Fractions can be hard for students to learn and really understand. Make it a goal to help all students master fractions while they’re in your class. Using different approaches and lots of practice, students will become confident at working with fractions. Below are a few tips that helped students in my classroom master fractions.
- Master multiplication first (multiplication and division have common fact families)
When you’re learning about common denominators, you want to focus on fractions, not on multiplies and how to find them. Teach the multiplication tables and work with multiples as much as you can so the terms become second nature. When students have strong basic fact skills, they can focus on the new concept. Do whatever it takes to master multiplication facts.
Hint: Here is a link to a set of flash cards ready to print and go to master those facts to make learning fractions a breeze.
Hint: Here is a link to a reference chart that reinforces multiples and common fractions to help along the way.
- Use class data and create fractions every day
Every day of the year, ask a question that students respond to, then compute the fraction, convert it to a decimal, and then change it to a percent. Do this every day and you’ll be amazed at how students really understand fractions in real life. Here’s an example: Let’s say there are 24 students in class today. Ask a question such as, “Do you prefer to eat hamburgers, hot dogs, neither, or both?” Allow students to come up to the board and make a tally mark under their selection. If 11 students preferred hamburgers, write 11/24. If 8 like hot dogs, write 8/24. If 5 liked neither, write 5/24. Make sure that the numerator equals 24 students voting. Next allow students to use calculators to quickly get the decimals and then get the percent. Make sure the decimals add up to 1 whole (class). This daily practice gives students confidence working with fractions. Confidence is key when doing math. Here are some other questions to get you started: number of siblings, vanilla or chocolate ice cream, favorite season, pencils or pens, ski, snowboard, both, or neither, etc.
Hint: Here is a link to a ready made set in SMART board sign in to get you started.
Hint: Use the online website “Decifractator” to convert fractions to decimals. It has great sounds and works great on a SMART Board.
- Use money to teach fractions
Students in my classroom loved money. I also used it to teach fractions. Pull out your plastic coin manipulatives. Use each coin to teach fractions of a dollar. For example, the penny: You’d need 100 pennies to make a dollar, so a penny is 1/100th of a dollar. You can then move on to combining coins, addition of fractions, and reducing the denominator. For example 2 quarters: Each quarter is 25/100 and together they equal 50/100 or 1/2 of 1 (whole) dollar.
- Use visuals & hands on manipulatives
Fractions often feel overwhelming, until you can actually see them. Fractions is a key math area where you really need your manipulatives (circular pie manipulatives, number lines, number cubes, snap cubes, etc.). Teaching about the “whole” and “parts of a whole” can feel so foreign to students. I have found that by allowing students to see with their own eyes and handle the manipulatives that this diffucult concept become much easier.
Hint: If you don’t have manipulatives in your classroom, here is a link to a FREE online manipulative game.
Hint: Here is a link to a pattern block worksheet online that is totally free and (self checking)
- Relate fractions to real life
Most students love foods like pie and pizza so use them to teach fractions. If you have faction circles, use them as your “pizza” or “pie” models. Students can create a pizza/pie store, where customers come through asking for a specific amount of the pizza/pie. Students can choose to cut their pizza into any number of pieces (I like to start at 6, 8, and 12). Then you can tell students that one person would like what is 1/6 of the pizza. Use this to cement the concept of equivalent fractions. Have students draw their pizzas. You can also have students add toppings like, there’s 15 mushrooms. Put 1/3 of them on the pepperoni pizza. Cover the pizza with 1/4 pineapple. Have students record the problems, then draw the pizzas. You can also use fractions to increase or decrease a recipe so it feeds more or less people, adding in addition and subtraction of fractions. For example, if a recipe calls for 1/2 cup of sugar and you want to double it, you now need 1/2 + 1/2 = 1 whole. One of my favorite activities to use with a recipe is during my teaching of the Oregon Trail. Kids LOVE to make pioneer apple crisp in Dutch oven. Take a recipe that would feed 8 people and increase the recipe so it feeds 24 people, 32 people, etc. Ask parents to volunteer to help supervise this activity. Bring in measuring cups and all the ingredients. Have students do the math and figure how much of each ingredient they will need. Students love cooking and the eating is the best part! Students can read silently as they watch and smell the apple crisp as it cooks. Put a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top and enjoy!
Hint: Here is a link to a ready to go lesson on increasing a recipe using fractions Increasing a recipe fractions lesson
Hint: Here is a link to an online fraction pizza game, Tony’s Fractions
- Online practice
Practice makes perfect! There’s tons of websites that allow students to play games and practice their fraction skills. Use them! Students will learn through play what works and what doesn’t.
Hint: Take an online fractions quiz for grade 3. Fractions quiz for grade 4.
Hint: Play Fractions on a number line.
Hint: Play Cross the River Fractions (fraction recognition)
Hint: Ordering fractions game
- Worksheet practice (ahhh…hold on a second)
Worksheets used in isolation without touching and manipulating fraction pieces can be frustrating without background and deeper knowledge. Worksheets do have a place when teaching fractions, however I typically introduce them after lots of hands on practice. If students are trying to follow rules without and understanding of what they’re doing, they won’t get to deep understanding. I have found that once students have grasped the basic concepts and have had hands-on practice, using worksheets helps, too.
Hint: Here is a link to a lesson kids love, quilt block fractions reinforcing fractions, symmetry, and ties well into teaching the Oregon Trail.
- Practice, practice, practice!