One of the toughest concepts to teach in third grade is fractional parts. Although students are exposed to fractions for the first time in first grade, and they are fairly aware of the concept of equal shares, the concept can still be very difficult for students to talk about and then demonstrate mastery of.
Although I am largely a hands on learner myself, I appreciate this take from Graham Fletcher. What I enjoy the most about his videos is that I can see a progression. Each year, I re-familiarize myself with this as I am beginning my unit. It helps me to see where kids starting points are, but it also helps me to see where I could press kids to the next level.
Prioritize the conceptual understanding
Because students in third require a conceptual understanding of this particular topic, students MUST use manipulatives and develop their language around the concept. Often, the management of manipulative use in classrooms prevents teachers from diving into their use, but with fractions? It’s an imperative.
The first day of my fractions unit, I always create an anchor chart with students to help them recall the vocabulary and to establish the idea of equal shares. I just take some butcher paper over to the die cut machine and make a set of circles and squares for each child. I teach them how to cut into halves, thirds, fourths and eighths. I try to have students fold first so that they can ‘see’ where they are cutting before they do it.
Create opportunities to verbally practice vocabulary
With each cut, I have students discuss the cut they made and the vocabulary connected to it. Then they can glue the parts into their notebooks and label each part. This is a great way to have students read, write, think and talk during your opening lesson. The manipulatives that they create and the vocabulary they note will help them to discuss the fractional parts more readily.
On my second day of instruction I begin teaching through different models with students. One of my favorite manipulatives to make is the length model. It’s fairly easy to do. I just cut strips of colored construction paper and teach the children how to fold the parts in order to make equal shares. One way to support learners who struggle with this is to offer them a mini-ruler to create a hash mark for where they need to fold.
This is one of my favorite tools to practice talking about how to compare fractional lengths with partners. I have a special anchor chart that I use to help students discuss comparing fractions. I also assign partners for this activity.
Know where you want learners to go.
Make sure that you look at what the standard calls for with your standard. I always look at the test before teaching so that I can familiarize myself with what the end goal for learning should be. For this set of lessons, my goal was to hit NF. 1.1. Students need to understand that a fraction represents equal parts of a whole and that a unit fraction is one part of a whole.
After the first full week of instruction, I usually implement my spiral review for the unit. This increases independence in the mornings when I am having them practice. If you’d like to check out my spiral review that would align with this content, click HERE.
I hope these ideas will help you launch your fractions learning with your thirds in an impactful way! It’s one of my faves to teach! Stand by for other posts on this topic as I make my way through the unit!