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Fractions in Action


Have you ever seen one of these? It’s a hands-on way to teach fractions.

All you need is construction paper, scissors, a stapler, and markers.

Staple five pieces of construction paper together and then slice them up to make a flip book. At this point, hand the book over to your kid. Let him figure out how to cut and label the pages to make a fraction flip book.

I did this project with fourth graders this afternoon, and it took them about thirty minutes to make their first book. Then I passed out more paper and it took them fifteen minutes to make a second book, using 1/3, 1/6, 1/9, and 1/12. The second set of fractions was more difficult, but by then they had mastered the whole concept behind the activity.

If you try this at home, don’t be afraid to let your child struggle. Tape is okay! That means learning happened. 😉




Teach how to simplify fractions in a hands-on way


Full disclaimer! This activity is a billion times more fun with candy and peanut butter. Unfortunately, we used plastic tiles today.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

Free time at home gave us the chance to do some fraction review, to support what’s coming up next in my son’s Houghton Mifflin Math Expressions book.

This is one of those teaching activities that will either seems silly to you (if you had a strong childhood math experience), or else will be a huge light-bulb moment (if your childhood math was based on drill, kill and memorization.)

Are you ready to see what you think?

Here’s one way to make the abstract concept of simplifying and unsimplifying fractions, hands on and concrete.


Use tiles, candy, crackers, or other manipulatives to make fractions come to life. In this example, 8 out of 12 tiles are yellow.


“Peanut butter” them together, and all of a sudden, 8/12 becomes 2/3.


After you do it with manipulatives, then introduce the formula. Divide the numerator and denominator by 4, and you turn 8/12 into 2/3.

Here’s another one:


This time, we are going to unsimplify the fraction.


Now we can see that six out of nine tiles being red is the same thing as two thirds.

Okay, so plastic tiles makes fractions a little bit more fun. But if we were working with M&M’s, this would be awesome!

Peanut Buttering (Reducing) Fractions

Today for fun, we repeated an activity Bruce and I had done a while ago, called Peanut Buttering fractions.  This is a lesson on reducing fractions that I learned with I was going through teacher training for Constructivist math.  It is a wonderful example of a hands-on activity helping children construct their own understanding of a mathematical concept.  The whole word “reducing” doesn’t make a lot of sense when you think about it, because the actual quantity of the fraction your reduce never decreases or diminishes.  Peanut buttering, makes a lot more sense.

To start, I asked Bruce to tell me which fraction of the MnMs were red.  He answered 3/9. 

By this point, Bruce totally remembered what to do next, which was the reduce the fraction with peanut butter.  But with a child new to the activity, there is a lot language prompting you can introduce to help guide them to discovering how this works on their own.  “Look for groups.  Do you see a way to group the candy evenly?  Instead of having so many red candy, can you make a clump with peanut butter?  Oh, you make a red clump of three, can you make green clumps of three?”  etc.

After peanut buttering, 3/9 of the candy being red, becomes 1/3 of the candy. 

Here’s another problem we did.  By this time, things were getting pretty sticky!

What fraction of the candy is green?  10/20

Bruce’s first attempt at peanut buttering, and he turned 10/20 into 2/4.

I asked him to if he could peanut butter even more, and he made 2/4 into 1/2.  1/2 of the MnMs were green.

On a side note, my MIL brought that giant tub of Jif over to our house when my husband and I were in Europe.  We usually eat organic peanut butter instead.  The hydrogenated stuff actually works better for this activity though, because natural peanut butter is a bit too slippery.

Another Outside Fraction Lesson

Bruce and I are still reviewing reducing and multiplying fractions.  We did this lesson out in the yard, and afterwards looked at the problem again on the whiteboard. 

2/8 of the flowers are pink.

“Peanut Butter” them together, and 1/4 of the flowers are pink.

Share half of the pink flowers with Jenna.  1/2 of 1/4 = 1/8.  Jenna gets 1/8 of the flowers.

That’s the same whiteboard I use for the Morning Message by the way.  It get’s a lot of use!

Outside Fraction Lesson

We took our fraction lesson outside today.  Bruce has been reading Life of Fred Fractions and is now on chapter 28th.  I like to try to include as many hands on lessons as possible, so we did this one spur of the moment, on reducing and multiplying.  Normally I’d do this activity with M’nM’s and peanut butter, but I didn’t have any.

Here we start with a review of naming fractions, and the terms numerator and denominator.

This is where you “peanut butter” them together, (if we had peanut butter), to reduce the fraction.

Next we reviewed multiplication.  First we did with the algorithm from Life of Fred.  So starting out, Bruce knew the answer was going to be 1/6.  Then he needed to prove it by ripping the leaves in half and sharing 1/2 of the green leaf with me.

Here’s the answer shown in leaves and Bruce’s own handwriting.  1/6!