This was Fractions Week, and this kind of thing is why we love math!

Fractions are an “extra” around here, at least in our primary classroom. The curriculum doesn’t do much with them, but we don’t want to miss out!

Early in the year we begin taking “attendance” on the board. How many students are in our class? How many does it take to make one whole class? (I write that down, leaving the numerator blank.) How many students are here today? (I add that.) Do we have a whole class? Do we have a fraction of a class? Given enough times, they begin to pick up what the numerals in a fraction mean. Now we are ready to play fraction games.

On day one I teach them to play a couple of games, demonstrating with a student while they watch. The next day I teach two more, and we try them out if there is time.

By now everyone knows how to play. We have two or three days of rotations. Each game is at a station, and they play for about 10-15 minutes before moving to the next game. The next day we pick up where we left off until everyone has played every game at least once.

For the rest of the year, they can play the games independently during math center time, while I work with students. They think they are just playing, but not so! They are actually building valuable hands-on experience.

Here are the most popular games:

## Skyscrapers

Uses two sets of Fraction Stax (or other bar-shaped fraction model) plus a die marked 1/2, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/5, and I think 1/5. Object of the game is to be the first to build 4 skyscrapers. Both players start with the black “one whole” as a free skycraper. Take turns rolling the die and placing pieces on the bars. You cannot mix colors. Very soon all the orange 1/2 pieces will be used up, (Oh no! Now what?!) and you will be forced to use equivalent fractions. Hah! Scheming teacher wins! 🙂

I teach them how to remove an orange piece and use it to compare to other combined pieces until they find a match. (Again, no mixing colors! If they try to combine two different colors to make half, I redirect them to use pieces the same color as each other.) Now they begin a new tower, with a different color.

The picture above isn’t quite true to a real game. A real game will have most bars partially full and 4 complete ones when the game is over.

With time, they become familiar with the value of 1/12 pieces and other smaller fractions (with larger denominators!) to make 1/2, 1/3, and 1/4.

They are enthusiastic because the Fraction Stax are inherently engaging and because I’m talking it up: “You’re building a city!”

## Candy Factory

This game is similar to Skyscrapers except that they are making candy in a factory. They use a different die and can mix colors. They do not find equivalent fractions. This uses two sets of fraction circles.

Both players get two rings, or candy molds. (The decimals and percentages marked on them are ignored; these are technically used in later grades but they keep our “candy” circles together nicely!) If there are 3 players they use one”candy mold”. Students keep adding pieces, rearranging them at will, until they complete two circles.

In this case, since they can mix colors, they learn that a 1/6 piece can be used with a 1/3 piece to complete a circle that is half full. They gain experience that builds general understanding about fractions and how they can be combined.

Again, the game format makes this fun, but fraction circles are engaging and educational on their own.

## Last Rods Standing

This one uses Cuisenaire Rods, but you could use anything that can be easily set up and knocked down.

It is less a game and more an independent activity.

Each student sets up a number of rods, not more than 10 or 12. They then flick another, different small object at their line-up and record the fraction. I think next time I’ll make it a bowling game and have them record how many they knock down rather than what is left standing.

## Pizza

This is probably the most popular game. It would be great to make a pizza parlor with menus, etc. for them to play with, but it seems I never have time to hunt everything up. Anyway, the students all enjoy just playing with these, and inevitably they do fill out orders for each other. I have pizzas that lie on the table, but for some reason these magnetic ones are the most popular.

The beauty of this kind of play is that learning is a process of natural discovery. As I was actually taking the picture below, one student said, “Hey, two of these makes one of these!” and reached for a 1/3 piece to compare to the 1/6 pieces he had in front of him. Beautiful stuff!

Sometimes, for other fractions stations, I have them build arm bands with pipe cleaners and two colors of beads, matching them to fraction flash cards. Fractions models can also be made with things like cubes, frog counters, etc.

Yesterday we divided slices of veggie turkey into equal parts before eating. That was such a hit, I think we will do it again another day, with a different food!