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Ways to explain fractions to kids

Updated on May 4, 2013

Step by Step Fractions

As a 4th grade Math teacher I have learned easy ways to help struggling students understand fractions. Often the best way to help any child grasp Math is to use everyday things that they are familiar with. Pull out the measuring cup, or buy a pizza. Find pictures of whole objects and cut them into various fractions.

The Basics

Basically you want to start off by explaining that fractions are parts or pieces of a whole. A whole is equal to one. The numerator represents the amount of parts being selected, shaded, or discussed. The denominator represents how many pieces make the whole. So if you bought a pizza and had eight slices making up the pizza, 8/8 would equal one whole pizza. If you ate three pieces that would be 3/8 eaten and 5/8 remaining. Have your child draw squares and break it up into how many pieces the denominator says a given fraction has if it was a whole.

Comparing: Give kids a hands on experience

Another way we can teach fractions is by having the child use small whole squares on index cards. Have the child use a ruler and marker to make fractions on the squares. Have them compare different fractions by looking at their cards. Take a string and place the cards in order from the smallest shaded pieces to the largest shaded pieces.

Improper Fractions

Using the same whole objects idea, before explaining improper fractions to kids, make sure they fully understand the basic concepts first. Then just ask them to show you for example, what 7/4 looks like. If they understand what a numerator and a denominator represents in reference to a whole then they will be able to add this with ease to their knowledge of fractions. You can explain using the pizza again. If you know that there are 8 pieces in each whole and say that you have 13 pieces left over from three pizzas you bought, what fractional part is that of the three pizzas? Remember that the denominator is how many pieces make 1 whole. Meaning 8 would go at the bottom of the bar and 13 would go at the top. Once the child has adequate practice and starts to make connections then draw their attention to mixed numbers. Hopefully, in using everyday visuals of fractions they will make connections that will make it easier for you to also discuss mixed numbers. Let’s say you cut 5 squares into 4s equally and remove 2 pieces. You have them put as many whole squares together as they can. Ask them how many whole squares do you have and how many pieces are left? They should notice 4 whole squares and 2/4.

Effectively asking Questions

One of the biggest things that make effective teachers is their ability to ask questions in a way to help students make their own discoveries. So what would be good questions to ask about fractions?

  • How many pieces do you see?
  • How many are selected, shaded, or taken?
  • How many make a whole? What is a whole?
  • What is the fractional part?
  • What do you notice about equivalent fractions?
  • Where would the fractions go on the number line? Remember smallest to largest.


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Index cards Activity

Example of fractions that my students made in class. I saw improvements with my struggling students after doing this activity.
Example of fractions that my students made in class. I saw improvements with my struggling students after doing this activity. | Source
Students will begin to see how fractions compare in size, how some are equivalent, and also how the larger the denominator is the smaller the pieces. It is effective for teachers to ask good questions to help students notice all the details.
Students will begin to see how fractions compare in size, how some are equivalent, and also how the larger the denominator is the smaller the pieces. It is effective for teachers to ask good questions to help students notice all the details. | Source

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