I have a confession…my very first year teaching I tried teaching comparing fractions to my 4th grade students the “right” way, and my kids just weren’t getting it. So, I just taught them fraction war instead…butterfly…cross multiply, whatever name you want to give it. Whewwww! My own understanding of fractions wasn’t deep enough to know any better. The next year I committed to improving my ability to teach this skill, conceptually, not with tricks. Maybe that’s why your here? If so, welcome, let’s learn together!
Two of my favorite math people in the world, Brittany Hege from Mix and Math and Donna Boucher from Coach’s Corner, preach CRA. Concrete, representational/pictorial, abstract. Concrete, meaning we want to start with something we can touch and manipulate. There are so many options for this for fractions. We can use traditional fraction tiles, fraction circles, or get a little more unconventional with pattern blocks, Cuisenaire rods, and my favorite, food!
My manipulatives of choice are fraction tiles and food. For my very first lesson on comparing fractions, we play a little “would you rather” game using actual food items! Chocolate bars, Rice Krispies, sour straws, really anything that’s easy to cut or break into fractional pieces! I bring these items into the classroom and ask students questions such as would you rather have 1/4 or 1/8 of a chocolate bar? Students often start by making the classic mistake of picking the bigger number, 8! I don’t say a word! I just cut and show what 1/4 of the bar looks like and give them 1/8 of the bar.
For the first couple of questions, we don’t really debrief or discuss the decision that was made. I just let the wheels turn and the light bulbs come on! It’s truly magical. I typically start with comparisons that have a similar numerator or denominator, then we move on to more tricky comparisons. Would you rather have 3/6 of a Rice Krispie or 5/8? I try to sneak in several of the strategies I plan to teach later in the week for comparing fraction (more on this later).
This is basically our lesson for the entire day! As we move along, we have discussions with turn and talk partners and as a class to verbalize our thinking and what we’ve learned. It’s real-life fractions and it sticks with students!
The last thing I love to do for this lesson is give students the chance to respond individually. Seesaw is perfect for this! You can take a few of the comparing fraction slides and post them into an assignment. Students have the chance to respond through text or audio using the Seesaw tools.
In part 2, we will discuss other strategies to help 4th grade students compare fractions as we move from concrete to more abstract thinking!
- Comparing Fractions Poster
- Comparing Fractions Maze with Models (members only)
- Comparing Fractions Maze No Models (members only)
Let’s talk fractions again real soon!