we must begin our study of fractions. The future of baking was at stake!
Using a recipe and well marked measuring cups and spoons are a great introduction to fractions in a most practical way. Try making homemade pizza crust, brownies, or cookies, something that will motivate your child to get involved. This kind of learning is the best -- it's hands on and it's real. I mean, dinner or at least dessert, is at stake.
Double or halve the recipe for a more advanced fractions activity.
To prepare for more fractions experiences, I looked in my favorite math resource --Family Math--and found a great introductory fraction activity. It required our making homemade fraction strips and a die. I cut long strips from several different colors of A3 (11x17") cardstock. One was left whole and labeled as such. Then each strip was folded and cut to create fractions: halves, fourths, eighths, and sixteenths. Each individual piece was labeled with words and numerical symbols (ie one half and 1/2).
This physical construction of the fraction strips is essential for a child to understand where the numbers are coming from. She can see that by dividing a strip into two pieces I get two halves -- the denominator is a 2. If I cut the strip into four pieces then I have four fourths -- the denominator is a four. Then it becomes obvious that the larger the denominator, the more pieces the strip is divided into and thus the fraction piece is smaller. You probably won't have to explicitly say this because your child will figure it out.
We made a super big die from a cube template printed onto cardstock. Another option would be making a fractions spinner from the tool at SEN Teacher.
Then we took turns rolling the die and picking up the fraction we rolled. The first person to a whole was the winner! On another day, we started with a whole and subtracted the fraction that was rolled. This activity involved rearranging the fractions, say exchanging a fourth for four sixteenths so that we could then subtract one sixteenth. We played this game many times over the course of a couple of weeks.
Then we played the Fraction Action board game. (Sorry, this is no longer available online.)
These are the Fraction Pieces you can print from 4th grade Teaching Tools at EduPlace.
Each player had a set, and we gambled the fractions. First someone set the ante and everyone met it and called heads or tails. Then she tossed the coin. If two players both were correct, then the pot had to be split evenly (leaving any remaining indivisible fractions in the pot).
Fraction Bingo can be found at 3rd grade Teaching Tools at EduPlace. This is an adding exercise formatted in the classic standby game.
We played even more games with the fraction game boards and spinners also at 3rd grade Teaching Tools at EduPlace. There are no directions, so just be creative and come up with your own games, identifying, adding, subtracting, and ordering fractions. Or give the pages to your child and let him come up with a game!
Then we recycled one day's fraction pieces into the next day's notebooking page. I had Sprite create fraction equivalents by taping the pieces onto paper, for example one half equals eight sixteenths. This is a hands-on, self checking activity because the pieces should match in size if they are equivalent.
Fractions can be parts of wholes or also segments of a collection. To illustrate that, I had my daughter select a handful of her tiny clay foods. We sorted them into categories -- drinks, desserts, fruits, etc. (I did add a couple of extra items so that we'd have a nice total figure of 24.) Then we made fractions with the divided categories. We even reduced the fraction 6/24 to 1/4 after reorganizing the items to clearly show that the group of six was actually one fourth of the entire collection.
Then we also looked at fractions as points on a number line by organizing whole and mixed numbers in order from smallest to greatest. I'm not sure why, but the concept didn't seem to click with Sprite until I added a zero piece as an anchor. So be sure to include a zero in your numbers.
Even More Fraction Activities
- Mathwire's Fractions
Mathwire is a great living math site, full of ideas and fun. The fractions page offers some great manipulatives ideas.
- Fraction Dominoes
Print these out to match numeric notation with a graphical representation.
- Learn with Math Games -- Fractions
Two printable games -- one for multiplying fractions and another for comparing fractions.
- Laura Candler's File Cabinet
Scroll down to the fractions section for many printable games.
- Fraction-omino Cards
Fraction Dominoes in black, white and yellow. In this game you practice matching shaded representations, numeric symbols, and words.
- Fraction Fun
This is a template for a file folder game for two people that uses manipulatives to review fractions.
Numerator and Denominator -- Fraction Vocabulary
Are these words important for mastering fractions?
The vital part of the fractions games is internalizing the concepts of what fractions are and how they work. Once you understand what that number on the bottom actually does, it's a lot easier to assign it its proper name. So, yes, teach numerator and denominator by speaking these words during your game playing. But don't get too upset when your child reverts to "the number on top."
Wrap Up Assignment - Math Notebooking Page
As a wrap up of all we'd studied, I gave Sprite a blank notebooking page and asked her to tell write her answer to this question in words, numbers, or pictures -- "What is a fraction?" Her answer included definitions and many examples plus a few diagrams. This page then went into her math notebook for reference.
Family Math: The Middle School Years
I've loved Family Math so much that it's just natural to graduate up to the middle school version.