Fractions Strips

Lori Fury, math teacher in Western Placer Unified School District, tells us how to use the "Fraction Strips" activity to help students build their understanding of what a fraction is and how various fractions compare to one another.

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Lori Fury, math teacher in Western Placer Unified School District in Lincoln, California.


My name is Lori Fury and I’m a math teacher in Western Placer Unified School District in Lincoln, California. I do math with all age groups. As a teacher on special assignment, I often work with the California Math Project in the areas of lesson study as a coach and as a Summer Institute director and mentor. I’m most excited about building fraction understanding for students.

One way to do this is to allow students to experience making “Fraction Strips”. Fraction strips are a great way to build student understanding of what a fraction is and how various fractions compare to one another. I would recommend this strategy for students in grades three or four.

In grade three math standards, students will learn the definition of a fraction and making fraction strips will help them build this concept. In fourth grade, students compare fractions with various denominators enumerators. When students see and compare fractions in their hands, they build a conceptual understanding of how these numbers are defined.

First, cut a piece of regular printer paper into thinner pieces. What makes this activity work is ensuring that each strip of paper is the same size before folding and making labels of the fractions. Give students guidance on folding one strip at a time.

Students can make halves by folding the strip in half. They can make fourths by folding the strip in half and then in half again, before unfolding. Similarly, eights can be made by folding a strip in half three times before you unfold it. Thirds can be made by overlapping the two edges of the strip of paper in the middle, and then creasing it. It’s much more challenging to make thirds because it’s difficult to line the paper up this way. From making thirds, you can make six by folding the strip in half before you unfold the paper.

When giving students instruction on folding, take your time and allow students to show you their progress either by holding up their strips after each step, or by partnering them up and supporting each partnership and circulating the class.

It’s also helpful to be creating the strips while the students are showing them, and then you could show your strips for each step in the progress. By using some technology, like a document camera, you can make this process more visible to students also.

Once you have created your various fractions, then you can write the fraction labels on the strips. For example, after making fourth fractions strips you can label the folds “one fourth”, “two fourths” and “three fourths”, whereas the ends would be labeled zero fourths and four fourths. Now that the strips are made and labeled the fractions can be compared for length. It is beneficial to have students compare several fractions.

Allow students the opportunity to predict which fraction will be greater before they put their fraction strips beside each other for comparison. Giving students a chance to practice prediction can be supported with sentence frames such as, “I think [blank] will be less greater because [blank]”. Another comparison sentence frame is: “I know that [blank] is [blank] because [blank]”.

After predicting which fraction is going to be less or greater, allow students to see what happens when those fractions are placed side by side vertically. Students will be able to see the size of the fractions being compared this way, and they will be able to determine which one is longer. Building fraction strips with students can help them develop a full understanding of what fractions are and how they compare with each other.

My name is Lori Fury. Thank you so much. I hope you enjoy this video and this lesson with your students.

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