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Supporting Students Struggling with Fractions

Supporting Students Struggling with Fractions


Third grade is a huge year for math. Concepts such as multiplication, division, and fractions are introduced for the first time. Kids can get overwhelmed with all of this new information, and it can be difficult to know how to support these struggling students.

Fractions are one topic that can seem really scary and complicated. A solid foundational understanding of fractions is key to success in later years. Kids who struggle with later fractional concepts may just need more support in fraction basics.


Fractions are just parts of a whole. Everything done with fractions can be shown with a model. So, when introducing (or reintroducing) fractions, show whole shapes broken into parts. Explain that these parts are called "fractional parts." Make sure your students understand the connection between the number of parts in a whole and halves, thirds, fourths, etc...

This isn't too hard to prep. Print out a page with blank rectangles or circles. You could use other regular shapes, but that might be too complicated for your students. Have the student roll a die to determine the number of fractional parts for each shape. For example, if a student rolls a two, one of the rectangles will be divided into two parts. For more of a challenge, you can have your students name each fractional part with a unit fraction.


Unit fractions are the most highly leverageable part of teaching fractions. I only teach unit fractions until kids are comfortable recognizing and naming them. Then, to introduce regular fractions with different numerators, I show the students how they can add unit fractions to make bigger fractions.

I love this strategy because it can be used to teach fractions less than one and greater than one. There isn't a big leap from adding 6 unit fractions to make 6 eighths and adding 9 unit fractions to make 9 eighths. The transition to fractions greater than one is no big deal. Teaching fractions the old way caused a lot of kids to fall behind when fractions greater than one were introduced.


If you have fraction dice, you can have kids roll one fraction die and one regular die. They will add the unit fraction rolled as many times as shown on the second die. For example, 1 fourth and 5 will become 5 fourths. Kids can draw the fraction on a fraction model, show how to add the unit fractions to make the new fraction, and show their thinking using a number bond or tape diagram. You could even have students show their thinking on a number line, but this may be challenging for some students at this point.


One way to easily transition kids from the tape diagram to the number line is to have number lines aligned to tape diagrams. Kids will be used to labeling unit fractions on the tape diagrams, then they can transfer their work onto the number line. This will take some prep work from you because you will need papers that have tape diagrams above number lines with fractions marked.

Teaching kids to multiply unit fractions by whole numbers is also a smooth transition when working with unit fractions because students learn to connect multiplication to repeated addition. 3 times 1 fourth just means 1 fourth plus 1 fourth plus 1 fourth.

With this method there are no big jumps. Everything builds on itself. It also allows you to see exactly where students are having misconceptions, so you can work together to correct them.

If you want to try teaching fractions or remediating fractions using this method, I have some freebies to get you started. You can get them by subscribing to my site!

If you are looking for more fractions practice, you can get it here:

Remember that you don't need anything in my store to teach fractions using this step by step approach. You can use materials you already have or create your own. Here are the steps that students need to understand...

1. Fractions are parts of a whole.

2. Fractions are named for the number of parts found in each whole.

3. The more parts in a whole, the smaller each individual part.

4. Unit fractions are one part of the whole.

5. Unit fractions can be added together to make bigger fractions. This can be modeled using fraction models, number bonds, or tape diagrams.

6. Unit fractions can be multipled by whole numbers to make bigger fractions. This can be modeled using fraction models, number bonds, or tape diagrams.

7. Fractions can be shown on a number line because a number line can be broken down into parts between whole numbers.

There are more pieces to understanding fractions than just these basic steps. However, if your students fully understand these seven concepts, the rest of fractions will feel much more manageable than before.

Do you have any thoughts on teaching fractions? Share your comments below! If you have something helpful, I will contact you to work together to create a blog post and freebie. You will be helping other teachers out, and you will get anything from my store as a thank you!

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