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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!

Math Expressions Online Games

Bruce has now finished his 2nd grade Hougton Mifflin math books from our local school district.  We are very excited to move on to something more inspiring. Since it is Spring Break, he’s taking a week off from paper and pencil math work.  Next week, I’ll probably start him on Right Start Level C.   A lot of that will be review, but some of it will be new ways of thinking about things he already knows.

But before I stop blogging forever about Hougton Mifflin, I wanted to share the link to the free online games that go with the curriculum.  They are only ho-hum, but are at least worth a few days of your kids playing them while you cook dinner.