5 tips for teaching fractions with confidence

|4 min read

Fractions have long been a cause for primary maths teachers’ anxiety. To help build teacher confidence in this topic, Deputy Headteacher Grace Beckford shares her tips on how to teach fractions.

When working with new members of staff, the impending doom they feel when the fractions unit approaches is something I’ve always found interesting — particularly because fractions are my favourite thing to teach! There’s something really satisfying about seeing children conquer what has typically been one of the most complex concepts in primary maths.

For anyone nervous about teaching fractions, or for anyone new to teaching it, I usually advise them with the following tips.

1. Use concrete manipulatives to provide real-life context

Helping children get a physical sense for what a fraction is, is the first step to breaking down barriers and building your learners’ foundation. Depending on the year group, you can teach fractions using bar models or commonly split items, such as pizzas or cakes, to demonstrate and provide real-life context for fractions.

The need to provide relatable context in children’s learning, and the benefits of using manipulatives to provide that context, applies to all year groups — it doesn’t go away despite the myth that ‘Year 6 learners don’t need visual representations’. I use them with everyone, from early fraction visualisation through to dividing fractions in KS2.

2. Teach fractions in a logical sequence

Fractions need to be taught in small steps, and every step is important. Make sure that your class understands the vocabulary and the value of a fraction. Doing this means that your learners will have a deeper understanding of fractions, especially when learning how to add and subtract fractions, instead of just rote learning the procedure. In all subjects, not only when teaching fractions, making links between learning at every opportunity is invaluable.

Top tip: Teaching learners that the the numerator and denominator are different, even though they are represented in the same way, is essential to helping your learners understand fractions.

3. Consult and share subject knowledge with your peers

If you’re finding something difficult to understand yourself, don’t worry — there is always someone who can help! Speaking to the next year group’s team can often help provide context as to where your teaching is headed and where you and your learners need to go. If you feel like you can’t comfortably ask someone at your school about teaching fractions (or any other topic), reach out to the Twitter community! Your peers on #EduTwitter are an endless source of support.

4. Challenge learners to demonstrate their thinking

There will often be children who have learned a process without any understanding of why they are doing it. These children will typically struggle to apply their knowledge outside of the maths classroom.

Always look for this in your learners and challenge it. One way to encourage learners to make deeper connections is by having them draw their thinking and present it to the class, demonstrating their mastery of fractions. This can help you diagnose which learners may need further support, and help learners feel empowered in a collaborative learning environment.

Top tip: Incorporating maths journals into your lessons is an excellent way to assess your learners’ understanding.

5. Celebrate fractions accomplishments

Finally, enjoy the fruits of your labour! The most rewarding part of teaching fractions for me has always been watching Year 6 children fly through fractions questions when completing their SATs, where previously they may not have had such success.

Making children feel like they have conquered something challenging is rewarding, and it helps to develop their confidence and resilience in maths. In turn, it can build up your teaching confidence and, hopefully, help you feel as I do about teaching fractions.

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illustration of cake missing a piece and a pie chart missing one sixth of the pie and fraction in numerals showing 5 over 6