Do your students really understand fractions? Having a solid understanding of what a fraction really means begins with being able to compare fractions. Check out these five effective strategies for comparing fractions.
Compare Fractions Using Models
If you were really hungry, would you rather have half a graham cracker or one fourth of a graham cracker?
Introduce fractions with this question gets kids thinking. Have kids write down what they’d want. Then, give them what they requested. Some kids may have saw the 4 in 1/4 and assumed that because 4 is bigger, their piece would be bigger. Now you have their attention.
Kids need to touch and look at fractions. As they begin to understand that a fraction is part of a whole, they need to experience it. I love using Fraction Tiles with kids. If you don’t have fraction manipulatives in your classroom, check out this post where I share free online fraction manipulatives.
When I introduce comparing fractions, models are essential. Models can be fraction tiles, pictures, numberlines, food or paper they cut.
Don’t forget to use number lines as models.
Compare Fractions with a Common Denominator
The first step to understanding how to compare fractions without a model is understanding the meaning of a denominator. If the denominators are the same, that means the pieces are the same size. Now students can think of the numerators as the number of pieces.
Compare Fractions with a Common Numerator
Comparing common numerators helps students think deeper about fractions. Now, they begin to think of the denominator as the size of the part of a whole.
Compare Fractions Using Half as a Benchmark
Many children grew up eating food that has been cut in half. So, the concept of half has been solidified over time for them.
Start out introducing this strategy by having them identify which fraction are more than, less than, and equal to half. Once they have that part down, they are ready to use that information to compare.
Compare Fractions One Away from the Whole
Let students discover this strategy without having to explain it. Here is an example:
Build one whole out of fifths. Build one whole out of tenths. Take one piece away from each. Do you now have more fifths or tenths? Why? Write two fractions to show what you have and use a symbol to compare.
After a few guided builds, have a math talk. Look for patterns. What do they notice? Have them compare without manipulatives.
Resources for Comparing Fractions
Looking for resources you can use to teach these strategies in your classroom? I used pictures from some of my resources in this blog post. I have task cards for each strategy and a digital resource with all the strategies.