Time for fractions!
Whether you get a jolt of excitement or a sense of fear upon hearing those words, you’ve come to the right place.
In this series on Comparing Fractions, we’ll take a look at how students are introduced to the concept in 3rd grade through mastery in 4th grade. Best of all, this post will give you some ideas you can use in your classroom tomorrow to help your students better compare fractions.
3rd Grade Expectations:
- Compare two fractions with the same numerator or the same denominator (3.NF.3d)
- Recognize that comparisons are valid only when the two fractions refer to the same whole (3.NF.3d)
4th Grade Expectations:
- Compare fractions with different numerators and different denominators (4.NF.2)
- Compare fractions by creating common denominators (4.NF.2)
- Compare fractions with symbols >, =, or <, and justify comparisons (4.NF.2)
- Comparisons are only valid with the same whole (4.NF.2)
Since it’s important in both grades for students to recognize that the whole must be the same in order to make a valid comparison, it’s helpful to use wholes that don’t change in size. If you’ve ever had students draw their own circles or squares to show fraction equivalence or comparisons, you know the wholes don’t always come out equal, which in turn makes comparing a challenge.
The good news is that many students will be able to model their own fractions through drawings with more experience and practice. Until then, here are some hands-on materials you can use in your classroom to help students recognize, create, and justify fraction comparisons.
Pattern blocks are my favorites to start with. They are colorful and fun for students to use. There are only a few shapes, so it’s easy for students to start with halves, thirds, sixths, and wholes. Comparisons are easy to recognize and students can practice a lot of math vocabulary while explaining their reasoning.
Egg Cartons are a great next step after pattern blocks. Students can think of the egg carton as the whole, or 12 as the whole and use string to divide it into halves, thirds, fourths, sixths, or twelfths.
When students are ready, egg cartons also help transition students to finding common denominators to compare fractions with unlike denominators.
Number lines are another great math tool to help students visualize fractions. Most students have no trouble placing 1/2 on a number line. Comparing other fractions to 1/2 is an easy way to compare two fractions that otherwise seem hard to compare.
Take 2/5 and 5/8. While some students recognize that fifths are larger than eighths, there are less of them. However, when you place them on a number line, you see quickly that 2/5 comes before 1/2 and 5/8 comes after. Therefore 2/5 is less than 5/8.
Fraction Strips Bookmarks (Free Download)
While having students fold or cut their own fraction strips can be valuable for understanding fraction basics, they just aren’t precise enough to accurately compare fractions. Try out these free bookmarks as a handy tool to help your students see the relationships between common fractions.
Download the Fraction Bookmark Freebie
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Comparing Fractions Activities: