Get the FREE Guide to Multiplication Fluency ➔

Comparing Fractions with Manipulatives and Math Talk

In  Part 1 of How to Compare Fractions, I explained how I used fraction strips to have students explore fraction sizes.  Comparing fractions and their sizes visually helped my students establish a benchmark fraction of one-half.  In PART 2, I will show you how I used the same fraction strips to enhance mathematical conversations with supporting arguments. I’ll also show you how I enhanced the process with technology.

comparing fractions and math talk

Comparing Fractions with Strategies

By now, the students understood that the larger the denominator number, the smaller the fraction piece. Fraction strips visually support this.  In this lesson on comparing fractions, I used the fraction strips again to review the strategies we had learned while having the students use the following mathematical practices:

the Common Core Mathematical Practices

One strategy we had learned when comparing fractions was to use the denominators FIRST.  If they are the same, then we just use the numerator to determine the biggest and smallest fraction (greater than or less than).

If the denominators are different, but the numerators were the same, we then use the denominator to reason abstractly about unit fraction size (would you rather have an eighth of a pizza or a half of a pizza?).  The fraction pieces helped support those students who still had a difficult time with reasoning abstractly in their heads.

Comparing Fractions by Working With a Partner

I gave each student a bag of fraction strips.  They worked with a partner to complete the following task.

Fraction Task to compare fractions

As they did this, I went around providing guidance (to those confused about what to do) while hearing their arguments in support of which was largest.  I would ask the partner group:  how do you know it is the largest?  It was exciting to hear how the students used the mathematical terms of numerator and denominator to support their arguments of which was largest.

partner work on a mathematical task using fraction strips

Fraction Task 2

We started with the simpler task of just comparing fractions with the same denominator.  Then I upped the ante to Task 2, which ask the students to use the fractions strips to make two fractions with different denominators but the same numerators.  Again, it was confusing to some exactly what the task was so I circulated around and helped those students understand the task.

Providing scaffolding for mathematical conversations

As students were working with their partners, I again circulated to hear arguments.  If there were some good arguments or explanations I took a photo of the fractions made with the fractions strips to share with the entire group.

comparing fractions with fraction strips

Why did I do this?  I want students to use mathematical language and practice those mathematical practices!  By taking photos of the different models, other students can listen to see how to explain your thinking so others can understand as well.

As I had students explain or present their argument for the largest fraction, I also made sure the other students stayed involved using Marilyn Burns Math Talk® techniques:

Using math talk sentence frames to compare fractions

Using Math Talk to Compare Fractions

These kinds of questions I use during my math instruction as much as I can to keep the engagement up. I sometimes even use my pick sticks to call on random students.  Keeps them on their toes!

I think if I taught this same lesson again, I would also add another component:  Duo to Duo share.  I would have one set of partners to share their explanation with another set of partners.  Then keep rotating around the room for more practice.

I also projected student models for everyone to see and use for practice.

comparing fractions with models

Using Technology to Enhance Understanding

If you’re wondering how I was able to project the photos to the entire class, it was done with an iPhone, an AppleTV and a projector.

projecting a photo of the visual models from my phone
using AirPlay to show the entire class the models
Comparing fractions using technology such as Air Play

It is a very quick and simple process to AirPlay over to my projector anytime I want to show something from my MacBook, iPad or iPhone.  I also used student samples for others to come up and explain which fraction was larger or smaller.

comparing fractions using inequalities

Saving the Most Difficult Strategy for Last

The next day I taught using the fraction strips again.  This time, it was to teach probably the most difficult strategy for students to grasp:  the missing piece strategy.

It is a strategy that twists your brain around…at least for a third grader!  It requires to think OPPOSITE of what you see.  But with fraction strips, it becomes more understandable and easier to explain.

comparing fractions missing piece strategy

I had the students build two fractions:  3/4 and 2/3.  Each fraction is missing just one piece for it to complete a whole.  This is the way I had the students use this strategy.

  • What is the missing piece in 3/4?  1/4…find a one-fourth fraction strip.
  • What is the missing piece in 2/3?  1/3…find a one-third fraction strip.
  • Now put the one-fourth strip above the one-third strip.  Which is bigger? The one-third piece.
  • Then using this sentence frame we reasoned it out:
  • Because the missing piece ____________ is larger than the missing piece ____________, we can say that _______________ is larger than ________________.
  • Here’s how it looks with the example fractions:
comparing fractions missing piece strategy

As you can see, it can be hard for a student to follow along especially English Language Learners.  So by using the fraction strips and the sentence frame, the thinking can be scaffolded until complete understanding is achieved.

A New Comparing Fractions Resource in my Store!

I have been working on an extensive Comparing Fractions PowerPoint to teach comparing fractions. It’s now available in my store! It has 90 slides in 6 parts.  Check out what’s included!

In Part 3 students compare and order fractions in Google Slides for digital practice that will prepare them for online state testing.

Also, check out How I Taught Equivalent Fractions.

Cover for How I Taught Equivalent Fractions

Don’t Go Yet!

Sign up for my newsletter to receive the Comparing Fractions Resource Poster for FREE! The poster includes three essential strategies for comparing fractions: using benchmarks, comparing the same denominators, comparing different denominators.

Comparing Fractions with Manipulatives and Math Talk
Share it:

You might also like...

Leave a Comment