turn fractions fear to fractions fun

Fractions Often Elicit Fear

Ask a random adult what area of math they find most difficult, and they are very likely to say, “fractions.” They were never comfortable with fractions as kids, and this discomfort followed them into adulthood. The pattern continues with many of today’s kids. I’ll never forget the day that my (then) new student, Emmaline, a 5th grader, looked me in the eye and said, “I can’t do fractions.”

fractions calculatorFractions are hard. Fractions are scary. Fractions are to be avoided at all costs. And they can be avoided … at least if you are an adult. All you need is a handy fractions calculator, and the work is done for you.

Unlike adults, kids encounter fractions every day, throughout their school years, and in spite of the near ubiquity of calculators, students are required to perform some exams, or parts of exams, sans electronics. So before you hop over to Amazon to buy a fractions calculator, please read on.

Fractions Can Be Fun

With a little creativity and effort, you can change your child’s mindset about fractions. Yes, you can. The best way to overcome fear is to replace it with fun. Thanks to many of the activities you’ll read about in this post, I’m happy to report that Emmaline now says, “Fractions are fun!” and she means it. Yes, it is possible.

Here are my favorite fun fractions tips.

pie for fractionsbrownies for fractions1) Ditch the pie. Drawing a pie to represent fractions is okay when you’re breaking a whole into halves or fourths, or even eighths. But dividing it into equal thirds is difficult (today’s kids did not grow up with peace signs), and it just gets harder for fifths, etc.

For teaching the parts of a whole, replace the pie sketch with a drawing of a brownie. Rectangles are much better than circles for explaining the idea of dividing a whole into parts. If you want to make it really interesting for your kids, use real brownies.

Healthier option: granola bars (go for soft, not crunchy). Some people like to use apples or other fruit, but it is difficult to cut them into equally sized pieces.

M&M Fractions Games2) Use candy. M&Ms and Skittles are fantastic for learning about parts of a whole group. I covered this in a previous post.

Healthier options: grapes, raisins, and nuts.

Brownies are also great for comparing the concept of the parts of a whole with that of the parts of a whole group. Divide brownies into pieces for parts of a whole. Divide a group of whole brownies into smaller groups for parts of a group. Kids need to understand both ways of thinking about fractions.


fraction tower3) Use manipulatives. Kids learn better when you combine multiple sensory inputs. So while visuals are great, visuals that they can touch and hold are better. Brownies are a manipulative of sorts, but they can get messy. One really great non-edible manipulative for learning fractions is the Fractions Tower, by Learning Resources. It comes with a hollow bar with “1” stamped on it, and a bunch of smaller bars with fractions from 1/2 to 1/12 stamped on them. Two “1/2″ pieces are as long as the “1” piece. Three “1/3″ pieces are the same length as the “1” piece. You get the picture.

I like to choose a set of pieces appropriate for a given student, say, the 1s, the 1/2s, the 1/4s, and the 1/8s. Then I challenge him to make a whole (equal in length to the “1” bar) in as many ways as he can. I know he is really getting it when he comes up with: 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/4 to make 1. Big high 5!

By the way, the Fractions Tower has fractions on only 1 side of all the bars. One side has the equivalent decimal number, and one side has the corresponding percentage. This is a tool that your child can use through middle school. Oh, and don’t be confused by the packaging. It says both “Fraction Tower” and “Fraction Cubes.” The word “cubes” is used very loosely, given that most of the pieces do not have equal sides in all dimensions. But I digress.

4) Create games with manipulatives. Combine visuals with touch, add a little friendly competition, and you have fun! Here are some ideas:

dominoes for fractionsDominoes Fractions

Give each player an even number of tiles, face down. On each turn, the player must turn over two tiles, and orient them so that they represent “proper” fractions. That is, the upper number (numerator) must be less than the bottom number (denominator). If the top and bottom have the same number of dots, so the fraction equals 1, that’s okay too. Then the player must decide which fraction is the smaller of the two. You can sort out the dominoes before starting, to limit the fractions to values that are appropriate for your child’s level. Also, remember, this is a learning game, and your child may not know the answer right away. Have a whiteboard and marker handy so you can draw brownies to help her figure out which fraction is smaller.

playing cards for fractionsCard Fractions

This version of card fractions is similar to the dominoes game described above. Deal cards to each player, in multiples of 4. (Remove the jokers and face cards first.) Then, on each turn, the player turns up 4 cards and makes 2 proper fractions with them. Then he decides which is smaller.



Fractions are fun with the Pizza Fractions Fun gamePizza Fractions, by Learning Resources

This is my all-time favorite way of teaching fractions. It costs between $15 and $20, but it makes learning sooooo much fun! It comes with several different spinners and instructions for several different games, and you can customize them to accommodate your child’s skill level. For younger students I start with 1/2, 1/4, and 1/8. Once they begin to understand that 2/4 is the same as 1/2, I bring in the 1/3 and 1/6 pieces. There is no end to the fun, or the learning, that is possible with this game.


Have fun!

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  • Gordon Shurtleff says:

    I believe using manipulatives in teaching fractions is the best way to introduce children to fractional portions. In earlier times, I believe “fractions” concept was taught in a more abstract manner, and so some children couldn’t relate too well, and so the term, “fractions” got a bad name. Manipulatives takes the child’s attention away from the abstract.

  • michele says:

    That’s right, Gordon! When kids can hold something in their hand, as well as see it and talk about it, it makes a LOT more sense. Plus, it’s a lot more fun. :)

  • Fraction is the name for part of something as distinct from the whole of it. The word itself means a small amount as, for example, when we ask someone to “move over a fraction.” We mean them to move over part of the way, not all the way.

    Fractional parts such as half, quarter, eighth, and so on form a part of daily language usage. When, for example, we refer to “half an hour,” “a quarter pound of coffee,” or “an eighth of a pie.” In arithmetic, the word fraction has a more precise meaning since a fraction is a numeral. Most fractions are called common fractions to distinguish them from special kinds of fractions like decimal fractions.

    A fraction is written as two stacked numerals with a line between them, the top figure is known as the numerator, while the bottom figure is called the denominator.

    Now, solving fractions is no longer difficult as before since there are several tutorials and guidelines that can be found on the internet. There is a fraction calculator that is very handy. There are even more online fraction calculator that can solve complex problems and even shows the solution.

  • Chris says:

    Teaching fraction to kids is always hard but I believe with this manipulative, kids will learn fast.

    • Reynold says:

      I have always heard people saying about teaching mathematics like telling stories will never work. There should be a difference in teaching, a strategy that would make the math topic stay at the mind of the children for sometime then they will never forget it.

  • Fiona Manonn says:

    This blog is amazing. the way you have mentioned all the tricks for parents to teach their children is the icing on the cake. Children love fun activities and we all can teach them through all these activities. keep it up! I am also into the field of education and we offer a two-week science and stem programs in UK. The London International Youth Science Forum (LIYSF) is a residential science enrichment programme for students at Imperial College London. The annual two-week programme attracts 500 students from 70 countries aged, 16-21 years old and includes lectures from leading scientists visits to world-class laboratories, and universities combined with cultural interaction. To know more about us, visit our website.

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