Fractions explained - a visual guide for parents
As adults, we use fractions every day - dividing a pizza, telling the time and splitting the bill - but most of us have all but forgotten how we came to learn and understand them.
At Komodo HQ we know how important it is to be able to help our kids learn topics they are struggling with (and fractions can be hard), so we have put together this guide to fractions so you can support your child when they need a bit of extra help.
Read our introduction to fractions here
How children are taught fractions
Children understand fractions better when they are used in a real life context such as length, time, money and weight - the way we use them every day as adults. However, children learn fractions better by using models, which give a visual representation.
'Area models' use coloured shapes to teach fractions. With these, it's easy to see how much of the whole each fraction takes up. A typical exercise might be for children to work out what fraction in each shape is coloured.
A common misunderstanding for children is that the smaller the denominator, the smaller the fraction. For example, children might think that 1/5 is bigger than 1/3 simply because 5 is a larger number than 3.
On the other hand, most children understand that they will get a bigger slice of pizza if it is shared between three people rather than five, so use this analogy (and a fraction wall which you can print out here) to help them see how it works!
Using sets of objects is another way of teaching fractions. In a sets based activity, children might be asked to draw a ring around 1/2 of the items in the sets below.
A child who is struggling with understanding fractions might attempt to answer this by cutting each individual shape in half, like this:
It's not wrong exactly, but it indicates that they haven't fully grasped the idea of a fraction as a number in its own right. Lots of exercises using sets can help with understanding this!
Read our article on difficulties with fractions for more information on how to deal with issues like this.
Number lines help students move on to seeing fractions as numbers that are between whole numbers, and to be able to understand them as a way of talking about time and distance. A typical exercise might be:
So your child has to count how many times each number line has been split up and decide how far along the line the fraction goes.
Enjoy exploring fractions using visual models - take a look at our fractions glossary below for any terms you might be unsure of!
About Komodo – Komodo is a fun and effective way to boost primary maths skills. Designed for 5 to 11-year-olds to use in the home, Komodo uses a little and often approach to learning maths (15 minutes, three to five times per week) that fits into the busy routine. Komodo helps users develop fluency and confidence in maths – without keeping them at the screen for long.
Find out more about Komodo and how it helps thousands of children each year do better at maths – you can even try Komodo for free.