What Exactly is a Fraction Anyway?

When I was a student in elementary school, I dreaded learning about fractions. It was a very tough concept for me. All I remember is shading in boxes and finding common denominators. I never understood what I was doing.

I decided as a teacher that my mission was to help fractions make sense to my students.  So I introduce the concept very slowly and very carefully.  Because this is so abstract for students, it must be connected to the real world the whole way through the unit.

We started learning about fractions by trying to figure out what a fraction actually is.  I know that sounds obvious, but I need to find out what my students know. So I posted the question, What is a fraction?

I gave a large piece of paper to small groups and asked them to write everything they know. They all pretty much came back with something along these lines.  There were a lot of I don’t knows, and a lot of blank stares. The people who did write something just wrote symbols or numbers.


Not one student could tell me what a fraction really was. So I tried to clarify it for them with a simple drawing.



Now that the definition is out of the way, maybe we can move into the conceptual understanding part! I make it a point to say those words daily as we talk about what we learned the day before. The emphasis in the Common Core State Standards for fractions in third grade is on parts of a whole, so that is what we’ll focus on!

How do you help your students know the meaning of math vocabulary?



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