Fractions can be a difficult subject for some students. Even students who seem to “get it” when doing simpler fraction work may become quickly confused by more complex skills such as comparing or adding fractions.
So, what can a teacher or parent do to help students develop a deeper understanding of fractions?
Start with concrete, and real world examples:
How about pizza! Yum! If you are at home you can use a real pizza to discuss how the equal parts of your pizza make a whole. For example if your pizza is cut into 8 equal slices, talk to your child about how each slice is one-eighth of the whole pizza. If you are making your own pizza you can slice it into halves first, then fourths, then eighths and discuss the pattern that you develop. As the pizza is cut into smaller pieces, there are more pieces to make the whole. In the classroom, you can use “pretend pizza” like this one from Learning Resources. Or you can have your students make their own pizzas out of paper plates. Fun!
2. Move beyond the pizza! Give a lot of different examples:
Students need to see a lot of different examples to really understand fractions. Fractions are found all around us in many forms. Putting away fruit after a trip to the grocery store? Ask your child what fraction of the fruit is bananas or what fraction of your apples are red. Eating candy? Sort it by color and discuss fractions of the set … If I have 12 Skittles and 4 of those Skittles are red, what fraction of my set is red? Playing with toys? Talk fractions … In the classroom, you can use healthy snacks like rainbow goldfish crackers, or manipulatives like color tiles, fraction bars, colored counters … Make sure that you expose your students to many different representations.
3. Ask questions that lead to discussion that clear up common misconceptions:
If you are hungry would you rather have 1/2 or a pizza or 1/3 of a pizza? Most students get confused when learning to compare fractions, because up until now, bigger numbers have meant bigger quantities. Fractions will challenge them! Use hands on concrete models to help students see that 1/2 is actually more than 1/3, because one pizza is cut into 2 larger pieces and the other is cut into 3 pieces which will be smaller than the halves. Give your students a lot of practice with this using a lot of different models! Students really need time to explore and work with comparing fractions. Even students who seem to “get it” quickly may need reinforcement to really understand t and remember it, so don’t skip the models here! Moving from concrete (hands on) to pictorial (visual models) is important too. Skipping straight from hands on to abstract can confuse some students!
4. Connect fractions to other areas:
Baking cookies? Making mac and cheese? Point out and discuss fractions as you measure your ingredients. Find interesting books to incorporate into your reading time. Here are two of my favorites:
5. Play while you practice!
Students need to practice to help retain what they learn. Although it is important to have pencil and paper practice, other types of practice such as playing games can be highly effective as well.
Sheppard Software has a menu of free online fraction games.
PBS Cyperchase has a great game for comparing fractions.
Use fraction flashcards to play a good old fashioned game of War. Use dry erase boards or paper and pencil to record answers.