Category Archives: fractions

Four operations of fractions by folding paper

Another idea from Mike Ollerton’s workshops.  This file gives a comprehensive explanation of the activity, which starts like this:


I have used a similar task before but I realised that I had missed a key step which is to label each fraction after folding:


The file then goes on to describe how to use this for demonstrating all four operations: add, subtract, multiply, divide. It’s a lovely way of reinforcing the concept of equivalent fractions at every stage.

My only reservation with this task is that doing the folding in the first place might be a barrier for some learners.  Especially folding something into thirds – it’s not straightforward.

I have added some Powerpoint printables that provide guidelines along which to fold. Note these are set up as A4, so print them 2 to a page and then cut.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 17.46.26

In a sense, I can see that this might detract from the notion of “folding in half” because it becomes “fold along that line”.  I haven’t had enough experience of which is the “better” way to do this – I’d be very happy if anyone wanted to share their thoughts!


Comparing Fractions

There is something very simple about a task which presents two numbers and simply asks “which is bigger?”.  This should be done using mathematical notation, i.e. using the < > symbols. I have seen these being introduced successfully in Year 1 without any mention of crocodiles, or such similar unhelpful “stories”.  But my Year 7 class still insist on calling them crocodiles and drawing teeth on them.  But hey, I have bigger battles to fight…

As well as comparing 2 fractions we can put multiple fractions into order from smallest to largest. There is a significant range of difficulty in this apparently simple task.

  1. Comparing fractions of the same denominator
  2. Unitary fractions with different denominators
  3. Same numerator, different denominators
  4. Different denominators where one is a multiple of another.
  5. Different denominators where a common denominator needs to be found for both fractions.

Alongside all of these there may also be strategies where learners are using known facts or doing calculations to convert to decimals or percentages, e.g. 1/2=0.5, 2/5=0.4, therefore 1/2 > 2/5.  That is not the intention of this task (it is of a different task here) but in the end we want learners to be able to play with all these ideas and I can’t really control, nor would I want to control, the order in which they coalesce in students’ mind.

Here is a simple set of cards that I used recently.  I got the students to do the last bit of cutting to turn each strip into the 3 separate cards.  I also told them that there is deliberately some space alongside the fraction to enable them to write equivalent fractions if they needed to.


I gave them out a strip at a time, the idea being that they were to “slot in” the subsequent fractions to maintain the order.  The fractions are carefully chosen, so that each time they get a new strip they are having to apply the next level of reasoning.  The first set are simple but this can end up quite challenging especially if they chose their own more “exotic” fractions.

It can be a bit of a hassle preparing and managing card sort exercises in the classroom.  Whenever I see a resource that is created as a card sorts, I always think, could students get the same benefit by just writing in their books. But for some tasks such as this, I think it is worth it as it enables a richer discussion and the possibility for learners to easily changing their mind as they are building understanding.


Fraction problems

These problems are ones that are made much clearer by drawing a rectangle to represent the “whole” and then deciding how to divide it into equal parts.  The numbers are not too tricky but interpreting the question might be:


These are not intended to be fraction of an amount questions.  An approach could be to decide upon an amount, but the intention is to direct students to drawing a representation of each question.



Fraction images

Imagery is so important to help with conceptual understanding of fractions and I have seen some really powerful uses of imagery in lessons recently.  So I thought I would create some kind of repository of fractions images that can easily be used when designing lessons involving fractions. The Windows snipping tool, Smart Notebook Screen Capture toolbar or Shift-command-4 on a Mac will all come in handy to quickly pull these images into your lesson.

A really quick way to create fraction images like these is on Excel (or Google Sheets).  It’s much easier and more accurate than trying to create boxes in Powerpoint or on Smart Notebook. There are a random collection of these in this spreadsheet, all very easy to adjust by changing shading and/or borders of the cells as required.

You might be looking for something a bit more pictorial:

There is a large and also rather random collection of these in this PowerPoint. Many thanks to Declan Byrne from the London SE Maths Hub for agreeing to share these which have been compiled from his lessons.

Finally, there are some handy websites that enable you to create images which again can be quickly cropped into your lesson.

  1. National Strategies Virtual Manipulatives – there are a bunch of these that were created as part of the National Strategies and now hosted on eMaths.  You can quickly and easily create bar fractions like these and add or remove the fraction, decimal, percentage and ratio alongside.screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-23-11-02
  2. NRICH Cuisenaire Environment – A simple to use tool for displaying Cuisenaire rods on screen with a grid.


3. Clip Art Kid – some images on this site which might be useful



A range of more complex fraction shapes including Tangrams:

Screen Shot 2017-02-26 at 20.21.24.png


If you have any more suggestions for places to find or ways to create fraction images, please let me know by leaving a comment below and I will update this blog post.

Quarter the Cross

UPDATED POST. I used this task at my workshop at #mixedattainmentmaths on Saturday. I asked all teachers to have a go at this task but to do it in what they thought was the most obvious / simplest way.  An interesting experiment: what is obvious to some is not to others.  Of the solutions that I managed to take in, these were the choices:


This looks like a very useful open-ended task which provides an opportunity for creative solutions and rich discussion.  I have produce some printouts here.


In my view, the value in this activity is in representing each area as a fraction calculation.

According the Australian blog where I first read about this task, this is one of the most common first solutions


I’d be looking for some rationalising as to why the red area is a quarter. For example:

Screen Shot 2017-01-07 at 12.26.39.png

There are 100 solutions posted here!


And on a Prezi here enabling you to zoom into each one individually.

This is potentially very high ceiling. If students are struggling to come up with suitably challenging solutions of their own, you could always ask:

Show why this is a quarter:screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-05-15-29

Have a go first yourself.  I think this is a pretty mammoth task! This one caught my eye, but you might want to have a look at the 100 solutions to find something a bit easier!

Since this post was originally written back in January, I have used this task a couple of times at conferences and had some really good discussions on this example.  If you want a rather big hint, scroll down to see an animation.  Or you can find the Geogebra file here.







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FDP ordering activity

This is a simple card sort activity where students fill in the blanks, practising converting between fractions, decimals and percentages and then placing them in order from smallest to largest.

What I particularly like about it is that you can hand out the cards in 3 sets of 5.  This could provide differentiation, but more importantly (in my view) it gives the teacher the chance to assess the progress of the students as they go. It’s easy to glance at Set A to see if they have worked it out.img_20161207_132457

As you circulate the class, helping students you can give out Set B which interleave with Set A to produce this:


And then finally with Set C, you get this:


Here is the pdf as a set of 15 cards, but if you are printing a class set, then I strongly recommend using the Excel version here.  This is set up so you print 5 at a time.  They come out stacked so that as you cut you have a set of 5 already in a pile without needing to sort them.

Also, if you want to change the actual values and which values you show, you can do that on the spreadsheet too.